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Online Edition — January 2003

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“Remember the Titans”—The Rest of the Story
Looking Toward the Future

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“Remember the Titans”—The Rest of the Story

The inspiring story of how Coach Herman Boone and Coach Bill Yoast struggled to integrate a football team in a racially charged environment was told in the hit movie, “Remember the Titans.” The coaches will share their emotions, experiences, and humor about the necessities of teamwork, leadership, and diversity during their keynote address at AQP’s 25th Annual Conference. News for a Change decided to whet readers’ appetites by introducing the coaches’ perspectives in this interview.

NFC: You’ve probably heard our first question over and over, but we can’t resist. How closely does the movie “Remember the Titans” reflect what really happened in your lives?

Coach Boone: We think that the movie was quite accurate, showing the actual happenings of the times. Obviously Hollywood has a tendency to jazz things up a little bit, but quite frankly, it depicted what I truly believe were the times.

Coach Yoast: I think that the things that you saw in the movie happened. We emotionalized some of the events, but they actually did happen. They just happened a bit differently. For instance, we did go to the battlefield in Gettysburg and the speech from the movie was given, but we rode there in a bus, rather than jumping through the swamp. So, that scene did happen in real life, but it was made a little more entertaining for the movie-goers. They took liberties with some of the things in the movie that did not actually happen, but basically the story was true. The real point of the matter was that Herman got the job and I didn’t and that’s a fact.

Are you guys as good looking as the actors who played you?

Coach Yoast: I am.

Coach Boone: I am not so sure. We took a vote on that, and the vote came out 4 to 1 that I am.

The movie portrays you as having two substantially different leadership styles. Please describe your view of leadership. Then tell us how your two styles blended together to create one sensible approach that the players could grasp and follow.

Coach Boone: First of all you have to understand what makes a leader. A leader first of all is an individual who provides a vision, an individual who shows the way to that vision through leadership, and of course, an individual with the ability to lead without hesitation.

Quite frankly, I am a curser; I am an in-your-face type of individual. I am loud. I am vocal, and I am very controversial. That is my style. I do things quite differently from Coach Yoast, yet we maintain the same philosophy, which is respect for all of our different issues and respect for everybody who played under us and everybody who was under our command. Of course, leaders can be different and yet similar and that is the true definition of a leader.

Coach Yoast: I definitely think we were different, and in the beginning, I thought that might be a problem, but it turned out to be a real blessing. We’ve talked about diversity being good. Well, Herman and I were certainly different, and that is what diversity is. The situation was sort of like good cop, bad cop. We each dealt differently with those young men. I don’t know if I could have handled that situation like he did, but we were definitely different and because we were different, a lot of conflict was brought to the table. Conflict is usually swept under the rug, and you don’t actually face up to it. Herman didn’t let that happen.

Because of our diversity on the coaching staff, we really were able to do the job much easier. The kids always had someone to go to—Coach Boone or to me depending on what their problem was. So, I think because of our differences in thinking and philosophy, which were very different, it was the ideal situation.

It’s obvious that your personal values had a huge impact on how you approached your new roles when the school district was integrated. Please share what values guided your decisions through the change process.

Coach Boone: Regardless of how much I cursed, regardless of how much I yelled, regardless of how much I went up one side of kids and down the other, I am a person who believes in God. I believe in God, I believe that confrontation is with and about him. Talking to God helps me maintain my values as a family man. I value my family; my God and my family come first. About values: I don’t think you can succeed without a philosophy that is worthy in the sight of God. We have got to pass the values of life on to our players.

Coach Yoast: I think very much that your values are often challenged. You have to decide between your values and actions to determine what you are going to do and how to deal with all the anger and disappointment. You have to take a close look at your values and not act out of anger. You can’t control how you feel about something, but you can control what you do about it. When your values are challenged, you have to decide whether you are going along with your values or are going to change your values or your actions. I think sticking to values is what brought Coach Boone and me closer together. We have always had the same values. We have different ideas of how to develop the football team, but when it came to the things that were important, we were on the same page.

You moved your family into a hostile environment, and you knew your job was at risk. How did these factors affect the way you tackled the job? How did you deal with them outside of the job?

Coach Boone: First of all, I didn’t know that I was moving into a hostile environment. I probably should have known because I had experience with different types of racial issues in North Carolina. I should have known that neighborhood was not exactly a welcoming point for me. But, by the same token, I did not move into this neighborhood accidentally. I am still living in the same house.

I did not move here to integrate the school or to desegregate the neighborhood. I moved here because it represented the same thing that you want out of life—a place for my family, proximity to schools, proximity to job (all of the things that we all want for our family).

I know that some of those factors that affected us in our neighborhood also affected us on our jobs. To this day, people ask me all the time, “How did you deal with it? How did you relate to it? How did you work with it?” I worked with it as a human being; I spoke to my neighbors even though they didn’t speak back. We slowly broke down many of the barriers through the avenue of communication. I stress this to people all over the world: Get to know someone before you decide to hate them.

You had to make a choice between staying with the team as assistant coach or moving on to coach another team. Apparently, that choice was made even more difficult because you had to confront people who had been your friends and supporters for many years. Can you tell us what you did and how you dealt with the repercussions?

Coach Yoast: When this happened, I did have other options. A lot of my friends thought I was making a mistake when I decided to stay, and they encouraged me to go other places. I looked at this, and after a lot of thinking, I realized that this would give me an opportunity to do something that I had never been able to do before—that is to work with the black students. I think my friends eventually came to the same conclusion.

Sometimes the right thing or the most popular thing is not always the easiest thing to do, but you have to trust yourself and do what you think is best. I just told myself that I should not change my values to please my friends.

It wasn’t an easy choice in the beginning. Sometimes your first reaction is anger and disappointment. When you act on those feelings, I think you are making a mistake. My friends very much were against my decision, but they were my friends, and they went along with it. I never lost a friend over it.

Your daughters played a significant role in the movie. How did they affect your thinking and decisions back then? What are they doing now?

Coach Yoast: Sometimes your children can influence you without you realizing it. Sheryl influenced me the most through the questions that she asked. I was explaining the answers to her and through explaining them to her I began to have to look a little bit deeper as to why I made the decision that I made.

In the beginning, Sheryl did not like Coach Boone as shown in the movie. I can remember the first time we went together and met with Coach Boone. The thing she said to me as we left was, “I think you going to enjoy working with Coach Boone.”

Coach Boone: Some Hollywood trickery was necessary when it came to our daughters’ names in the movie. My daughter’s name really is Sharon. With my daughter’s name being Sharon and Coach Yoast’s daughter’s name being Sheryl, the actors kept getting the two of them mixed up. The movie producers came to me and said that we are going to have to change the name of one of our daughters. So we flipped a coin down in Atlanta, and I lost. They changed my daughter’s name from Sharon to my youngest daughter’s name, which is Nicki. When they did that, they created more problems for me than they did good for themselves. Now this is about as clear as mud to people who meet my daughters.

Of course, I truly believe it was because of Sharon, my firstborn, that I created my philosophy. I was determined that I was not going to raise her to be subservient. I was not going to raise her with a segregated mentality. I was not going to raise her to be less than a complete person. I looked at her basically as my guiding light. I truly began to fight back against segregation after she was born.

Learn more about Coach Herman Boone and Coach Bill Yoast’s philosophies and experiences by attending their keynote presentation on Wednesday, February 26, 2003, from 10:30 a.m. to noon at AQP’s 25th Annual Conference in New Orleans.


Diversity and Change

During our conversation with Coach Boone and Coach Yoast, we asked them to share their perspectives on the definition of diversity and how it affects change and results.

Coach Boone: My definition of diversity is very short. Diversity is about who we are as individuals—both our similarities and differences. It is about who we are as individuals in this country where each of us can and will succeed.

I truly believe diversity improves results in all communities. If you truly embrace diversity, then you provide a way for people to talk with each other.

For example, we talked about diversity at the national mayors’ convention in Boston, as well as how diversity becomes the vehicle for bringing people together to talk. The mayor of Tallahassee went back and got all of the people of Tallahassee just to talk to each other. And from that talking to each other, everyone got to know each other. They now have a special situation in Tallahassee. I truly believe that by getting to know each other, the people in Tallahassee have been able to improve their city.

Coach Yoast: We go to a lot of places talking about diversity. I think in the beginning when all this started, people looked at diversity as a black-white issue. To me, diversity simply means people who are different—they act differently, they speak differently, they have different ideas. I think if we could ever get over the barriers that separate people who are different, we actually could make diversity a blessing, rather than a problem.

I think that anytime you bring people who are different together you are going to be better informed. I really believe that the more diverse the point of view the stronger the nation becomes. You get stronger and better with diversity.

I always thought that diversity has to start at the top; you can’t start at the bottom. When the players and the community realized that Coach Boone and I were able to come together, I think it had quite an influence on some members of the team.

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