Tony Harper looks back on 49 years of coaching in El Paso

Tony Harper (CBS4)

"I have no problem telling kids this is what I lost."

As a 1,000 game winner Tony Harper will always be seen as a Texas legend on the high school hardwood. But Harper was a part of history long before Mr. 1,000 -- as a member on '66 TW national champion team. He just doesn't have the ring to prove it.

"I only played 13 games that season. Then Haskins and I had it out. So I went to him and said I’m not helping you on the court, let me quit to play baseball... they kept winning... national championship. If I had to do it over that would be the one thing I'd change but you know what, it taught me so much that I've carried with me."

Harper channeled that regret and took those lessons with him into his first coaching job at Burges High School, nearly half a century ago.

“I went down to apply. If you would’ve talked to the athletic director you would have thought I was the worst person in the world. I was toast. I was history. And then I came back to do my thing the next day. Mr. Tom Chavez - who was our principal, and who coached at Jefferson High School, and who coached the Mexican Olympics team – I told him they told me I didn’t have a chance.

“He said, 'Don’t you want this job?' I said, 'Of course.' He said, 'Then it’s yours,' and that was the length of my job interview for the head coaching job at Burges High.”

Harper thumbs through one of the many scrapbooks assembled by his wife, Andre, recalling articles about the day he was hired. He also pulled-out a brown paper bag, saying “I brought one of these to work with me every day (brown bag lunch).”

As CBS4’s Eric O’Brien escorted him into the Burges gym, Harper pointed out the stairs that lead to the auditorium that is just behind one of the baskets on the main court. “This was the best seat in the house,” Harper says of the third step of the stairway.

Harper would leave Burges to take a head coaching job at El Paso High, then Montwood before ending-up at Cathedral. His office there is one giant scrapbook. The walls filled with newspaper articles and pictures of the great teams he’s had over the years.

“Even though it’s been 49 years and a bunch of different schools, the kids will work hard for you,” says Harper. “They don’t care what you know until they know you care.”

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