McKenzie High School Head Coach Wade Comer with son Bryant
For McKenzie High School Head Coach Wade Comer,
football is a love story that began with his father, the
late David Comer.
"At my house football was it," Coach Comer declares, "I
grew up watching football, playing football - everything
we did together revolved around that - I didn't know any
other thing existed."
He remains a Steelers fan, recalling heroes from his youth
like Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw. "I fell in love
with the Steelers when I was a little boy - same thing
with Alabama," he says.
As Comer steadily matured throughout his school years, his
father served as president of the booster club for many
years, raising money and keeping the statistics for
Parsons' Riverside Panthers, an activity that kept the
football fires stoked for the father-son fans.
Sports were one of the main activities for youths growing
up in Parsons during the 1970's era, says Comer, who was
born on December 10, 1968 to David and Debbie Comer. His
raising, however, along with sister Wendy and little
brother Adam plus a whole neighborhood full of children
from various households, was accomplished through the
joint efforts of their collective parents.
"Parsons is a little smaller than McKenzie; everybody
knows everybody; there were no strangers in Parsons,"
Comer says, explaining with a grin, "That was good and
bad: when I was a little kid, if we made a mistake down
the road, we got whipped by every neighbor in town.
Everybody raised everybody, I reckon."
Like other small towns, entertainment was either natural,
like hunting or fishing in the nearby Tennessee River;
sports oriented, like baseball and football; or invented
by children who had as much imagination as they had free
"We played football about every day; baseball also. We
hunted and fished - just anything to do with the outdoors
- we did it all. You got to make a lot of close
friendships," nods Comer, who describes a typical day when
children from different communities would meet at the
junior high school to play ball. "Each community had its
own little ball team and we just played each other," he
relates matter-of-factly, "Five and six year olds played
with 16-17 year olds; you had to be a little tough to
Comer continued playing both baseball and football in high
school where, he laughs, "You either played ball or you
were a professional hunter."
"Zero tolerance" would never have worked in those days,
says Comer. "Just about every male in high school would
have been kicked out of school. At Riverside, every body
had guns in their truck and went hunting before school; we
skinned many a deer down there in vocational," he
Turning serious, he contemplates the changes in society
that have made zero tolerance a necessity in the modern
age. "Times have changed now, we need it for sure," he
states emphatically, "I graduated in 1987, and that wasn't
so long ago, but times have changed, kids are a little
different. Fighting - we had our share - but it never
escalated into the things it can now. I really don't know
why; they blame a lot on video games and things of that
nature: media, T.V.. You know, you don't see as many
people going to church and things of that nature as you
used to and we had a lot more respect for life itself."
The Panthers earned their bragging rights in 1986, when
Comer was a junior on the team, when they beat Lexington
for first time in 25 years. Alas, the fullness of their
dreams was thwarted when they missed the championships by
a hair. "Back then only two teams went to the playoffs,"
Comer explains, "We got knocked out our last game with
Jackson Southside; we got beat seven to six in overtime;
we went for two and failed to get it."
Like many of his teammates who pursued coaching as a
profession after high school, Comer had been interested in
coaching for as far back as he can remember. He had found
a greater love, however, in a lady who attended Bible Hill
Baptist Church, a church he had been a part of all his
life. "She'd been there all her life, too," Comer relates,
explaining how he met his wife, Amy.
"After high school, I had a chance to play football at
Lambuth, but me and Amy had already been dating a year or
two and I had decided I was going to marry her, so I
decided to go to work instead," Comer says
unapologetically, relating that Amy had graduated a few
years earlier, in 1983.
Comer went to work at Vulcan Materials rock quarry where
he worked as hard as he had played, putting in between 70
to 80 hours per week and at times working 36 hours
straight before calling it a day. "The pay was good; I
really didn't think about it at the time, I just knew I
was making overtime," he recalls.
The couple married on November 21,1987, and had "worked
together" for about a year when Comer discovered his wife
had ambitions of her own.
"She decided she wanted to go to nursing school," says
Comer, "We made a pact that I would put her through
nursing school and, when she got out, she would put me
through being a coach."
After Amy became a registered nurse, he continued working
for a time while attending night classes at Jackson State
University. "I wanted to get in and get out the quickest
way I could," says Comer, who completed the 32 hours he
was allowed as a non-degree seeking student at the
university before quitting his job to enroll full time at
Though playing football was not an option at Jackson State
or Union University, Comer worked at Jackson Southside as
a volunteer assistant his senior year, where he was able
to coach under Head Coach Jerry Hayes, was had been his
own coach at Riverside.
"I enjoyed it a lot, he was easier to coach for than he
was to play for," Comer declares. "He has helped me
tremendously; he helped me a lot as a player and helped me
a whole lot as a coach."
After graduating in 1996, Comer says pragmatically, "I had
to fill out a lot of applications and go to a lot of
interviews; I finally talked McKenzie into hiring me. I
started here in the fall of 1996 helping Coach Thomas
coach linebackers and tight ends."
The following year, when Bill Koen joined the McKenzie
program as head coach, he gave Comer the job of defensive
coordinator for the next three years.
"He helped me out a lot; Coach Thomas helped me out
tremendously," Comer says, crediting both of his early
mentors in the McKenzie program. "Coach Koen gave me a
chance to be a defensive coordinator; he basically turned
it over to me and helped me out tremendously also."
When Coach Koen retired, Comer applied for the job and
became head coach in 2000. The team was immediately
successful under Coach Comer's direction, with a record of
11-2 in his first season. His three year record stands at
33-8 with a record of 13-1 in 2001 - when the Rebel team
was number one in the region, reaching the semi-final
round of the play-offs after an undefeated regular season
marked by new scoring records plus mastery over long-time
rival Huntingdon for the first time since 1973 - and 9-5
in the season just past, a season that took fans by
surprise as Comer's hardworking, largely-new team trashed
doubts of a successful season on the heels of 2001's
awesome performance, to claim its own rights to fame in a
display of heart and talent that left fans breathless.
The team was expected to experience a lull after reeling
from the loss of 11 seniors from the 2001 team, but, as
McKenzie Banner sportswriter Jim Steele noted, "someone
forgot to explain things to the Rebels." The team more
than proved their mettle as the season progressed,
dominating Camden, Trenton, Adamsville, West Carroll, Dyer
County, and Chester County during the regular season, then
coming on strong to defeat Waverly, Fairview, and Lewis
County in the TSSAA playoffs.
McKenzie fans are still riding high on the crest of the
unexpectedly exhilarating season that resulted in the
recent passing of joint resolutions by civic leaders
honoring the McKenzie High School Football Team and Coach
Wade Comer for an extraordinary year of football.
Additionally, Coach Comer was recently named "West
Tennessee Coach of the Year" for leading the team to the
Class 2A state semifinals for the second straight year.
"Nobody else expected us to be there but we as a whole -
the players and coaching staff - we knew we were going to
struggle on the front end but we had a good year," says
Comer who is already gearing up for next season's
surprises with the team working hard during the
off-season. "Making it to state championships and winning
it is what I'd call a great year," he continues, setting
aside the laurels of past accomplishments to focus on the
Comer insists he was only part of a winning combination:
"What we've accomplished probably has very little to do
with me and has a whole lot to do with what the kids have
done. The players were willing to put forth all the time
and work; the coaches put in all the long hours and work;
Mr. Howell and Mr. Ward gave us the tools to work with,
hiring coaches and supplying us with facilities and
equipment; and the community really got behind us and
backed us, providing us with the funds to purchase the
facilities and equipment and were there along with the
student body on Friday nights to cheer us on. It's a
reflection of the sacrifices they've all made and the work
they've done because it takes a collection of everybody to
make the success we've had for the last three years. They
had a lot more to do with this than me."
Winning is only half the fun for Comer, who says the best
part of his job is "being around the kids and the coaching
"We've got an excellent coaching staff," he asserts
strongly. Working alongside Head Coach Comer to mold the
winning Rebel team are Defensive Coordinator David Duncan;
Coach Randy Thomas, who focuses on special teams, the
offensive and defensive lines; Coach Brad Chappell,
coaching defensive backs and helping out with the
offensive line; and volunteer Assistant Coach Nick Young -
now a member of the Bethel College Wildcat team and
formerly a junior at MHS during Comer's first season at
McKenzie - who coaches wide receivers and defensive backs.
"They're a great bunch of men to be with, not only when
we're coaching football, but we hang together when we're
off work, too," Coach Comer emphasizes.
"Watching the kids grow up - accomplish goals they set for
themselves, grow and mature and get to be young men -
that's the fun part for me. They come in as freshmen,
acting silly, then you watch them grow up and develop into
seniors... You get attached to all the kids in school, but
when you spend as much time with them as we do, you can
really get attached to them and hate to see them go; they
become like extended family so to speak," he continues
with obvious sincerity.
With coaching taking much of Comer's days and Amy working
as a registered nurse at the McKenzie Regional Hospital
and Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, raising their
own three children - referred to affectionately as "knotheads"
by their dad - occupies much of the couple's "spare time".
Thirteen-year-old Laken and six-year-old Bryant attend
McKenzie Schools while Anna, aged four, attends day care
at the First Baptist Church where Amy and Wade are
"Me and Amy try to get away for a weekend once a year," he
says, ducking his head and chuckling self-consciously as
he admits, "Our one weekend away we go watch the state
"Maybe next year we won't be able to do that," he laughs,
"Maybe we'll play it instead. We've been to the
semi-finals last two years and made it to quarter finals
the first year."
With his dreams bearing fruit along the way, Comer is
simply thankful. "I'd just like to thank the people of
McKenzie for all the support and appreciation, and all
they have done for me and the football program and my
family. It's a nice town to raise a family in; the schools
are excellent, the people are nice and willing to lend a
helping hand when you need one."
Coach Comer's sister Wendy lives in Darden and teaches
school in Beaver, Tennessee. His younger brother Adam
lives in Parsons and is a student at Memphis State