It might sound kind of strange, but the first Texas football coach to ever reach 300 wins at the 5A level was dreading the biggest game of the season.
It was Nov. 2003, and Arlington Lamar was facing rival Arlington in the regular-season finale to decide the district championship. Vikings coach Eddy Peach, who — at the time — was the only football coach in the history of Lamar, relished this type of situation — under normal circumstances.
These circumstances, though, were anything but normal. Peach would be facing his son, Scott Peach, then the first-year Colts head coach. Media and fans eagerly awaited the matchup, dubbed the Peach Bowl. But even more than a fierce competitor, Peach was a devoted family man. Facing his son was something Eddy Peach never enjoyed.
“We hated every minute of it,” Scott Peach said. “And it never got easier. … We had to pit our programs against each other.”
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Once the game kicked off, though, the elder Peach treated it like business as usual. His Vikings took the game 21-3 and then marched through the playoffs, all the way to the state semifinals — another legendary season from the coach who patrolled the Vikings sidelines for 39 years and won 309 games before retiring in 2010.
Eddy Ellis Peach, a member of both the Texas High School Coaches Hall of Honor and the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame, died Dec. 15 at the age of 76. But his legacy in the city of Arlington and on the athletic fields of the Arlington school district lives.
“And it will 80 years from now,” said Billy Skinner, a 2004 Lamar graduate who played for Peach and is now an assistant coach for the Vikings. “It’s not only the impact he had on Lamar High School, but on all of north Arlington. You can’t go anywhere in north Arlington and find someone who doesn’t know Coach Peach.”
Jim Poynter’s youngest son Michael made his first varsity start at quarterback for Lamar against Keller Fossil Ridge in 2008. He helped wrap up Peach’s landmark 300th victory in that game.
Jim Poynter is one of countless close friends Peach made in north Arlington. Poynter, whose three sons played for Peach, served as a pallbearer at Peach’s funeral.
“He made so much of an impact on so many people from the age 15 to the age of 75,” Poynter said. “He really spanned the generations in terms of influence.”
Poynter’s youngest son Michael made his first varsity start at quarterback against Keller Fossil Ridge in 2008. The young signal-caller helped guide Lamar to the win, which happened to be Peach’s landmark 300th victory.
Down the road, when Michael Poynter was making his college plans, Peach and former protégé Kenny Perry — then the Arlington Bowie head coach and now co-defensive coordinator at Kansas — touted the academically-minded athlete to then-Rice coach David Bailiff. That recommendation allowed Poynter to walk on to the football team with preferred status.
“He helped out all his kids, not just his stars,” said Poynter, who coaches Lamar’s 7-on-7 team each spring and summer — the only program to reach the 7-on-7 state tournament 20 straight years.
He didn’t just help out the students. Peach also served as a mentor to countless coaches, including Arlington Sam Houston coach Anthony Criss.
Criss’s first head coaching job was at Fort Worth Wyatt, where his first-ever playoff opponent was Lamar. Criss’s father and predecessor as Wyatt head coach, Willie Criss, also faced Peach in a memorable playoff matchup.
“My dad always said, ‘An Eddy Peach-coached team is always going to be well-prepared,’” Criss said.
As a young coach, Criss sought Peach’s sage advice on a number of topics, including how to run practice. But Peach didn’t just offer wisdom to Criss. After a game, Criss could always count on Peach to offer a hug and words of encouragement.
“He was always a hugger,” Criss said. “Coach Peach would always hug you and talk to you about what kind of job your kids had done.”
My dad always said, ‘An Eddy Peach-coached team is always going to be well-prepared.’
Sam Houston head coach Anthony Criss
Bowie coach Danny DeArman, who faced Peach numerous times as defensive coordinator at Sam Houston and Bowie, remembered Peach as a superior tactician who found subtle ways to gain an advantage on opponents.
“He would expose your weakness with his schemes,” DeArman said. “He never changed much, but he would change enough to expose you.”
In 1988, Peach changed his two-back offense, which had been in place since 1970, to a two-tight end, one-back system to take full advantage of the multi-dimensional talents of star QB J.J. Joe. His Vikings would excel in the one-back set, reaching the 5A state finals in 1990 and achieving a No. 1 national ranking during the 1991 season.
“Dad loved the game of football,” said Scott Peach, who was a wide receiver and, as a senior, team captain on his father’s early ’90s powerhouse teams. “He was always on top of the game.”
Lamar made the playoffs every season from 1988 to 2000. And, in addition to the state final in 1990, Lamar reached the semifinals twice late in Peach’s run (2000 and 2003). “He was forever changing and evolving,” Scott Peach said. “He never lost his competitive edge, his passion for the game.”
And the elder Peach never lost his passion for helping kids. After college, Skinner first sought out Peach, who helped him land an assistant’s gig at Sam Houston. When Skinner saw Peach from afar in his junior high days at Lamar feeder school Shackelford, he thought the Vikings coach was larger than life.
Instead, Peach proved to be perhaps the humblest, most down-to-earth person Skinner’s ever met. He promoted a winning culture and paid attention to detail.
“But the fact that he cared about every last player on the roster put him over the top,” Skinner said.
Scott Peach, who enjoyed being a fellow coach and athletic coordinator in the same district as his dad — except during Peach Bowl week — recalled how his dad didn’t just have a vested interest in turning Lamar into a successful school for athletics.
He wanted it to be the best in academics and fine arts, too. In honor of that educational support, the school district named Peach Elementary School for Eddy and wife Debbie.
“He could win at such a high level, but he was the ultimate servant leader,” Scott Peach said. “He focused on the kids’ success.”
And Scott never stopped learning from his father’s example. When Scott was starting out as Arlington’s head coach, he and his staff spent a sweltering afternoon scouting feeder school Bailey’s game against Shackelford.
The Arlington coaches were seated in chairs, watching in the shade. That is, until Scott spotted his father and his long-time assistants leaned against a goal post, baking in the sun.
Scorching heat was just another of the many things that never deterred Eddy Peach.
“Dad always said he had the greatest job in the world,” Scott Peach said.