“Don’t tell me dreams can’t come true because I know they can,” insists Bill Bates, who as a boy dreamed of playing for the Dallas Cowboys and credits his high school coach with helping his lofty goal become a reality. “I played basketball, football and baseball in high school and that kept me busy and out of trouble,” he jokes. “I started running with the wrong people, though, until my sophomore year when a new football coach named Ken Sparks came and changed everything and brought the Lord Jesus Christ into our school. He was a big fan of coach Tom Landry and he wanted to bring what Coach Landry stood for with the Dallas Cowboys to our school—to help us become good men. We were the Farragut Admirals and our colors were blue and gray. Coach Sparks changed our uniforms to the Dallas Cowboys uniforms. I even had a star on my helmet and No. 40 on my chest. I was dreaming about playing for the Dallas Cowboys, and I was a Dallas Cowboy. Coach Sparks encouraged us to dream and shoot for the stars and to set goals to try and reach our dreams.”
Bates’ dream came true…and them some. He is named among the 50 greatest players in Dallas Cowboys History.
Opportunist: Where did you grow up?
Bill: I am from Knoxville, Tenn., but my dad worked for Esso—now Exxon—and so we moved around a lot after I was born. We lived in Houston and the Alabama cities of Mobile, Prattville and Montgomery, but Dad told the company he eventually wanted to return to Knoxville. So, by the time I was in the third grade a job came up and we moved back. I graduated from Farragut High School and ended up getting a scholarship to the University of Tennessee and stayed there four years. That always upset a lot of Texas fans, but that’s the way it goes. [Laughs] My parents also went to the University of Tennessee.
Opportunist: So, how did your dream of playing for the NFL finally come true?
Bill: I decided to sign as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys in the 1983 NFL Draft. I flew to California and signed my contract. There were eight buses lined up in a row, filled with guys who all looked like football players. Sure enough, everybody got off at the same place. There were more than 100 draft picks for the Dallas Cowboys, so I realized I wasn’t that important. [Laughs]
Opportunist: But you obviously made the team.
Bill: Fortunately, I fought hard and was able to make a few plays during the first preseason game that got the coaches’ attention. They saw a player in me. So, yes, I ended up making the team and my dream did come true. I made it specifically for Special Teams and that is really the notoriety that I have received. I was the first player from the NFC [National Football Conference] to be selected to the Pro Bowl as a Special Team player. They just made that position basically for the work that Steve Tasker and myself had done on Special Teams. Having people like John Madden and Pat Summerall does help a great deal too.
Bill: I ended up playing for the Cowboys for 15 years, but I admit that I tried to keep my head down and work hard every day—just knowing that I probably would get cut—and one day I looked up and I had been there for 15 years. [Laughs] I was very fortunate to have played there that long with Coach Landry and Jim Johnson and Barry Switzer and, once he left, I was able to coach with Coach Chan Gailey and Coach Dave Campo for three years. Coach Campo eventually got fired and then Bill Parcells was brought in.
Opportunist: What prompted your decision to finally retire from the team?
Bill: Jack Del Rio asked me to come coach the Jacksonville Jaguars with him, so we moved the family to Ponte Vedra, Fla., and I coached with the Jaguars for a year. That didn’t work out, though, so after that one year I left. It was a big change in our lives to be with the Cowboys for 20 years and have things not work out with the Jaguars after we moved the family all the way to Florida. I got a call from the Seattle Seahawks, asking me to come coach in Seattle, but the kids were going to be freshmen in high school and I just couldn’t move my family from Texas to the East Coast and then over to the West Coast of the United States within a year or two. So we stayed in Florida.
Bill: I am basically a partner in the company and I am really trying to be the voice of TMS.
Heat is always a big problem in football. Heat stroke was nothing new to me. I freaked out when I was in Texas and had to get IVs during a game—or ask my wife to pull over to the side of the road so I could throw up on my way home from a game.
I was coaching the Nease High School football team in Ponte Vedra and we needed shoulder pads for the players. So I went to a company less than a mile from the school and they sold me this new air-conditioned shoulder pad they had developed with the University of Florida after the Gators lost player Eraste Autin to heat stroke. After his tragic death they decided to figure out some way to prevent heat illness in football besides Gatorade.
We started using their air-conditioned shoulder pads at the high school and found they really helped our players. Incidentally, we won the state championship in Tim Tebow’s senior year.
Opportunist: How do the shoulder pads work
Bill: Basically, it’s a system we call a bladder that fits into the underside cushion part of the shoulder pad. It weighs next to nothing; it’s a little bit of plastic and Velcro and the bladder sits up against the cushion part of the shoulder pad and cold, dry air flows out of the holes that go over your heart down on the front side and down your back. Dry air is what dries your perspiration and creates core cooling. When the guys sit down on the bench or stand on the sidelines, they get cold, dry air blown through their shoulder pads and then they unhook and go back out onto the field. The operation is easy, timely and very effective. If we are able to save even one life or keep a player from having to get IVs that will be great.
Opportunist: Have teams begun acquiring the system?
Bill: The teams that currently have the system include University of Florida, UCLA, Georgia Southern, Clemson, South Carolina, University of Tulsa, Miami Dolphins, Ponte Vedra High School, and there are more that rent it. The hot season is upon us and we are in the mode of growing and trying to get as much information about the system out to parents and coaches to let them know the system is available and medically proven by the University of Florida and funded by the NFL Charities.
Opportunist: Tell us about your other business venture, PlanetHS.
Bill: We were trying to grow the Nease High School football program and get attention to the school, so we started streaming our games on the Internet and did it basically with audio so it was kind of an audio/radio stream. It eventually became an audio/video stream. We had such great interest in the program online because it allowed communication with parents and grandparents and even military parents who had kids at our school and wanted to see what was going on in their lives. My parents didn’t have to come to the games; they could watch and follow on the Internet what the kids were doing and feel they were part of the kids lives.
Opportunist: How does the site work?
Bill: It’s a social community within each high school that is overseen and protected by somebody at the school. Schools especially do not like sites such as YouTube and Facebook because they cannot control them. Everything that goes on the PlanetHS site is approved and controlled by somebody at the school.
It’s really a sponsor-driven program. My position is basically to bring in schools and sponsors. We are growing rapidly and, throughout the summer, we will be going through some educational programs with schools that are now signing up. There are positions for local sponsors to be on the site, as well as national sponsors to come in and be a part of the program on a national basis. So that would mean that they would have their logos and their links on our site, whether it is a local or a national sponsor. There is the ability for the school to bring in sponsors as well, and then get the revenue.
Opportunist: Do you have plans to take either of these ventures public?
Bill: That would be awesome, but right now we are just in the growth mode with basically both companies.
I would say the company that could go public would be PlanetHS because we are all over the place and it has grown from a startup in a couple of schools here in Jacksonville to over 150 schools around the country—with more coming online real soon. My partner, Joe Hawkins—also a Tennessee grad, by the way—and I are really excited about it.
Developing businesses like these has been tough but, thankfully, I have been very blessed to have wonderful, hard-working people around me—such as Gary Elliston, the main partner at TMS Sports, and Joe Hawkins at the PlanetHS site.
Opportunist: Describe a typical day in the life of Bill Bates.
Bill: Well, there’s not a typical day. [Laughs] I am, it seems, continually moving and shaking and doing a lot of public speaking. I still have the connection with the Dallas Cowboys, and they rent the TMS system when playing hot weather games. My involvement with TMS Sports and PlanetHS and coaching high school football on Friday nights keeps me busy.
Opportunist: We understand you wrote a book. Please tell us about it.
Bill: I wanted to be able to tell my story to as many people as possible, and the book companies thought it was a great story—that would sell—so I wrote a book in the early 1990s. It’s called Shoot for the Star, and we have tried to update it through the years. Our latest version is easy to get on Amazon. It’s about how the Lord has driven my life and let me reach my goals and my dream of playing with the Cowboys and, obviously, life after the Cowboys. If I have been able to change just one person’s life in a positive way, either through my story or my book, I am a very happy man.
Opportunist: Which of your accomplishments make you the most proud?
Bill: I have a great family and I am very fortunate to be able to provide for them along with my wife, Denise, and help each of our children reach their dreams and goals. My wife works for a promotional supply company and that keeps her busy.
Everything in my life has evolved from football. You have to really focus on it and when you’re a coach it’s the same way. We have four sons and one daughter. Our triplets are Graham, Brianna and Hunter, and we also have Tanner and Dillon. My boys obviously ended up playing college football and the oldest triplet, Graham, just finished his fourth year at Arkansas State. He played football but had injury problems. He’s going to graduate in August. My daughter already graduated from the University of Florida with a major in English and a minor in business. Our youngest triplet plays football at Northwestern in Chicago and he has the fall left to play as a redshirt senior. He did the graduation walk with his class in June because, as you can imagine, they don’t have a walk in the winter because it’s pretty cold up there. [Laughs] He will actually graduate in December.
Our fourth child wasn’t as driven for football. He studies the arts at a school called Full Sail in the Orlando area. To have four children graduating in one year is pretty amazing and yet very economically tough. [Laughs] Our youngest child, Dillon, is playing football at Ponte Vedra High School and I've been coaching there. His head coach, Michael Lloyd, lives right next door to us. Dillon is 6’3 and 215 and very athletic. His brothers and I are a little mad because he got the height. [Laughs]. Multiple schools have already recruited him to play college football and, hopefully, his dreams will come true. They are all doing great.
Opportunist: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Bill: I see myself still living life and creating memories with my family. As you’ve seen and heard football has driven our lives. Will I get back into professional coaching? I love the Dallas Cowboys and would obviously love to go back and coach with them, but right now I have been so blessed to be able to coach my own boys in high school. That’s what the Lord wants me to do. Things work out for a reason. Football has driven my life and I am sure it will still drive it five years from now.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer/editor with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides in the Orlando area.
Shoot for the Star
Available on Amazon.com