BY DENNIS SILVA II | firstname.lastname@example.org
Long after a distinguished tenure with the Houston Oilers, the late Ed Biles spent the final year of his remarkable coaching career as a volunteer for an indoor arena football team in Cypress.
Biles died April 5 following a battle with leukemia. He was 88 years old. Biles coached 14 years in the NFL, beginning as an assistant with the New Orleans Saints in 1969 and finishing as head coach of the Oilers from 1981-1983 after serving as Houston’s defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator under Bum Phillips from 1974-1980.
Biles is fondly remembered most for those beloved “Luv Ya Blue” days.
But 14 years after wrapping up his NFL coaching career, Biles was back in football in 2007 as a volunteer assistant/quality control coach for the AF2’s Texas Copperheads, who practiced and played their home games at Cypress Fairbanks ISD’s Berry Center. The af2 was the minor league for the Arena Football League.
Ronald Oswalt, then the director of media relations for the Copperheads and now a marketing director in Shreveport, Louisiana, remembers his initial meeting with Biles. During a practice, this “smaller, older gentleman,” as Oswalt remembers, walked up to Oswalt to watch the team.
“And he’s saying, they need to run the ball this way. Slant their blockers this way,” Oswalt recalled. “He kept going on, ‘The coach needs to do this.’ I finally ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He tells me, ‘Son, my name’s Ed Biles. I used to coach the Houston Oilers.’”
Oswalt was skeptical at first. But Biles kept talking football and asked to meet the head coach, Bryan Blake. During a break in practice, Oswalt introduced the two.
“‘Hey Bryan, I think this is Coach Ed Biles,’” Oswalt said. “He introduced himself, they got along, we all got along, and he became a volunteer coach for us. That’s kind of how it all got started.”
Biles was mostly a consultant, willing to do anything and everything asked or needed of him.
“He just wanted to help,” said Troy Esprit, an assistant coach/defensive coordinator with the Copperheads. “He wanted to be a part of it. He was a sounding board for all of us, offense and defense. He was there to help us mature into coaching young men. He’d even get out into the community to talk about the football program we had. Just the experience he had, that spilled into the organization and the coaching staff.”
Esprit said Biles’ value, aside from experience, was his uncanny ability to evaluate players.
“There was a small learning curve for him, as far as the indoor game we were coaching,” Esprit said. “But his biggest deal was being able to evaluate players quickly. You could tell, from that aspect, he spent time scouting and evaluating players at a much higher level than we did.
“When I watch people evaluate or talk about the NFL Draft or the NFL Combine and things of that nature, I recall some of those same things Ed would say. He would be able to tell about a kid just from the way the kid was built, even before he stepped onto the field. That was the biggest contribution he gave to us, something that was so far beyond what we were as far as evaluating players.”
I was then a 23-year-old beat reporter covering the Copperheads for some of Biles’ stay with the Copperheads. I worked as the sports editor for the 1960 Sun Group of Houston Community Newspapers. I remember Biles as an affable, endearing man with a terrific sense of humor. I was around the team enough to where he awarded me a nickname I still take pride in today.
“What’s the story today, Scoop?”
“I don’t know, Coach,” I’d respond, grinning. “You tell me.”
Back-and-forth exchanges like that. He would ask about stories I was working on or talk to me about players or we’d just shoot the breeze about football. I appreciated his honesty, his willingness to share. Biles was engaging, a true people person. One of the best storytellers I’ve known with a sharp wit.
“You never would’ve known he was coach of the Oilers,” Oswalt said. “You would’ve never known unless you asked. He was a guy’s guy.”
The stories of Biles during that Copperheads year are legendary to this day.
Oswalt vividly recalls a pit stop at a Valero convenient store in Laredo while the team was on a road trip. As Oswalt and Biles were in line getting snacks for the bus ride back home, a man with a mohawk with gelled spikes down his head stood in front of them.
“And Ed goes behind the guy and starts touching every spike, counting them, ‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…’” Oswalt said. “Ed is, like, in awe. He asks the guy, ‘Man, that’s really cool. How do you get your hair to do that?’ Here’s this 75-year-old football coach messing with this guy’s spikes on his mohawk. I could not stop laughing.”
Later in the season, during a road trip to Lubbock, the Copperheads’ bus broke down. Heading back home from the game, Oswalt, Blake and Biles were together in a truck listening to the NFL Draft on satellite radio.
Oswalt: “I wonder who the Lions are going to take next.”
Biles: “Give me a second, Ron.”
Biles got on the phone, put it on speaker and began chatting with a Lions personnel guy, asking who they’re taking.
Biles: “Ron, they’re taking Calvin Johnson out of Georgia Tech.”
On the radio, the pick, No. 2 overall, is announced. Biles was right.
“He had talked to this guy on the floor of the NFL Draft,” Oswalt said. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
Oswalt and Biles were close. They stayed in touch long after their time with the Copperheads came to an end, talking at least twice a year to catch up. When Oswalt and his family moved from Houston to San Marcos, Oswalt ran a free all-pro football camp for area kids on behalf of San Marcos Baptist Academy as a community service. He called upon former indoor football players to attend.
“Ed came down for the camp, would not let the school or me pay for his hotel room, and he does the camp for free,” Oswalt said. “He spent time with all the kids and signed autographs.”
When Oswalt was a vice president/general manager for the Indoor Football League’s Austin Turfcats, Biles drove up for the first game to make sure Oswalt was fine and everything was done right. When Oswalt was chief operating officer of TexasHSfootball.com years later, Biles helped him develop a radio network for broadcasting high school football games.
“That, to me, was Ed Biles,” Oswalt said. “Everything was super professional and for the love of the game. He’d do anything for you. He was just a good ol’ boy. Nobody would believe the whole aspect of this. Coaches today are just not of the same cloth. It’s hard to find those people who have an unconditional love for the game.”
Esprit is now the athletic director/head football coach for Legacy Christian Academy in Beaumont. His short time spent with Biles left an impressionable mark.
“The biggest thing that has stuck to me that I use is bringing that joyful spirit to my kids and young men,” Esprit said. “If you interview my kids, now I’m that jokester. We live every moment for that moment, and we have fun doing that. I learned a lot of that from Ed, as far as not taking it too seriously and taking it for exactly what it is. We’ll get the work in that we need to get done, but we’ll have a good time doing it.”
Esprit remembers Biles as “living every day happy to be alive, happy to be able to do something he loved,” even for an obscure indoor football team in northwest Houston that won two games that 2007 season.
“He didn’t have the pressures the NFL brought,” Esprit said. “I never coached or played in the NFL. I know a few NFL players and coaches, but there is a lot of pressure that comes with that. He didn’t have that. He had an opportunity to enjoy scouting players, being involved with the community and talking about our team, and you could tell he just thoroughly enjoyed being a part of that organization.”