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Barbara Terry interview with Dexter Coakley

Dexter Coakley is a 10-year veteran of the NFL, playing linebacker for eight years with the Dallas Cowboys and two years with the St. Louis Rams. Dexter went to three Pro Bowls during his career, posting 438 tack­les, 9.5 sacks and 13 interceptions. Today, he is a successful businessman involved in many ventures, and who is happily retired. For the better part of a decade, he was one of the more feared linebackers in the game, playing at the tail-end of a dominant run by the Cowboys as one of the better teams in the league.

So, Dexter Coakley, what was your first car?

Wow..my first car, actually, was a Ford Grenada. It was just something my dad gave me, something I had in high school. We called it, uhm, there was a nick­name I had, you know, with some of my home boys – FORD, F-O-R-D, For Only Rock Daddy – because that was my nickname, Rock. They just added Daddy at the end and that is what they called it when they would see my Ford Grenada come through. But, yeah, it was a maroon Ford Grenada.

How old were you when you got your driver’s licence?

I really don’t know. I mean, to be honest, because I’m a country boy, you know. I’m not familiar with the city, but, in the country, you learn to drive. Literally, your parents will say, ‘Hey, you know, go drive’ and you learned to drive. I was driving on the highways, prob­ably before I got my license, so, you know, obviously that’s not good, breaking the law. We didn’t have to worry about cops, so we literally learned to drive on the back roads of the neighborhood. I became legal, I think, at 16, but I was driving since I can remember.

Yeah, cool thing about growing up in a small town, I mean, you can start driving on roads as a youngster because even the cops are your siblings’ friends, you know what I am talking about? It’s really like one big family, so, yeah, you wouldn’t get in trouble.

What did you buy after the Grenada?

When I went off to college I ended up with a Datsun hatchback, but it had both names on the car. It was a Datsun Nissan because they were in a transition year. I forget what year it was, I forget how old the car was, but it was a yellow two-door hatchback. It had the Datsun on one side and the Nissan on the other side. Another old car, but it was actually a five-speed, so that was better. I was actually shifting gears and I loved it. I would go up and down the mountain and I would rev it up.

I would go back home on weekends, and one week­end I was heading home and I was on a back road coming out of the mountains in North Carolina. I start­ed shifting my gears, but I was flying, trying to get home, and I tried to pass a car. I pulled down into the left to try and pass him because, you know, one-way traffic either going or coming. I jumped out and I don’t know if I had the clutch all the way in. I tried to put it in fifth gear. I don’t know if I had it all the way up there and it came back out. It just started clanking down and I realized I lost my fifth gear. Well, fifth gear is just overdrive anyways, but I was driving for at least four hours, so I wanted that overdrive. I could just kind of cruise on in. I tried to put it back in fifth and every time I put it back up there, it would just jump back out. I was, like, wow, you know. Must have been a sprocket or something, you know, that didn’t hold the shift into fifth. I would still use it, but I had to hold it up there, which I didn’t want to do. So my five-speed became a four- speed and I had to live with that. It was a piece of junk but, you know, when you’re in college and you have a car, I mean, everybody loves you. Great gas mileage. My room­mates, everybody, wanted to hang around me because we could get off campus. Hey, let’s go to Charlotte, North Carolina or let’s go to Winston-Salem or let’s go to Greensboro or let’s go back to Atlanta. Let’s go to Daytona and Florida. Let’s ride. We didn’t care what it was.

When you got signed with your first paying contract what was the first car that you went and spoiled yourself with?

It was a Ford Eddie Bauer Expedition. That was the first vehicle I bought when I got my contract. That was actual­ly the first time I owned a new car. I mean, it had the new smell in it; it wasn’t a used car that my dad gave me, which I’m not complaining about because they got the job done, but a new car, paid cash.

I wondered where that led to today.

And what do you have today?

I have a Ford pick-up truck – F150 – and my ’64 Super Sport Impala.

Ooooooooh. Now we were talking. Muscle cars.

How long have you had the SS?

It has been years. I mean, I’ve had two and I sold one. I bought one – canary yellow with black interior – a ’64 SS Impala. I bought it from a guy who was from up North and I never actually got a chance to look at the car with my spotter. When I saw it, I thought it was a nice car and my spotter wasn’t able to be there with me. I didn’t do the tests or see if it had any rust on it. I made the purchase just off the rim, you know. I said I like it, let me have it because it was cheaper for me to just have him put the car on a trailer and bring it down because he was actually headed to Amarillo, Texas to show someone else a Corvette. So it was cheaper to pay him to put the car on the trailer, bring it down to Texas and let me have a look at it as opposed to buying airline tickets for my spotter and for myself to go up there just to take a look at the car.

After my spotter finally got a chance to look at it, like if I wanted something just to drive, it was okay for that, but I wanted more of a parade queen. I wanted a car that had matching numbers, you know, just to ride as a float in a parade, no stories. I lucked up and my spotter found the one I have now. It took a while to buy the car from the owner; I didn’t want any part of the transaction. I said ‘Hey, when he’s ready to sell, you go get it and bring it back and we’ll do what we need to do,’ because the guy didn’t want to sell it. In cases like that, I mean, he was going through a divorce and I think his wife had taken pretty much every­thing he had. He didn’t want her to get anything else and he loved the car. He didn’t want to sell the car, didn’t want to part ways with it, he had the car actually put up. I bought the car; it hadn’t been registered since 1978. It took me a while to get the car registered because the bank that he bought the car from was no longer in existence. Luckily, he had a letter from the bank because they want­ed to make sure the car didn’t have any leans or anything on it. I took that to the DMV and that was valid, and they were able to see that the car didn’t have any leans on it. This was a legit purchase. One day he wanted to sell it, and we’d go there and he’d say,’No, I don’t want to sell it.’ I mean, my spotter went there and this is what this guy does for a living. He owns a Chevy auto shop. He has a lit­tle trailer that he put together that he transports cars on.

He showed up one day to go pick up the car and the guy said, ‘Where are you going with that piece of junk?’ My spotter said, ‘What do you mean? This is a trailer. I’m coming to pick up the car.’ The guy said, ‘You’re not putting my car on that thing.’ And my spot­ter says, “What do you mean? I transport cars on this all the time.’ And the guy goes, ‘No, I’m not selling it. Leave, go!’

Richard calls and says, ‘Dex, we didn’t get it.’ I said, ‘You know what, Richard? The next time I want to hear from you is when you’re on the highway with the car on the trailer and you’re coming my way. Make it hap­pen.’ Because the guy, he was fearful. I mean, he didn’t want to see his car torn apart. Long story short, it is now in my driveway.

At any time, have you ever looked at a teammate’s car and went, ‘Oh, I’ve got to get me one of those. I have to have that car?’

I’ve always been in awe with the fast sports car. Larry Allen would always come with Ferraris. It was just a sight to see this big guy squeeze himself into a Ferrari. The only one I didn’t see him with was the Enzo. I mean, he had them all. And it was always envy, like when I would walk past I’d ask, ‘When will you let me drive it?’ ‘Get the keys man, whatever.’ But I never got into it because it was Larry Allen. He was always in a Ferrari. Then he showed up one day with a Bentley and it just didn’t look right. It was a big sedan back then. People didn’t drive coupes like we do now. I liked the Bentley, but he didn’t. It was difficult for him because he just liked that speed. So he would lea ve the Bentley at home most of the time. Sometimes you would see him drive to the plane in a suit and his Bentley, but most of the time it was a Ferrari out there. I don’t know the names of them, but seems like every couple of months it would be a different one. I don’t know the numbers, but he had a Porsche and, wow, I mean that was nice. One day it would be a Spider, the next day it would be a 360. Never had the Enzo.

But, hey, when you have a Ferrari, I don’t care, you have a Ferrari. One day he totalled one of them and the next week he showed up with another one. It wasn’t a devastating accident where he got hurt, but Ferraris, just a fender ben­der, I mean, they’re not big cars. The car was totalled, and then he showed up with another one. Keyshawn had a Cayenne, I think. He had the yellow 911 when he came here. But Dat Nguyen, he got himself a 911 turbo just this last week. Ouch! That is a fast car. I dream about them. My wife tells me to get one, but I just can’t bring myself to it. It’s a big investment.

Speaking of speed, how fast have you driven in a car?

I’m scared. I love speed, but I’m scared. To be honest, I know I’ve gone over a hundred, but when I get around a hundred, it depends who I’m with. If it’s just me, hey, pull back some. I’m like a sprinter. I like 40-yard dashes. I don’t want to go a mile just wide open. I can’t take it. I used to go to tracks all the time and watch those funny cars in the Carolinas. Me and my home boys would go to the tracks all the time and watch them.

It’s just something that’s ingrained when you get into the NFL There are just things you can’t do because, what if something happens and it’s not on the football field. You terminate your contract, you go a hundred miles an hour and something happens, you know. It’s a non-football related injury, so if something goes wrong and they can prove it, it’s like, wow, you don’t want to go and now you can’t play anymore or you’re going to miss a season because you totalled a car. You get broken bones and the team can’t count on you anymore. I was always afraid of that, like skiing and all that stuff. Can’t do any of it. You’re afraid to break a leg and get a non-football related injury, and you’re stuck without a job and they don’t have to pay you. It’s for the team, but it was mostly for myself.

Do you have a dream car that you have your sights on?

I like the Impala, but my dream car is a Pontiac GTO. If I could get my hands on one of those, I could just close up shop. I’d put up my Impala for that GTO. I probably wouldn’t drive it anymore if I could get my hands on a GTO. Right now, I’m still looking. I ran into several, but they’re just too expensive right now and people don’t really want to sell them. Then you have to be careful. You don’t want to get a clone, to get a car that looks like a GTO but then it’s not. If I get my hands on a GTO, it’s over.

Are you okay with this whole NFL retirement thing?

I miss the locker room, but I don’t miss the game. It was great to me, but, you know, the bumps and bruises. I don’t miss that, but that’s part of it. It’s not the game itself, it’s the boys. Little things like seeing how the guys are going to dress when they come to the plane, you know. Back when I first came to the league, Michael and Deion, they come on the plane with one suit, but then they have another suit in the bag. You never really saw them in the same thing twice. You know, you miss that kind of stuff – your teammates, you’re on the plane, you’re flying to these different places and you’re hanging out, going to different places and restaurants. That’s what you miss, you miss the excitement. But as far as playing it, you know when you play a physical part of the game, which I did, I don’t miss it. You know, I had planned to play the game for 10 years and then leave it and still be able to walk. I saw Earl Campbell about six years ago and it’s not a pretty sight. And he was much better back then – six years ago – than he is now. For me, what I desire is still there and it’s burning, you know. I don’t want to say walk away from it, but you have to think of life afterwards as well. When you look at Emmitt, he was able to preserve his career; he didn’t take a lot of punishing blows like Earl did. Earl, when he played, they ran him probably 40 times a game and it was bruising. When Emmitt came, it was more finesse, get down, turn your body, don’t let this guy hit you. It’s still a pounding that your body gets and I don’t miss that. I miss the guys and the locker room. I miss the things we did together as a team.

With Dexter, what I found was a very relaxed, personable, laid-back family man. He was a blast to talk shop with. He is a true class act and, of course, a retired player for my favorite team…the Dallas Cowboys!



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