Around 10:30 p.m. on Interstate 70 somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis, Jerry Glanville, 82, made a phone call to his new boss.
Glanville was in the middle of a 14-hour road trip from Ohio to Alva, Oklahoma. He could have flown but decided to “Let the big dog eat” and beat an incoming winter storm in his 2005 Dodge Magnum that carries a Hemi engine.
Ronnie Jones, football coach at NCAA Division II Northwestern Oklahoma State University, answered the phone but didn’t get a word in before Glanville yelled, ‘I think we’re winning.’
‘What is he talking about?’ Jones thought. ‘Winning what?’
No cars had passed him on the highway.
“I think he’s always in that NASCAR mode,” Jones said.
Glanville, hired on Jan. 17 as defensive coordinator at Northwestern State, learned racing in his 50s from mentor Dale Earnhardt and raced stock cars and trucks for 12 years. During a qualifying lap at Kentucky Speedway in May 2003, Glanville lost control of his car and slammed the wall. His fuel line burst into flames and his car was engulfed for two minutes. Glanville required a skin graft from his right shoulder to his elbow. It’s not so bad, he told The Fifth Down in 2011, because the graft looked like the state of Texas.
For most people, a professional racing career would be the highlight of their professional lives. If it’s not already clear, Jerry Glanville isn’t most people.
Glanville is perhaps best known for his time as an NFL coach, just ask rapper MC Hammer. During Glanville’s four seasons as head coach of the Atlanta Falcons from 1990-93, Hammer was a regular on the sidelines, in the locker room and even on the road with the team. The Falcons adopted his “2 legit 2 quit” moniker, complete with hand motions. It was cool to be associated with the Atlanta Falcons, Deion Sanders and Glanville as they headed up what became known as “The rudest team in NFL History.”
Glanville was named No. 19 on NFL.com’s 100 greatest characters list. He became known for leaving game tickets at will call for local celebrities, actor James Dean in Indianapolis and actress Loni Anderson in Cincinnati, although he hasn’t yet thought about which Oklahoma star he’ll leave tickets for in Alva. While he coached the Houston Oilers from 1985-89, Glanville left a ticket for Elvis Presley at a preseason game in Memphis.
A football odyssey
Coaching Division II football in Alva isn’t even the most unique stop for Glanville, who has coached practically every level of football imaginable. He’s coached in the NFL, XFL (Tampa Bay Vipers, 2020), The Spring League (TSL Conquerors, 2020) Major League Football (Alabama Airborne, 2022) and Canadian Football League (Hamilton Tiger-Cats, 2018). He coached collegiately at Hawaii University, with Georgia Tech and even spent last year helping Toledo Central Catholic High School in his home state of Ohio go 16-0 and win a state championship.
A spontaneous line Glanville said while with the Houston Oilers to referee Jim Daopoulos, who was in his first year with the NFL after refereeing in college has become legendary and, in some ways, defined his coaching career.
“This isn’t college, you’re not at a homecoming,” Glanville said. “This is NFL, which stands for ‘not for long’ when you make them f****** calls.”
Glanville admitted his family thinks he’s a little insane for taking the Northwestern job, but that’s not new.
“They know me, I’m going to be coaching somewhere,” Glanville said. “If I wasn’t in Alva I’d be coaching somewhere else.”
Bringing Glanville on staff has spiced up Jones’ recruiting pitch. But when Jones drops Glanville’s name, it is better known by the parents of players than the players themselves.
Northwestern linebacker Coby Tillman, a graduate student, said he was shocked when he heard who his new coordinator was. He knew Glanville’s name mostly from talking football with his father, who likes to reference the great players of the 80s and 90s like Howie Long and Deion Sanders.
Parents remember Glanville as a football coach. Recruits might better know him from his 2001 cameo as himself in “The Sopranos” or his appearance in the 2017 Burt Reynolds’ film “The Last Movie Star,” where he played a football coach.
Some NWOSU students might know Glanville as a professor. Glanville said coaches are required to teach a class, so he is teaching “Theory of Football” to any student who wants to take it. He wants his first guest lecturer to be Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
In 1967, Glanville coached at Bowling Green and the same education rule applied. He taught women’s bowling class and got called into the president’s office where he was told his class had the highest percentage of students earning an A on campus.
“That proves what I knew all along,” Glanville said as he walked out the door, “I’m the best teacher you got.”
The Rangers are coming off a 1-10 season in which they allowed 42.5 points per game, the worst in the Great American Conference. So how did they land Glanville?
Jones, in his second year with the Rangers, had a mutual coaching friend who saw the defensive coordinator position was open and suggested he call Glanville. Jones didn’t see why Glanville would have any interest in coming to Alva, but called anyway and Glanville agreed to an interview.
Glanville drove 14 hours through a winter storm to Alva. It was just Glanville, the state troopers and the snowplows on the highways. Once he got to Alva, Glanville met school president Dr. Bo Hannaford and athletic director Brad Franz. Hannaford was a football coach and Franz a basketball coach. The three hit it off, and Glanville was sold.
“They have the will and the want to, same as Ronnie, to get it done and to become a whole lot better than they are,” Glanvillle said. “And if we got the president and AD and the head coach with the same vision, I just decided this is the best job I’ve ever had.”
Jones, 68, and Glanville are kindred souls. Jones spent eight years in the NFL from 1987-95. He coached linebackers with the Philadelphia Eagles under Buddy Ryan and was the Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator for a season. They are both old-school and like-minded. Jones knew he had to get Glanville.
Glanville had promised an online interview to a professional football team before he decided to accept the Northwestern State job. Minutes before the interview, Jones called Glanville with a quick message, “I hope your Zoom doesn’t work.”
Sure enough, it didn’t. The technological error made Glanville’s decision easy.
“He called that one, but in my heart I really wanted to go with him over the other opportunity,” Glanville said.
Jerry Glanville, right, during his days as the Atlanta Falcons head coach, with owner Rankin Smith, left, and Taylor Smith, center. (Manny Rubio/USA Today Sports)
Still the Man in Black
Jones wasn’t sure what to expect when he picked Glanville up from the Holiday Inn Express in Alva. It had been 30 years since they had first interacted at a scrimmage in Macon, Georgia, Jones as an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Eagles and Glanville with the Falcons. Who knew what kind of physical shape Glanville, who played middle linebacker in college at Northern Michigan and crashed into walls driving 100 mph, was in?
It was a good sign when Glanville emerged from the hotel wearing all black. It was his signature look, usually complete with a cowboy hat, dark sunglasses, boots and a shiny belt buckle. Why did a character as colorful as Glanville wear one color to the point he became known as “The man in black?” To Glanville, black isn’t a color. It’s an attitude. Northwestern State’s black and red color scheme should make dressing easy, especially on the university’s “Red N’ Black Fridays.”
“Neither one of us are using a walker,” Jones said. “But it’s ironic, after all these years when he walked out of the hotel to get in the car with me I could spot him from a mile away. That’s coach Glanville. As usual, he was dressed in all black…he’s the same guy.”
Glanville has brought a presence and authority to the defense. Even before he was officially hired, Glanville requested tape of Harding, a conference opponent that won the NCAA Division II National Championship last season. He has watched tape of every high school recruit the Rangers have coming in.
“Everybody seemed to create this type of faith and hope for this upcoming season,” Tillman said. “With great coaches comes great seasons…we’re ready to win some ball games with them.”
When Glanville got in the office, he opened a big calendar full of dates when he’d like to install defensive schemes. He already has the season planned out.
“When I first started talking to him,” Jones said, “I asked, ‘Do you like to hunt, fish or golf?’ And he almost cut me off short and said, ‘I coach football.’”
Jones said he’s felt excitement from his players, administration and the community because of the hire. The Rangers haven’t had a winning season since 2010, but Jones believes his talented coaching staff can find success. The biggest crowd the Rangers drew last season was 3,213 against Harding.
Glanville said he knew what people would ask when he joined a Division II program trying to begin another turnaround. He doesn’t care.
“The crowd doesn’t bother a coach, I don’t care,” Glanville said. “People say, ‘But you’ve coached Monday Night Football with 90,000 people watching,’ as a coach, that means nothing to you. Once the game starts happening on the field it doesn’t matter what size the stadium is, what division you’re in.”
Last year, Glanville said it was just as much fun helping Toledo Central Catholic win a state championship as it was coaching in four NFL Pro Bowls. He’s coached players aged 14 and 40 and tells all of them he won’t leave the field until he helps at least one player get a little bit better that day.
That’s why on Thursday, Glanville answered the phone from the Kansas Turnpike. He was on the home stretch of his drive from Perrysburg, Ohio — about 110 miles west of Cleveland — back to Alva. He’s living in the middle unit of a triplex. It’s getting new paint on the walls and a new microwave installed. Glanville is bringing funky band posters and his funk saxophone for decoration.
“I’m going to have the only funk house in Oklahoma,” Glanville said.
Northwestern State has several recruits in town this weekend and Glanville is going to be there, arriving in the black 2007 Dodge Charger he bought off the set of the movie “Watchmen.”
“Well I made (the drive) in 14 hours last time,” Glanville said. “What if I could get it down to 13:30?”