TULSA — Early in 2012, J.T. Cobble submitted his father, Tom, for the Oklahoma Coaches Association Hall of Fame, an honor that came to fruition at a ceremony Sunday night.
And if there was a hall of fame for fathers, J.T. would have nominated his dad for that, too.
Not because his father coached him to a football state championship in Weatherford. Not because he mentored and molded J.T. into a talented young assistant coach.
But because Tom Cobble was the steady rock in J.T.'s life when a son needed his father the most, during a tragic situation that was almost more than J.T. could handle.
J.T. Cobble was the person who found former Oklahoma football player Austin Box unconscious at Cobble's home in May 2011. He was the one who called 911 and tried to revive Box.
Not only did J.T. Cobble face the private tragedy from the death of a close friend, he was in the middle of a story that became a national media magnet.
“ESPN somehow got my phone number,” J.T. Cobble said. “My street looked like a college-football game with all the TV trucks with their antennas up.
“So my dad let me live with him for a while. He made an effort to not talk about things, and do things to keep my mind off all of it. He was the rock.”
Tom Cobble was close with Box and his family, too. But he stood strong through the horrible events.
“I know he was hurting, too,” J.T. said. “But he made sure that I was OK first.
“If I didn't have the type of relationship I have with him, I don't know if I would have made it through all of that.”
Quite deservingly, Tom Cobble was inducted into the OCA Hall of Fame for his coaching accomplishments Sunday night, along with Ronnie Asbill, Larry Bookout, Dan Bradberry, Mark Campbell, Jim Coleman, Rick Jones, Charley North, Blaine Stone and T.J. “Sonny” Vermillion.
“It's really a thought-provoking honor,” Tom Cobble said. “You think back to all the great coaches you worked with and all the great players you had — that's really what makes a guy's career go as long as mine has. It's a pretty exciting honor.”
J.T. watched from the audience, seeing his father honored for winning a state title at Weatherford, and playing for two more — one each at Enid and El Reno, along with many other accolades.
Tom Cobble is 264-173 during 39 seasons as a head coach, with two stints each at El Reno, Minco and Chickasha, where he coaches now. He also had stops at Weatherford, Enid and Fairview, and was an assistant at Yukon, Kingfisher and Casady in a career spanning 43 football seasons.
He was the National Football Foundation Coach of the Year while at Enid in 2006, and he has been selected as an All-State and Oil Bowl coach during his career.
As J.T. watched his father, he saw the coach and the man he wants to be like. In Tom Cobble, there's not much of a boundary between the two. He's a father at home, and a father to his players in much the same way.
“Tom is so deserving of this, because he's what Oklahoma football is all about,” said El Reno athletic director Rocky Carter, Cobble's friend since 1978 and an assistant coach for him for 10 seasons. “His players are just like his own kids. That's always been Tom's philosophy — treat your kids like your own and you can't go wrong.”
Added J.T.: “The thing I'm still learning from him is the way he legitimately cares about the kids he's coaching. He goes above and beyond to make sure they stay involved, because for some of them, football might be the only structure they have.”
It usually takes a coach four years or more to earn the hall of fame nomination, but Cobble made it in his second year on the ballot. And it was an honor his entire family took pride in.
“As soon as we found out, I called my mom and my sisters, and they were all real excited,” said J.T. Cobble, who has been his father's assistant coach for more than a decade. “I want to coach for the rest of my career, and I'm using the tools he has taught me to live on.
“This has meant so much to our whole family to see all of dad's hard work pay off like this.”