By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 22, 2011
YORKTOWN, Ind. — Dave Tanner drove his light blue Volkswagen Bug just down the road, past the corn stalks and past the homes of all his players and boosters. Past the big white water tower with “YORKTOWN” in green lettering, with a tiger painted on the side.
More like this
He was on his way to interview Brady Hoke. He hoped Brady could teach his linebackers how to make the perfect fundamental tackle, but also join him in building a football family.
This town is all some knew. Generations lived and died here.
How would Brady Hoke fit in? What would his legacy be? How would his name be remembered?
Tanner drove through the heart of Yorktown, a downtown you could easily miss if you weren’t looking for it.
Now, not much has changed on Smith Street since Tanner coached the Yorktown football team in the 1980s. There’s only one barbershop, one florist, one stoplight — and three bars.
An old tractor is parked next to a shed. Houses line its main street like it’s a neighborhood. The close-knit community strangles even its most urban area.
And if you’re not looking close enough, you’ll miss Merrill Quate, a family man in a family town, sitting on a lawn swing in his front yard, petting his dog Shelly and sipping a cup of coffee. From afar his face wears a permanent frown, but his wrinkles are deceiving. If you take the time to talk to him, he’ll flash a toothy grin.
He looks out at the small downtown, calmly enjoying his evening. He can see everything from his spot. You could never tell, even talking to him, that Merrill has Alzheimer’s disease. He has good days and bad.
“Nothing going on in Yorktown,” Merrill says turning to the empty street behind him. “Kind of a dead-ass place.”
Merrill grew up down the road in Muncie before moving to Yorktown with his second wife Dottie. This is Dottie’s home. Born and raised. Her son Ty played for coach Tanner.
Dottie comes outside and seems to worry about Merrill. They usually play Bingo every night with the other seniors of Yorktown to keep Merrill sharp.
“He can’t remember everything,” she begins. “He can remember his childhood, but he can’t remember what happened yesterday.”
She sighs as Merrill returns from his spot.
“Quiet little town,” he says.
“The church is over there,” he points. “The school is over there.”
“It really is a nice town,” Dottie adds. “It’s home.”
His family is here. Hers is too. She waves to an elderly couple riding their bikes across the street. All their friends are here.
Dottie sees them all when Yorktown plays its cross-town rival Delta High School. It’s standing room only for those games.
Ty still talks about his 16-tackle, two-sack game during his senior year against Delta.
Ty’s high school buddies — Jeff Barr and Jay and Jesse Neal — still meet him at Mr. Mouse, the bar around the corner, to talk about the glory days.
But first, their old coach, Dave Tanner, had to pull up to Brady’s apartment that day, a few miles down the road but a long way from Brady’s world. Tanner was about to invite Brady into his world.
Tanner needed to hire a linebackers coach, and Brady’s coach at Ball State had referred him as a player who used all of his eligibility and needed a part-time job while he finished school.
Brady had no intentions of becoming a coach. After the assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan, he thought it was his duty to become a secret service agent to protect the President.
“Are you interested in coaching?” Tanner began. “And tell me a little bit about your background.”
Brady started talking about his mom and his dad, the two people who always kept him on the path, no matter how much he zigged and zagged.
Then he started talking about Laura, the girl he met in seventh grade, the girl he married at Ball State, the girl who was his best friend.
“Shoot, this is the guy I want,” Tanner thought to himself. “You’ve got values. You’ve got commitment.