Maurice Fitzgerald has been walking up and down sidelines in Metro Nashville for a long time. Recently though, he decided to call it a career. The former Pearl-Cohn, Stratford and Hillsboro head coach announced his retirement from coaching. After 36 years and two championships, the veteran coach has decided to call it a career in terms of being a head coach, although he will continue to be a teacher at Hillsboro. While many will talk about the great things, he did with football teams on the field with his teams, his affect was even greater with kids and his teams off of it.
Former Pearl-Cohn quarterback/running back and current Pearl-Cohn offensive coordinator Damian Harris remembers the feeling of playing for Fitzgerald during his time as a Firebird: “Words cannot describe how it was to play for such an amazing coach. He could motivate you to do things you would never dream of. He also prepares you mentally and physically not only for football but also life outside of football.”
Harris, who would go on to play college football at the University of Tennessee at Martin, said Fitzgerald would also help kids who did and did not play for him at school by making sure they were in ACT prep classes. Above it all though, he was someone who was there for his players.
“He made the team into a family and he was the father figure that most of us didn’t have, so it was easy to lay it all on the line and play hard every play because we did not want to disappoint him.”
The greatness of Fitzgerald the coach was not missed among Harris, as it surely wasn’t missed among his peers and fellow coaches and Jerry Vanderpool, who was on his coaching staff at Hillsboro, coaching the defensive line for the past five years, saw a care about kids that was on a different level.
“I’ve seen how kids saw no way to get into college and he never gave up on them. He showed them the importance of being a student-athlete and how students came before athlete no matter how good you are. He truly cared for the kids outside of being athletes.”
He may be gone from the sidelines as a head coach, but to the many kids whose life he touched, he will forever be known not only as a head coach. His impact will never be forgotten by Damian Harris and the lessons learned from being a coach alongside him will never leave Vanderpool. In asking Vanderpool what one lesson was he would take with him from Fitzgerald in his coaching career, he could not focus on just one.
“Narrowing it down to just one lesson is impossible from the wealth of knowledge anybody can absorb from him on any given day. That’s why he is a living legend.”
Maurice Fitzgerald is one of a kind. He won games but he also won the hearts of his kids and the city in the process.