Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines the term “coach” as: one who instructs players in the fundamentals of a competitive sport and directs team strategy.
Though there is no denying the accuracy of that, Middleton High School’s head football coach Alonzo Ashwood and new offensive line coach Cosey Coleman will both attest that with the esteemed title comes much more responsibility than advising plays and strategies.
“Building character and discipline are bigger than the game of football,” said Coleman, a Westchase resident and former NFL player.
Coleman's new position with Middleton is a homecoming of sorts. He spent five out of seven NFL seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and two with the Cleveland Browns), helping them win a Super Bowl Championship in 2003 against the Oakland Raiders.
He earned USA Today All-America honors at Southeast DeKalb High School in Decatur, GA. Success followed him to the University of Tennessee; during his sophomore year he started all thirteen games and led the Vols to an SEC title and a national championship after a 23-16 win at the Fiesta Bowl. He left Tennessee after the 1999 season and was drafted in the second round of the 2000 NFL draft by the Bucs.
Ashwood, who joined Middleton’s staff in January after a multi-year stint as assistant coach at Hillsborough High, heard from a mutual friend that Cosey was looking to teach at the high school level. He invited the former pro to sit in and observe several games so he could make an informed decision.
“In addition to his obvious expertise, I thought it was important that these students learn from someone who had a similar background,” said Ashwood, who lives in Ybor City.
Coleman was raised in what he describes as a “poverty-stricken” neighborhood, a community that yielded some of the best years and memories of his life. The tough neighborhood also provided him with a better appreciation for all he has now, which is emphasized in a warm, friendly grin that literally runs from ear to ear.
“We were all in the same boat, so as kids, we didn’t even realize we were at the bottom. Because of that, I try to instill a sense of responsibility in my own sons (9-year-old Chance and 5-year-old Cosey, Jr.). I’ll admit that their mother and I spoil them, but I don’t want them growing up with a sense of entitlement,” Coleman said.
His older brothers helped guide him, and as his career flourished, he looked up to role models including , Tony Dungy and Phillip Fulmer, his head coach at Tennessee.
Selmon died Sunday, two days after suffering a stroke. He was 56.
Like most people, he remembers the late Selmon with great fondness and high regard.
“I had reached out to him right before I took this job, and despite his busy schedule, he called me back right away. We had a great conversation… I’m big on mentoring thanks to people like Lee. You need great role models to be one yourself,” Coleman said.
When he's not working Coleman enjoys family time at Pin Chasers on West Hillsborough, and names Blue Martini at the International Plaza one of his favorite restaurants. He appreciates the “peaceful” environment of Tampa, especially compared to some of the “rowdier” cities he’s lived in, and is excited for the upcoming NFL season.
Despite growing up in Georgia, he makes it clear that he is not a Falcons fan, but enjoys watching the Saints and Bucs (“They’re in a real tough division, but I’m excited to see what Coach Raheem and Josh Freeman will bring to the table.”).
And although Coleman has come a long way from the streets of Decatur, he vows to never forget his first friends. When asked who he would include in his dream ‘Entourage’ (a la the HBO hit series), he replies in a very Vincent Chase like-way: “Just my childhood friends. When you’re able to escape poverty, it’s a good feeling to being some of the folks that have been in your corner along for the ride. When you become successful, you have “friends” come out of nowhere, and then there are those who will remain part of your forever.”