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No barriers for O'Brien as coach

By Michael Butler

The legend of John Edward "Hot" O'Brien is well established in Tallassee. His 57-game unbeaten streak is among the greatest feats in high school sports history. The football stadium on Gilmer Avenue still bears his name.

One of characteristics of the coach that may not be as well known relates to his willingness to cross over in coaching. He coached kids of color during a time of segregation and had no qualms about it.

"Before it was RR Moton, it was Tallassee Colored High School," recalled Charles Blalock, who was a student at the Tallassee school during that period. "When (O'Brien) got through practicing with his guys, he would come down. He gave us three plays. There was quick left, quick right and dynamite."

Blalock said the the three plays were designed for the fullback and halfbacks but became six plays with quarterback keepers included.

"We thought it was exciting that Coach O'Brien and Jackie Williams would come down. They would stay with us. When we got ready to travel, they would get on the bus. Back then it was tradition that when the visiting team would arrive, the host team would come out and meet the team.

"At Lanett, Coach O'Brien and Jackie Williams were in the front seat just opposite of the driver. When that bus stopped, all the guys from Lanett were standing there. Coach O'Brien and Jackie Williams were the first two that stepped off the bus. You could hear those guys say, 'Those guys from Tallassee got a white coach.'"

O'Brien won 79 percent of his games in tenures at Falkville, Tallapoosa County (Dadeville) and Tallassee. He spent 19 seasons in Tallassee and also coached basketball.

"It was not unusual on a Wednesday night to see Coach O'Brien cruise through Jordanville because our game was on a Thursday night and the Tigers game was on a Friday night," Blalock added. "He wouldn't tell you to go home. He'd stop and say, 'Hello. How you guys doing? We got a game tomorrow night. We want you to get ready for that.' In the practice the next time, that's when he'd really get on you. 'I saw you guys out after curfew.' We loved that man. He showed a lot of love for us."

Blalock was a 1956 graduate. O'Brien retired from coaching in 1958. He died on Jan. 18, 1977.

O'Brien's 1947 Tallassee team