ON SPORTS: Former Cuero coach Pullin heading to ring of honor
March 27, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
Updated March 26, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.
Clay Pullin had a strong north wind at his back. He also had the weight of Cuero on his shoulders.
But Cuero coach Larry Pullin didn't hesitate to send his only son onto the field at Memorial Stadium in Austin to attempt a 26-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of the Gobblers' 1985 Class 3A semifinal game against Van Vleck.
Cuero had seen a 35-14 lead turn into a 36-35 deficit, and its first trip to the state final since 1975 hung in the balance.
"I didn't think much about him being my son," the elder Pullin said. "He was just Clay, who was the kicker. He was our kicker, and I had confidence in him. We were going to do it. It was just reach out and grab the kicker."
Clay Pullin remembers standing on the field after Van Vleck had called a timeout, waiting for the decisive kick.
"He expected a whole lot out of me," Clay Pullin said. "But I enjoyed playing for him. I had a really good time."
The younger Pullin made sure Cuero fans had a pleasant drive home when his kicked sailed through the uprights with 1 second remaining to give the Gobblers a 38-36 win.
Cuero lost to Daingerfield in the title game, but it began a run of three consecutive state final appearances capped by the 1987 state championship.
Pullin left Cuero for Abilene High after the 1985 season, but he enjoyed his six seasons with the Gobblers.
Pullin, 66, will get a chance to recall some of the highlights of his coaching career after being selected for induction into the Texas High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor.
Pullin and his wife, Cindy, will be in Forth Worth for the July 31 induction ceremonies, which will be held during the association's annual coaching school.
"The main thing is I coached for 38 years, and it doesn't seem like I worked a day in my life," Pullin said by phone from his San Antonio residence.
Pullin grew up in Nixon and played college football at Texas A&I (Texas A&M-Kingsville), where he still holds the school and Lone Star Conference record for punt returns.
He began his coaching career as an assistant at Kingsville and Lubbock Estacado before becoming a head coach at Floresville.
Pullin went on to coach at Cuero, Abilene High and San Antonio Jay. He retired after the 2003 season with a 167-134-2 record.
Pullin's most successful tenure was at Cuero, where he had a 51-19 record during his six seasons.
He had the unenviable task of replacing the legendary Buster Gilbreth.
"I looked at it as an opportunity to improve myself in coaching," he said. "We weren't as competitive as we would have liked to have been. The kids played hard, had a great attitude and were determined to keep the history of the program alive.
"We kind of grew into some kids who were good athletes. We dropped to 3A, which helped, and we got some speed, and we were able to get back to where we were."
The Gobblers' run to the 1985 state final was led by quarterback Brad Goebel, who would go on to play at Baylor and in the NFL.
"I played for a lot of coaches, and he's by far the best," said Goebel, who sells real estate in Horseshoe Bay and still talks to Pullin at least once a week. "He knew when to be tough and when to pat you on the back. He was a coach you could respect and like, and that made him easy to play for."
Pullin did not enjoy the same success at Abilene High, but by far his toughest season came in 2000 at Jay.
The Mustangs not only went 0-10, but Pullin's defensive coordinator and longtime best friend, Bob Johns, who had coached with him at Cuero, was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma, an extremely rare and aggressive cartilage cancer.
After the season, a Jay player was killed in a car wreck, and the coaches had to tell his brother, who was in the weight room at the time.
Johns died four weeks later.
"When you do something for so long, you know tough things are going to happen," Pullin said. "That was a big blow to our whole coaching family. You've got to try and move on and keep them in your memory."
Pullin and the Mustangs bounced back. He led Jay to a 10-2 record and a regional final appearance in his last season as head coach.
Pullin spent the first six years of his retirement playing golf and visiting Clay, his wife Leona, and their two daughters in Cuero.
But ever the coach, Pullin accepted an offer in 2009 from Stan Laing, the athletic director for San Antonio Northside school district, to work in the athletic office for half a day.
"The kids were great, and the coaches were great, and it was a good experience," Pullin said. "I have good memories from every stop I made."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or email@example.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.