John Hudson would never had referred to himself as a legend – not ever. As a matter of fact, he probably would not want any attention brought to him at all – either while living or not that he has left this world. But everything about John Hudson defines what we all think of and admire about legends. With that being said, we are revisiting our teacher feature on John Hudson as his most favorite time of year approaches. “Hud” loved football – his last night on this earth was spent with one of his most favorite coaches and teams, John Donaldson and Marianna High School football. He and Donaldson rode home together and I am quite sure replayed every down of the Bulldogs’ game that night.
Long before John Hudson ever thought about teaching, an American author summed up the philosophy he went by when working with young people. Mark Twain wrote, “That which we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” For many years John Hudson worked to prove him right. That is not to say that learning specifics from Coach Hudson was always funny or easy, but the overall effect was that students enjoyed being around him and learned from him. Why? The main reason was that Coach Hudson enjoyed being with them. He applied many psychological principles as he worked to teach character or to coach desire; yet, the students rarely realized that he was doing more than having fun or loving them ---each one as an individual. Rarely has an individual been more openly loved for his exaggerated character than John Hudson. It has been said by educators in the community that Hud, as he was called, did all the wrong things for all the right reasons and, as a result, impacted kids on a whole new level. One has only to look to some of those he influenced to know that his is a lasting impact because those he first taught continue to work to keep his memory and his unusual methods alive for the kids of today. He represented what was the best in each of us - love and, when necessary, forgiveness. Coach Hudson was the “encourager” from whom many kids got a lesson in love when they needed it most. Though he loomed large and loud, he presented a far more effective side to kids who came in contact with him. The mannerisms which made him so different endeared him to all who knew him.
Once each year, some of those same students on whom he had such a pronounced influence work together to hold a golf tournament to raise funds for the scholarship the group established in Hud’s name. Prior to the event, a large banner featuring his smiling face is put up to announce the event to passersby. Just the drive by glimpse of this image is enough to bring kids back to his classroom or onto the practice field. Several former students and colleagues have offered their thoughts on Coach Hud and what it was that made him a special part of their lives. John Donaldson, Marianna High School Athletic Director and head football coach, considered Hud his best friend during their coaching days together. He recalls Hud’s mentoring him when things required a bit more thought or when Hud believed that more action was called for within the program. “I like to believe that one way to measure success is by your impact on others. He has been gone nearly 11 years and I still hear his name weekly. I am so thankful that our lives crossed paths and for the impact he had on me. Walking the halls of MHS with him was like walking with Elvis. The kids loved him, spoke to him, hugged him, and he loved to talk to them. There will never be another COACH HUDSON.”
Don Dowling, former Marianna High football coach, found Hud to be as entertaining as he was helpful. “With any team, discipline and desire rank at the top of the most basic needs. Hud was instrumental in accomplishing both of these, often without the direct knowledge of the head coach. At times, it was as if he and the players were in a conspiracy that only they knew about. Mutual respect and high regard was the agreement they shared. Because they knew he cared, the boys would respond no matter how tough his expectations were of them. When they pleased him, they had pleased themselves.” Dowling says his fondest and most profound memory of Hud is his call to a player or student when he wanted to converse with them, “Hey boy, come ‘ere.”
Rex Torbett, former Marianna High standout in both football and wrestling, relates that “Coach Hudson was a unique fellow. You always knew where you stood with him because he was not afraid to share his feelings. He always had the other coaches backs though. He may not have been the most knowledgeable about the sport but he was always trying to better himself. He would go to coaching clinics on his own and you would never know about it. He would study the game and read books about it. I am not sure but in all the years he coached, whether he was ever paid anything. One thing is for sure, he loved kids and the kids loved him. One thing I remember most about him was how he always responded when asked to do something. Whether he knew how to do it or not he would always say, “Ain’t no problem.” You always knew the job would be done. “
Petey Sims echoes the sentiments of all who worked with Hud. Though his methods could prove aggravating and somewhat unorthodox at times, he was powerfully effective even with the most reluctant students. “No matter what you asked Hud to do his reply was always, “No problem”. Hud was subbing in band for few days and after the first day he came to my office and wanted to see me. He asked if we could close the door so I became a little concerned. He looked at me and said, “Mr. Sims I got a problem.” Now I am really concerned because Hud never had a problem. He looked me square in the face and without cracking a smile stated, “I’m subbing in band and that 3/4 time is kicking my butt!” (of course, butt is not an exact quote) I fell out because I knew he was not beating out 3/4, 4/4 or any other kind of musical time and he knew that I knew it. Typical Hud, always good for a laugh.”
As a parent of one of those befriended by Coach Hudson, Harold Donaldson has a different perspective on the important role Coach Hudson had in the school at large. “Coach Hud was a special kind of guy who took a lot of time with my son when he first came into Marianna High School and coaching, took him under his wings and kind of helped him understand the coaching system in the high school. I knew Coach Hud probably 40-45 years and he was just was a great guy”.
Perhaps the most moving testimony is that of Hunter Nolen, athlete, MMS Coach, and current MHS principal. Quite simply, Nolen sums up Hud’s influence on his own life. At one point, Coach Hud wrote his young friend advising him to get busy living up to his potential to become the man he was capable of becoming. Due to Hud’s solid relationship with him, Hunter Nolen heeded that advice. The result has played out before our eyes as Coach Nolen ran a middle school football (and for many years basketball and a year of baseball) program that was second to none. His leadership enriched the lives of many who played and watched. Hud told him what he could be and do; Hunter thought enough of Hud to believe in himself and take up the challenge. Nolen tells of Hud’s influence in this way, “When I was in my early years at Marianna High, I started to head down a wrong path in life until I had the pleasure to be coached by Coach Hudson. He coached JV basketball at that time. He changed my way of thinking and I straightened my life out because of my interactions with this man. He had a tough love way of getting my attention that I took a liking to. It helped me become the person I am today. He even wrote me a letter way back in 1994 that I still have to this day. My first year as head football coach at Marianna Middle School and Coach Hudson didn’t want to help at Marianna High School that year so he asked me if he could be on my staff and of course I said yes. Anyway, I was young and our team was getting better every game, so we were 6 and 0 going into our last game. We were preparing for the next opponent, which I think was Honeysuckle Middle School from Dothan, AL. We always watched the game tape on the first day of practice. Right before we went into the film room I assembled my coaches right outside the room and told them that our team was getting the big head and we needed to refocus the players’ attention because we could hear them just inside the film room laughing and fooling around, not focused. All of a sudden Coach Hudson turned to me with a stern look on his face and said, “Coach I got this”. He went into the room with all the players talking and walks up to the front of the room and punches a filing cabinet so hard that he puts a huge dent in the thing. After he punches the filing cabinet, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. When he removed his hand from the filing cabinet, he said “Now guys, pay attention to Coach Nolen because we need to have an undefeated season and no talking”. One of the players raises his hand and Coach Hudson turns to look at him and said, “WHAT!”. The player says “Coach, you have blood running down your hand”. Coach Hudson looked at his hand, licked the blood off his hand and we had one of the most intense practices of the year that day and eventually that team finished the season undefeated. Coach Hud was a very important person in my life and I was very fortunate to have him coach me in high school. I was probably even more so to have him on my staff as I began my coaching career.”
Of course, Coach John Hudson was a human being and, as such, he probably made some mistakes. But the one mistake he did NOT make was in living a life without of passion and love. He gave 100% and he asked that of others. He loved that way and he forgave that way. An unlikely role model in some ways, he was, nevertheless, a profound influence on many. Had we been able to collect all the “Hud” stories through the years, he could easily have been featured in the section of Reader’s Digest, “My Most Unforgettable Character.” He was, above all else, himself. An active member of Eastside Baptist Church, Coach Hudson was known for his Christian testimony. His unique style allowed him a mix a huge dose of daily fun with a serious concern for character. The lesson was not missed by those who knew him.