By Tim HippsJanuary 31, 2007
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 31, 2007) - Staff Sgt. (retired) Lonnie Meredith, who led both flag and tackle football teams to successful seasons at Fort Lewis, Wash., has been selected as the Army's 2006 Coach of the Year by the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.
"Really, I was honored just to be mentioned," Meredith said. "I didn't know that I would even be considered, but to be the actual winner, I'm humbled."
Meredith, 39, led Fort Lewis' post-level flag football team to a 5-2 record and served as a second-year offensive coordinator for the South Sound Shockers (10-1), a semi-pro tackle football team consisting of eight Soldiers and local former college and high school players. The Shockers finished second in the Pacific Northwest League. They lost the championship game to Seattle, 12-7, in Sumner, Wash.
His flag team won the 2006 Seattle Seahawks Military Appreciation Tournament on Qwest Field against squads from the Air Force, Coast Guard and Navy. They also prevailed in the annual Puget Sound showdown between Army and host Navy.
Last April, Meredith attended the University of Washington's coaching clinic and spring football practices as a guest of Huskies coach Tyrone Willingham.
"I reached out through the e-mail and coach Willingham's secretary got back to me with the invitation," Meredith said. "I was really amazed with his structure and the tempo of his operation."
Meredith also joined the Black Coaches Association, and attended their 2005 conference in Indianapolis, where he met Jim Caldwell, assistant/quarterback coach for the Colts' two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning.
"I thought he had a military background," Meredith said of Caldwell. "He was pretty structured, and I believe in structure.
"One coach from the Black Coaches Association, Joe Taylor from Hampton University, told me that hard work does not go unnoticed," Meredith said. "When it comes to this (award), that thought just comes to my mind. I've worked hard to try to put good things together and I think this is just a result of it. Really, it's a team award for everybody who has worked hard to help me, and I'll accept it for them. This is just above what I expected.
"To put a team together, a group of people that don't know each other, and lead them somewhere, that, in itself, is gratifying. To be acknowledged, that's something special."
Discipline is the operative buzzword of Meredith's military and coaching philosophies.
"I look at it from the standpoint in the military that you have to be disciplined in order to do what's required and to do it to the best of your ability, and that is your role in the military," Meredith explained. "It's the same way on the football field. If you're required to have a certain assignment, you have to do it because if you don't, you're going to compromise a play, which compromises the team, which compromises either a victory or no victory.
"It's key because the person to your right and left are relying on you. If you fail then the whole team fails. ... I know it's a team effort. I've got some coaches and players that are responsible for my recognition. And I've got a mentor, Otis Sistrunk, who's really given me a lot of insight."
Sistrunk, who was named to the Pro Bowl in 1974, played seven seasons as a defensive lineman for the NFL's Oakland Raiders and now manages Cowan & Memorial Stadium on Fort Lewis.
"When he came back from Iraq, I told him I wanted him to coach at Fort Lewis," said Sistrunk, 62, who had watched Meredith work as an assistant coach before he was deployed. "He's a very good motivator and a go-getter. When [Fort Lewis officials] said they wanted to put him up for coach of the year, I told them that he was the perfect person. ... He runs a tight ship when he coaches. He's a down-to-earth coach and he loves the guys that he works with."
Meredith served 20 years in the military and retired on Oct. 20, 2006. He continues working at Fort Lewis as a government contractor in human resources management and spends time with his daughters, Jasmine, 7, and Kira, 4.
"One year, I had to hold his daughter from running onto the field while he was coaching," Sistrunk recalled of a game when Meredith's wife was deployed in Iraq. "He used to bring his girls to practice."
Jasmine serves as the Shockers' water girl in order to spend more time with her dad.
(Tim Hipps writes for the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command.)