Jess Stiles stopped coaching in the 1980s and retired from administration in 2011, but he never stopped loving life or stepping back from football.
As a football coach, a fundraiser and a friendly face, Stiles was a fixture at Texas Tech for more than four decades — hired by JT King in 1969 and still showing up at Kliff Kingsbury’s practices this spring. He died Wednesday at age 83.
Stiles’ cellphone ring tone was the Tech fight song. The voice he used to fire up football players came in handy when Tech needed someone to lead an invocation at Red Raider Club get-togethers. He was a First Baptist Church deacon.
“I just want everybody to live up to what they’re supposed to be,” Stiles said in August. “That’s all I wanted from my players: Be the best you can be and you always win the game, no matter what the score is. You’ve got to be the best you can be all your life, and then life is worth living.”
Stiles coached defensive ends for Jim Carlen and Steve Sloan in the 1970s. Though 1977 was his last season as a Red Raiders assistant coach, he had Tech in his blood from then on.
On the Red Raiders’ first week of practice in August, Stiles shuffled slowly up the sideline — an 82-year-old man in 97-degree heat. He went to practice every day “unless I have to go somewhere.”
“I like the players,” he explained. “I want to be around the players. I want to get to know them and get their feel.
“I enjoy the coaches, too. They’re all very nice to me and they still allow me to travel with the team. See, I don’t go with the VIPs. I stay right with the team. At the meetings on Friday nights when we’re out of town, I go to the offensive meetings and I go to the defensive meetings.
“I don’t go anywhere except where the players go. They go to the movies, I go to the movies. They go to bed, I go to bed. They get their sack lunches, I get my sack lunch. That’s just my ritual. That’s what I’ve always done. That’s what I always will do until I’m unable.”
Tech officials said Stiles had been hospitalized for several weeks after a recent fall and other health problems.
The Clarksville native worked as an assistant athletic director for Tech after he retired from coaching. Among his endeavors were raising money for the Athletic Training Center that opened in 1985, supervising the car coach program and working with the Red Raider Club.
“Jess was a people person,” former Tech Athletic Director Gerald Myers said. “He was always friendly and outgoing. He had great character. An honest man. A man of integrity. A man of his word. You could depend on Jess. Jess was willing to do whatever he could to serve people and serve that department. He leaves a strong legacy of service and loyalty and love for Texas Tech athletics.”
As recently as last fall, Stiles would watch workouts from a golf cart at Jones AT&T Stadium and give then-coach Tommy Tuberville a post-practice ride up to the Red Raiders’ football building.
“I was saddened to hear about the passing of Jess Stiles,” Tuberville said in a statement through the University of Cincinnati. “He was a great supporter of Texas Tech and someone who became a close friend. I always enjoyed seeing him at practice almost every day and learned a lot from him as a coach and person.”
When Stiles offered a friendly handshake, he extended a beefy hand with fingers all bent and twisted. He played college ball at Midwestern State, and said one of his thumbs had been broken five times.
After college, Stiles coached at Haskell, Bowie, Wichita Falls, Wichita Falls Hirschi and Borger.
King hired him in January 1969 to coach the Tech freshman team, a role he kept until 1974. Coaching Tech defensive ends, he worked alongside Bill Parcells, Carlen and Sloan during a golden era for the Red Raiders.
“It was like you had everything,” said Rodney Allison, quarterback of the Red Raiders’ 10-2 team in 1976. “He was a coach. He was a father figure. He was a motivator. He was a prince of a man. Everything to everybody.”
Being the freshman coach meant Stiles was the first face Red Raiders players dealt with for about a half dozen years.
“Coach Stiles was kind of your first father away from home,” Allison said, “because you dealt with him every single day. He was a great influence on every young athlete that came through here. I don’t know if you talked to very many people that came through that era that coach Stiles didn’t touch their lives in a lot of ways.”
Myers echoed that sentiment.
“I’ve never met one of his former players that didn’t have the highest respect for Jess,” Myers said. “And they genuinely liked Jess, because I think they could see how much he cared for each and every one of them.”
Stiles became an assistant athletic director in 1982 and an assistant director of special projects in the 1990s. He retired in 1995 but came back.
Even when Stiles briefly left Tech, it was to join a Tech ex — Tom Wilson — on the staff Wilson assembled at Texas A&M. That lasted from 1978 to 1981 before Stiles returned to Lubbock for good.
He said he turned down invitations to follow Carlen to South Carolina and Sloan to Mississippi when those two coaches left Tech.
Recalling his conversation with Carlen, Stiles said, “I said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be in the state of Texas, if I have to go back to high school, and that’ll be fine with me. But I’m going to stay right here.’ And I did.”
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