Ghostriders assistant coach lucky to be alive
[KISSIMMEE, Fla.] - Marquette Smith got the call he didn't want to hear Derric Coakley, his best friend, former teammate and godfather of his children, was in a hospital six hours away and probably wouldn't make it through the night.
The farewell messages had been relayed through the respective front offices of their football teams, and Coakley relayed to Smith there was no need to bother driving from Florida to South Carolina.
Smith, of course, went anyway.
A few hours into the ride, Smith's cell phone rang. It was Coakley. Laughing, kicking back. Amazing his doctors who said he had the worst case of blood clotting ever, should at least be in a coma by then and had told the family to start making arrangements.
"My friend, you are talking to a medical anomaly," Coakley told Smith, laughing.
For the first time in a few hundred miles, Smith could laugh as well.
"Doctors are telling him there's no reason he should be alive and he's laughing about it," Smith said. "It made it easier for me to go back home."
To this day, the doctors still have no medical reason why Coakley is up and about and able to serve on Smith's Osceola GhostRiders coaching staff. The blood clot in his leg had caused his whole body to deteriorate -- his right lungs was completely blocked, the left lung had clots throughout all its blood vessels, both kidneys collapsed, his oxygen level was a dangerously 39 percent AND he had bilateral pneumonia.
What's even more astonishing is that months after this incident, there are no permanent disabilities, though Coakley states that he's still battling high blood pressure in the leg the blood clot started.
"I'm a walking testament that there is a God," Coakley said. "I guess I'm just a stubborn old man, still fighting, still kicking. It's just a blessing to continue this and keep a dream going."
The incident came during Coakley's first stint as a head coach in Florence (S.C) with another indoor football league. The typical indoor drama was there, missing paychecks, incompetent management, but this was something else.
"You're thinking about the possibility of losing a best friend, a young guy, a great athlete," Smith said. "You're wondering why bad things happen to good people."
Smith and Coakley first met on opposite side of the ball - Smith was a running back for the Green Bay Bombers when they beat the Peoria Pirates in the 1999 Indoor Football League championship game.
"I would have had six more touchdowns if he weren't breathing down my back," Smith said. "I respected how great a player he was."
They became teammates in LaCrosse (Wis) and Myrtle Beach (S.C.) with the continued goal of coaching together and such good friends that Smith's wife sometimes get jealous with the amount of time they spend talking football.
Smith got the head coaching gig first - even though it was with the 2005 Kissimmee Kreatures in the NIFL in a disaster both jokingly refer to as the "Kreature Kastatrophe."
Osceola's current ownership rescued Smith and Kissimmee in 2006. When Coakley had the chance to become a head coach, Smith knew it was right the thing to do.
"There's no learning experience like your first year as a head coach," Smith said.
When pressed, Smith recruited Coakley to play during one of Florence's bye week, and a head coach recorded three sacks in an NIFL game, which says just as much about Coakley's abilities as the quality of play in another indoor football league.
"That showed an old man could still do it," Smith smiled.
If reuniting with Smith is enough cause to celebrate, then simply being above ground is even more.
"I've always appreciated and treated the game with respect," Coakley said. "It's just a blessing, truly amazing we still have so much ahead of us. I see things in a whole new perspective now."
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World Indoor Football League 2 Stories from January 22, 2007
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