Jerry Tolley wasn’t interested in setting a longevity record. So he decided to retire from coaching at age 39. While his career on the sidelines was short, it was super sweet. In five seasons as head coach at Elon, his teams won four conference championships, three district crowns and two national titles, plus a runner-up finish.
His 49-11-2 record also is believed to be the highest winning percentage (80.6) among N.C. collegiate football coaches. Tolley’s teams harbored the same will to win that he exhibited as a prep star in Edenton and two-sport standout at East Carolina.
In 24 games decided by nine or fewer points, Elon won an amazing 22. And in national playoffs, his squads went 8-1. For all that he became the only person in the university’s 120-year history to be named Coach Emeritus.
Hall of Fame journalist Irwin Smallwood described Tolley’s streak “one of the most spectacular stretches” in North Carolina college football coaching history.
Even referees noticed. Long-time official, Dr. Jerry McGee, observed…”I’ve never seen a coach produce better prepared teams. His coaches and players were focused, motivated and classy.”
Imagine what Tolley’s record might have been had he coached longer..
At Edenton High Tolley was an “Ace” among the “Aces,” earning 15 letters and honorable mention All-America honors..
In football he ran rampant, was voted Most Outstanding Player on the 1960 State championship team and set several North Carolina prep records. “The greatest running back I’ve ever coached,’’ said legendary Bill Billings.
Tolley continued starring at East Carolina, where he excelled in two sports and met his future wife, Joanie Morrison, who became the mother of their sons, Jay and Justin. A three-year regular in football, Tolley helped the Pirates post a 23-6 mark and broke nine school records, five of which still stand.
Ever competitive, he also ran track, set an ECU triple jump record and helped establish another mark on 440 relay team. A “Student-Athlete” before the NCAA popularized the phrase, Tolley earned the Rawls Memorial Award for academic and athletic excellence his senior year.
Tolley, who has a doctorate degree from UNC-Greensboro, can write. He produced six books that sold in 50 states and 25 countries.
They include “101 Winning Football Drills: From The Legends Of The Game” and “The Complete Book of Football Tackling Drills.”
“Coach Tolley is unquestionably one of the foremost authors of technical and instructional books in the history of football,” said Grant Teaff, Executive Director of the American Football Coaches Association.
Simply put, Tolley’s a leader, on the field and off. And his winning percentage as mayor is even better than his football record.
Sweeping all four elections, he’s in the midst of a fourth four-year term, the longest mayor’s tenure in the town of Elon’s 117-year history.
For multiple contributions, Tolley received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine and the Olde North State Award, two of the state’s most prestigious honors.
That’s Jerry Tolley — all-star athlete, championship coach, renowned author, community leader, family man… and Hall of Famer.
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