Character, accountability highlight Causey era

Tom Causey with Lakyn Smith, the daughter of Watchman managing partner Jeremy D. Smith

Tom Causey with Lakyn Smith, the daughter of Watchman managing partner Jeremy D. Smith

It was early 2008 and I had only been on the job a couple of weeks. As green as a reporter can possibly be and yet I still understood how big of a story sat in front of me. It was one of the worst kind of stories; one in which you have to use words like “statutory” and “underage.” Its undertones spoke of a deteriorating society in which a father has to question whether he can send his teenaged daughter to school without fear of having to hear words like “statutory” in the aftermath of the revelation that her new relationship is with a 20-something coach. It was the kind of story that makes you want to scrub the dirt off from the inside out.

And given the magnitude of the story, I had absolutely no clue what questions to ask. And I had absolutely not enough gall to ask them. All I knew for certain was that I had to interview Tom Causey, Demopolis High’s head football coach and athletic director. I had to ask him uncomfortable questions to which I didn’t want to know the answers. And he had to talk about the fact that one of the coaches on his staff was engaged in a sexual relationship with a high school student.

I felt like this particular interview needed to be handled in person. As such, I went and found Tom Causey. As we stood in the dimly-lit area outside the Demopolis High softball field, I hemmed and hawed and stammered and could not find the words to even begin making coherent inquiries. I was visibly nervous, rocking un-rhythmically back and forth from one foot to the next as if I had rocks jabbing at the soft spots underneath my toes.

And in a moment of candor, I told him flatly that I really didn’t want to do this interview, that I was sorry I had to do this story and that I hated to ask him questions about this. In that moment, I felt like an abject failure. My degree and all the journalism classes that led to it were useless.

What happened next was anything but expected. Tom Causey addressed me with a conviction that belied the simplicity of his typically-engaging Lowndes County manner. He expressed that he knew nobody wants to talk about these things, to ask these questions, to write these stories. And then he told me something completely renewing. He told me to never be afraid to ask him questions like the difficult ones I had to ask that day. He told me it was his job to answer questions like that. And then he told me to never be afraid to do my job. He explained that there would be times like that, times when I had to do my job and he had to do his job and that we do what we have to and that doesn’t mean I had to worry about him getting mad at me or us not being friendly at the end of day.

Demopolis head coach Tom Causey watches practice from the sidelines.

Demopolis head coach Tom Causey watches practice from the sidelines.

For seven football seasons, I worked with Tom Causey. And not one time did he ever shy away from the words he said that day. He never shirked a question. He never lacked accountability. And he never took it personally when I had to ask the unkind questions.

That wasn’t the first time I met Tom Causey. I don’t remember the first time I met him. But I remember that story because that was the first time I began to realize who Tom Causey is.

For eight seasons the man labored in Demopolis, engaging in a profession that – to him – is far less about football than it is about helping to grow men. And Causey did that. He grew men. Not all of them took. Not all of them grew at the same pace. Not all of them bear the same fruit. But Tom Causey grew men.

He challenged their character and used the framework of football to illustrate life lessons. Where so many coaches address their players in the wake of a loss about what they did not do well, Causey so often took those hard moments to teach the boys under his care how to move forward.

From the Bible studies to the devotionals to the philosophical conversations about leadership and accountability, Causey’s focus was largely on sending young men into society who could contribute to it. And his commitment to that charge was unmistakable and unwavering.

POTD Causey-7039That is largely why he received what I still believe to be this city’s highest honor when he was named St. Nicholas for the 2011 Christmas on the River celebration.

In the years I’ve spent covering Demopolis football, I have spent countless hours with Tom Causey. I have seen him at his best and I have seen him far from it.

He is far from a perfect man. And he would even admit that he is far from a perfect coach. But his commitment to character has remained. Over the years he has had his vices, his moments of impatience and those occasional times when you can see peaking around the edges that younger Tom Causey who used to trade punches with his brother John until they were both bloodied. But, to this juncture in my life, I cannot remember one person who has spent more diligent effort working on improving the self as a professional and, more importantly, as a person.

All of that is also what makes this hire such a gut-wrenchingly interesting one. Tom Causey held the title of football coach and athletic director, but what he has meant to his players cannot be so simply and succinctly stated.

That is why I have no doubt Tom Causey will be successful at Pelham. And that success will have nothing to do with wins and losses and championships. It will be measured in men and the intangible growth they experience. And experience it, they will.