Simply put, Jerry Glanville is a rock star. And not the normal, trash-the-hotel-room and snort-coke-off-a-hooker rock star. Glanville's coolness transcends all that clichéd business. He's not some silly frontman whose rocker poses are practiced in the backstage full-length mirror; Glanville cares not for all of this posturing. His mystique is not normal, or even human.
Instead, Jerry Glanville is on the Mount Rushmore of Rock Star Cool, up alongside his pals Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. He's also a friend of MC Hammer (more on that later), but we'll leave Hammertime off that mountain, for obvious reasons. Glanville's relationship to these legendary figures is even more special because the man is not known for music, he's known for being the all-black-clad football coach of the Falcons and Oilers, a roving badass who stalks the sidelines of games and teaches players, controls the tempo, and scolds the passive referees, all with the ease of some twisted conductor. While his peers are pudgy old men in pullover vests with clipboards, Glanville shines like a glistening beacon of cool; an unfuckwithable force that is the most intimidating figure on a field of muscle-bound monsters surrounded by screaming fans. Jerry Glanville is a rock star.
To better understand this once-in-a-lifetime character, you should know that when interviewed for this piece and greeted with the standard, "Hello sir, how are you doing?" his rapid-fire response was "I'm great, son. Any better and it'd be illegal and I'd have to go to jail." Jerry Granville doesn't answer "fine" when asked how he is—and why should he? That answer is reserved for those whose lives are far less exciting than his, lives so boring they could never possibly result in incarceration due to the sheer quality of greatness they have achieved. The reason Glanville was even taking my call was because the 65-year-old coach was just named to head up the Portland State University football program.
PSU has a football program, you ask? For shame. Not only are the PSU Vikings in Division 1-AA, they have now opened the door to bigger games and national media attention by roping in the legendary coach to lead their team. In his 40 years on the sidelines, Glanville has coached for colleges ranging from Western Kentucky University to Georgia Tech, and most recently, he was defensive coordinator for the University of Hawaii under longtime pal June Jones.
In was alongside Jones that Glanville—who was coaching the NFL's Atlanta Falcons at the time—cemented his legacy not just in coaching, but also in rock history. "We were playing the New England Patriots in Memphis, for the pre-season, and while June Jones and I were driving to work we heard on the radio that Elvis was spotted in Michigan, alive and working at a Burger King. Then we found out that the halftime of the game was dedicated to Elvis, so June suggested we leave Elvis a pair of tickets. After that it just took off and had a life of its own."
The (unfortunately) unclaimed tickets at will call for The King made national news, and soon Falcons games were swarming with mutton-chopped Elvis impersonators trying to either get those tickets, or win the attention of the team's unorthodox coach.
But the rock legacy of Glanville didn't stop at leaving football tickets for a fat singer's caped ghost. Unafraid to live among the rocker populace, Glanville did his part. "I was at a Farm Aid in Indianapolis with Kris Kristofferson and I was introducing the performers. I was with John Cougar Mellencamp, who became a very close friend, but I didn't perform. I was just an emcee. Had I sang, we'd have emptied the crowd. The farms would have all gone under."
Glanville's confident enough to hang with "Rubber Duck" from Convoy, yet he's humble enough to know that his pipes would not only tarnish his pristine legacy, but it might hurt the working folk. What a guy. Just in case you were wondering—since I know you were—the man's favorite Mellencamp album is "The Lonesome Jubilee. He gave me his jacket from that tour, with the jukebox on the cover. That is a great album, such good writing."
Glanville prefers songwriters over the shallow pop stars, in Kris Kristofferson his allegiance lies, and his favorite song is the classic "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Glanville explains how that song got from a down-and-out Kristofferson to the Man in Black.
"How he got Johnny Cash to record that song was that he had this Volkswagen—it was all he had left. He was a former helicopter pilot in the Korean War, and was broke with no money. So he sold the Volkswagen to rent a helicopter and he landed that thing in Johnny Cash's backyard. When Johnny comes out to see what was going on, Kris comes out and starts singing his songs."
Now, I've heard that rumor before, but it just seems like a rock urban myth, like a classier version of the tale of the contents of Rob Stewart's pumped stomach. Volkswagens? Helicopters? Johnny Cash's yard? It all adds up to one big fat fib—that is, if it was coming from anyone else's mouth. But to hear it from Glanville, it's suddenly the gospel. The story couldn't be truer had it been whispered in your ear from Kristofferson with Cash's ghost as the second source, ready to show you home movies of the whole event. In fact, Glanville—who does not lie—knew both men in question. "I became very close friends with those guys."
Of course, as in life, you take the good with the bad. This can be said for Glanville's relationship with the less admirable MC Hammer. A fixture on the Atlanta Falcons sidelines during Glanville's tenure—his parachute pants playfully flapping away, blissfully unaware of the oncoming poverty that was about to destroy their owner—Hammer was only there because the coach wanted him there. While some just saw a cartoonish pop-rapper with a man-crush on "Neon" Deion Sanders, Glanville saw an opportunity to use Hammer's charisma, and popularity, to lead his team to victory.
"MC Hammer was fantastic. I'd have him speak to the team before games and the things he said were great. He's very close to some of our players at the time, and I was in his video for 'Too Legit to Quit.'"
Yup, the old white football coach from Perrysburg, Ohio—who is as cool as James Dean, and as legendary as The King—was able to seamlessly crossover into hiphop. Vince Lombardi could have never done that.
This is the wonder of Jerry Glanville. Clearly he is not your average football coach, or everyday man. In fact, he is better than man, as his evolved state of being is able to exist peacefully on warring plains. Country music vs. hiphop? Rock vs. sports? It doesn't matter. In life, all we can do is hope to live well, love as best we can, and pray that we are as much like Coach Jerry Glanville as possible. When in doubt over the troubles life might throw at you, remember to breathe deep and ask yourself, "WWJD: What Would Jerry Do?"