2008 Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame: E.L. Godwin shot for the impossible

January 17, 2014 

The fans in the small Alabama community told E.L. Godwin that he couldn't win at Millry.

They had just seen the Wildcats go 0-10 in the fall of 1958. And to make it even worse, Millry managed to score just one touchdown that year.

Still, Godwin, who goes by Moose, didn't listen to the naysayers. The 22-year-old, who just graduated from Mississippi Southern, which is now Southern Mississippi, decided to accept the head coaching job.

"You couldn't be a failure there," Godwin said. "There was no yard stick to be measured by. Any success you had was a success. And I believed that I could do it."

Godwin has only come up with one reason why he got the job at Millry, a school in Washington County.

"No one else wanted it," he said. "(The other coaches) wouldn't apply for the job."

So Godwin began coaching at the Class A school, where everyone felt "nobody could win." He knew it wasn't going to be easy, and he learned that his first year. Millry went 2-8 in 1959.

Godwin wasn't deterred by the lack of immediate success. That next year, he led Millry to a winning season as the Wildcats finished 5-4.

And each of the next seven seasons, Godwin motivated the Wildcats and they didn't endure another losing season.

Godwin continued to motivate players through the decades, including during two stints at Smiths Station, and finished his coaching career with 25 consecutive non-losing seasons. That success helped Godwin earn an induction into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2003, and he was inducted into the Chattahoochee Valley Hall of Fame on Saturday.

"I have always been able to handle people," he said. "I can get them to play hard for me. I know how to motivate them and get the most out of them."

He had a positive impact on many of the players and coaches that he worked with.

"Moose is a great football coach," said Jordan coach Tony Graziano, who coached defensive backs at Smiths Station from 1986 to 1989. "He was ahead of his time. He was doing things then that coaches are doing now."

Godwin, a confident 22-year-old, believed that he could make a difference at Millry.

"I knew that I had to convince them that they could win," he said. "They had to change their attitude to believe they could win. They were good people; they just hadn't had a lot of success."

So close

Despite having a 190-82-2 record at Millry, Smiths Station and Flomaton, Godwin never could win that elusive state championship.

But later in his career at Smiths Station, Godwin came close. The Panthers lost in the 1988 and 1989 Class 5A state championships, both to Oxford, with a score of 21-14 in '88 and 37-35 in '89.

And Godwin hasn't forgotten some of the details from the 1988 final.

"We were trailing 21-14 in the fourth quarter, and we threw a touchdown pass that we thought we would tie the game," he said. "But it was called back for holding."

After consecutive trips to the finals, the Panthers lost in the 1990 quarterfinals to Valley 27-20 in overtime. After that season, Godwin decided it was time for him to retire.

"I had promised that sophomore group that I would stay with them and see it through," he said of the class in 1988. "I really enjoyed coaching that group of players . . . I had been thinking about it for a while, I think it was in my subconscience."

Godwin, who had been teaching for 33 years, said he wanted to do other things, including hunting and fishing.

He doesn't have any regrets about not winning a state championship, though.

"It takes a really good team," he said. "You also need to a have a few breaks along the way. . . Once you get past that first round of the playoffs, every team that is left is good."

Godwin returned to Smiths Station for the 1981 season after spending six years as the principal at Wacoochee Junior High. His first stint at Smiths Station started in 1969 and came to an end after the 1974 season when he left to be a principal.

He guided Smiths Station to playoffs in 1972 and '73 --- both ended with first-round losses. Godwin also led the Panthers to a 27-3 mark during his first three seasons.

Godwin's decision to become principal coincided with his son, Barry, heading into the seventh grade.

"I was never one of those that wanted to coach my son," he said. "He had a daddy, and he needed a coach. I felt it was better, if someone else coached him."

One season

While he had so many successful seasons, there is one season that stands out in Godwin's mind. It's not the 1988 or 1989 season when he played for a state championship; It's not his second season at Millry either.

But it was the 1981 season --- his first season back at Smiths Station after his stint as principal. The Panthers had a lot of starters returning from the team that T.C. Britton coached in 1980, but an offseason injury left the Panthers searching for a quarterback.

Godwin turned to back-up receiver Mark Stewart to run the offense.

"Everyone told me that we couldn't win without a quarterback," Godwin said. "But Mark did everything we asked him to do. He was the only guy that had ever taken a snap. He never fumbled. He never ran the wrong play."

After losing their season opener, the Panthers and Stewart rolled off eight straight wins. Smiths Station's season, however, came to an end with a loss. It finished 8-2 in 1981.

Godwin's offense always was run-oriented, but he said the Panthers relied on the running game even more that season. Godwin said the Panthers probably didn't attempt more than a dozen passes during the 10-game season.

"I did exactly what the coaches asked me to do," said Stewart, who played quarterback before switching to receiver as a junior. "I knew that if I was going to have to throw it a lot on Friday, we would be in trouble."

So the Panthers relied on their strengths --- the rushing attack, the defense and avoiding turnovers --- to win games.

Stewart learned a lot from Godwin that season.

"Coach never got too excited," he said. "He wouldn't get too high after wins or get too low after a loss. I try to use that."

But that team, which didn't make the playoffs, has always stuck out to Godwin.

"We did more than any one thought was possible," he said.

Contact Robert Spruck

at 706-576-6230

E.L. 'Moose' Godwin

Age: 70

Sports: Coached football, basketball and baseball

High School: A.G. Parrish High School in Selma, Ala.

College: Played football at Mississippi Southern, now Southern Mississippi, from 1955-1958.

Ties to Columbus: Replaced T.C. Britton as the Smiths Station football coach in 1969. He coached the Panthers from 1969-1974. In 1975, Godwin became the principal at Wacoochee Junior High School. He returned to coach the Panthers in 1981. Godwin coached Smiths Station until 1990. He continues to live in Smiths Station.

Accomplishments: Godwin compiled a 190-82-2 record during his 26-year career as a football coach. During that stretch he had only one losing season. He guided the Panthers to the Class 5A state final in 1988 and 1989. Smiths Station lost to Oxford in back-to-back seasons. He went 46-15 during his first tenure at Smiths Station. Godwin went 79-33-1 during his second stint at Smiths Station . . . His only losing season was his first year as a coach. He went 2-8 in 1959 at Millry (Ala.). His overall record at Millry was 60-29-1 . . . Besides coaching football, he also coached football and baseball. He was 175-62 as a basketball coach and 113-52 as a baseball coach . . . Godwin was inducted into Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

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