Billy Joe: From Rookie Of The Year To Coach Of The Year
Born on October 14th, 1940 in Aynor, South Carolina, to Hammie and Sarah Belle (Williams) Joe. He had siblings, David Joe and sister, Dorothy Tucker (nee Joe), as well at two other brothers who were exceptional athletes, John who was older and Abel Harold Joe, the youngest. He was raised a in South Carolina until his family moved to Pennsylvania while he was still young. He attended Scott High School in Coatesville, PA. Coatesville is about an 35 miles west of Philadelphia on US route 30 and 1-76.
He was All-State in football and was also and set the shot-put record on the track team. “I had the longest shot-put in the nation at 59 feet, one inch,” he said. He was highly recruited for both sports, however he contracted rheumatic fever the spring of his senior season which had an impact on his athletic career. Joe graduated from Scott High, spring of 1959. He is still the only professional football player to ever come from Scott High School. His older brother John was a Little All-American football player at Lycoming High, in nearby Lycoming, PA and Abel Harold Joe, his younger brother still holds the school’s discus record.
The youngest Joe brother was a star in: football, track and field, basketball as well as baseball, was a member of the 1973 Pennsylvania Big 33 All-Star Team. He and Tony Dorsett (of the Dallas Cowboys) were starters in that Big 33 backfield. They were both drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.Abel Joe was all Ches-Mont in football, basketball and track. In 1972 he was voted to the All State First Team in football and was he a Scholastic Magazine All-American. He won the Maxwell Club Award for Outstanding Area High School football player as well as the Order of the Purple Heart Award presented to Chester County’s top football player.
In the final game of his high school career, the pivotal Thanksgiving Day, game versus Downingtown, Abel scored five touchdowns and kicked extra points. In the same contest he rushed for 291 yards on 19 carries. He established individual season and career records for points scored. His at 172 feet, in discus, remains the school’s record, he had a shot put of over 55 feet and high jumped over 6-feet, 5-inches.
After graduation, he enrolled at Cheyney University, where older brother, Billy, was head coach. Abel Joe led the conference in rushing as a senior and was All-Conference First Team in 1975 in 1976. He signed with the Dallas Cowboys in 1976, but due to an injury, his professional career was curtailed.
Billy was more fortunate. In football, at Coatesville High, under coach Bob Bowman, Billy ran for nearly 1000 yards his senior year, scoring 18 touchdowns. He became the first Red Raider back to win the Ches-Mont scoring crown. That year he earned all Ches-Mont and All-State honors. Coach Quentin Diedrick is credited with developing Billy into a nationally ranked high school shot putter. In 1959, Billy shattered the district one shot put record with a toss of 59 feet and 1 inch.
After graduation, Billy went to Villanova University on a track scholarship. But he also made a name in football, Assistant coach Joe Rogers said of his blocking, “He’s one of the best college blockers I’ve ever seen. He blows them out of there. He doesn’t leave his feet, he just goes right through them.” Joe finished his junior season with 267 yards rushing on 57 carries and scored six touchdowns. He was second on the team in scoring and third in rushing. Head coach Bell said about his powerhouse fullback, “He can block, he can tackle and he’s a helluva runner. He’s strong as a bull, 235 pounds of muscle.”
In preparation for the Sun Bowl, the team had some fun at a breakfast hosted for them on a ranch near the border of New Mexico. At the conclusion of the breakfast the Wildcats were requested to perform song and dance. Joe stole the show as he gave an imitation of Chubby Checker. The morning paper described Billy’s performance the next day this way: “He resembled a rhinoceros shaking off water as he twisted back and forth, his muscular arms flailing in one direction and his torso moving the other way.”
Despite that Joe was all business once game time came. He led the Wildcats to a 17-9 upset victory over Wichita State. He scored the team’s first touchdown on a 19-yard sweep, while plowing through four would-be tacklers, he gave Villanova an early 7-0 lead, and set the tone for the game. He was the leading ball carrier in the contest with 63 yards. In track and field, his record throw at the 1962 IC4A Championships of 60 feet and 6 inches is still the Villanova record. He also represented the United States at the Pan American games in 1963 and won a silver medal in the event. Meanwhile, Villanova had another excellent season in Billy’s senior year. The Wildcats put together another 7-2 regular season record with their only losses to nemesis Boston College and a one-point disappointment against the University of Massachusetts. Their defense again was extremely strong, allowing only 95 points, finishing 15th best in the country. They pitched two shutouts and held five other opponents to 10 points or less.
Joe rushed for 267 yards on 75 carries and scored one touchdown for the season. He caught one touchdown pass while also playing outstanding defense at linebacker. Joe was injured in the Boston College game and his ankle bothered him for the remainder of the season, although he played in every game. Despite his injury, he was named to the Associated Press All-East All-Star team at the conclusion of the season at fullback. Joe was selected by Washington, December 2, 1962, with the seventh selection in the ninth round of the NFL draft, #119 overall. He was also selected by the ASL’s Denver Broncos, on December 1, with the fifth selection in the eleventh round, pick #85. Billy and his teammates earned a second consecutive Bowl bid, this time to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., against the Oregon State Beavers. The Wildcats lost a hard-fought 6-0 decision. Villanova was a two- to three-touchdown underdog to the Beavers. The Wildcats played toe to toe with Oregon State and Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Terry Baker.
Despite the loss, Joe was named the Most Valuable Back in the game. He ran through and around the Oregon State defense. He rushed for 66 yards and had a 12-yard touchdown run called back on a penalty.l and gained the attention of NFL scouts, including the legendary Bucko Kilroy, who was watching for Washington: “It was one of Billy Joe’s two greatest games. The other was in the Sun Bowl last year.”
He finished his track career at Villanova in fine fashion. In the NCAA Championships in Oregon he took third place in the shot-put behind Dallas Long and Gary Grubner, making him an All-American. He also competed at the Pan American Games in Sao Paolo, Brazil, finishing second in the shot-put competition to fellow American Dave Davis. Joe had a throw of 17.77 meters or 58-feet, 3.6 inches.He graduated from Villanova with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics.
He signed with the Broncos May 18. He’d been sought by Washington, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League and Denver. He chose the Broncos because they gave him a two-year, no-cut contract and the most money. A fullback, he was the 1963 Rookie of the Year while with the Denver Broncos. Two seasons later, he helped the Buffalo Bills win the league championship.Then following the 1966 season, he was released by the Miami Dolphins.
“As soon as I got cut, (Jets head coach) Weeb (Ewbank) called. I don’t think he gave anybody a chance to call me or to serenade me, and I wasn’t willing to wait around,” Joe said. “I knew the New York Jets had a better team and a better future than the Miami Dolphins, so I was excited.
“Weeb told me he was bringing me to back up Matt (Snell). He thought Matt was getting injured a lot and he wanted to have a good backup. I was willing to do that because, of course, I was happy to have a job, and happy to be closer to home, Philadelphia.”
In 1967, Joe’s first season playing closer to home and in a reserve rule with the Jets, he finished fourth on the team in rushing behind Emerson Boozer, Snell, and Bill Mathis, with 154 yards and two touchdowns.
“We got along beautifully. I had no issues, no problems,” Joe said. “I had a great relationship with Matt and a great relationship with Emerson, as well. And I still have an unbelievably close relationship with Earl Christy.”
The following season during an October 27 game against the Patriots at Shea Stadium, Joe steamrolled himself out of the shadows and into the spotlight when he rushed for 7-, 15-, and 32-yard touchdowns. Three touchdowns, all in the fourth quarter!
“What I remember mostly is running over (Patriots linebacker) Nick Buoniconti. I had an opportunity to run over him a few times in that one quarter,” Joe said with a laugh. “(My teammates) were fired up and excited because I did it after we already had a sizeable lead. The game was already over, but they were excited that I had a chance to really carry the ball and score.”
Three weeks later, the Jets played in Oakland, in a game which became known as the “Heidi Bowl.” With New York leading 32-29 in the fourth quarter, at 7 p.m. EST, NBC switched to the children’s movie, Heidi. One problem: The Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final 1:05 and won 43-32. Television viewers didn’t see the Jets loss, and they also didn’t see Joe suffer a career-ending knee injury.
“I was running down for a kickoff, and a gentleman, I remember his number, 65, his name slips me, but he came out of, it seemed like, nowhere. All it was was a blur coming at my left knee and I got hit,” Joe said. “I spent six weeks in the hospital, three weeks at the UCLA Clinic on the west coast and then three weeks in the Lennox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“I had an infection and almost lost my life. But I did come back for summer camp in 1969 and worked with Dr. (James) Nicholas, trying to get the knee strong. And, of course, it never did come around.”
With his playing career at an end he found a place at Cheyney State in 1970, as an assistant coach and assistant admission director. In 1971 he was an assistant coach on Coach Roy Lester’s staff at the University of Maryland, becoming the first African-American assistant coach in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Cheyney State hired him to be there head football coach in 1972. He had 31 wins – 32 losses from 1972 to 1978. From 1979 to 1980 he was a backfield coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. This was the year the team won the NFC title and played in the Super Bowl. At Central State University from 1981 to 1993, Billy’s coaching record was 120 wins 30 losses and four ties. From 1994 to 2004, in his 11 seasons at Florida A&M, where his team made six straight playoff appearances; a streak that included an black college national championship in 1998. As well as FAMU’s infamous 1998 RAC Boys set NCAA records for points, yards and total offense, in his “Gulf Coast Offense.
His teams advanced to the national semi-finals in 1999, and after a three year hiatus he coached for five seasons at Miles College, for the 2008 season. He stayed at this Division II college in Fairfield, Alabama, for three seasons and then retired in 2010 for good this time. When Billy Joe was finished he’d compiled .654 winning percentage with an all-time record of 246-131-4, second only to Grambling’s Eddie Robinson among coaches at HBCUs. 13 of the players that he’d coached went on to play professional football, Hugh Douglas, Terry Mickens and Erik Williams are among his more well-known former players.
Why was he so successful as a coach? In his own words: “I think because I had an opportunity to play professional football for four different teams, so I learned a lot of different schemes and a lot of concepts playing under some great coaches,” Joe said. “Having that experience of coaching in the pros, playing in the pros, when I became a head coach, I was really well prepared. I was well schooled.
“I really enjoyed the fact that I could make an impact on the players’ lives, help them grow, develop, mature, and be all the person that they can be. Making an impact on their lives, that was very important to me, very gratifying, and quite rewarding personally. Helping them realize their dreams, goals, and aspirations, I really enjoyed that part of coaching.”
Joe was enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. One of 10 Halls of Fame to which he’s been inducted as a coach.
“That was very special and unexpected. I wasn’t expecting the call,” Joe said. “But they called and said, ‘You’ve earned your way in. And we’re going to induct you the same year as Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden.’
Works cited: Black College Football 1892-1992: One Hundred Years Of History, Education And Pride, by Micheal Hurd Published by The Donning Company, 1993
The Pro Football Researchers Association
The Black College Football Hall of Fame