Morristown West’s first football coach James “Buddy” Saulsbury died at his home Monday.
He was 88.
Saulsbury was a local coaching legend, a member of multiple halls of fame and an outstanding athlete in his own right. But, he was more than a coach, friends say. He was an educator, an artist and a dependable friend.
“He was solid as a dollar,” said fellow former Morristown West coach Dale Chrisman. “He was just a great, great person. I can’t compare him with anybody because that other feller would be on the short end. I’m a better person having known him. He was a spectacular person. He was very dependable. He always knew his job and did a great job.”
A graduate of Greeneville High School, Saulsbury was named second team All East Tennessee and Honorable Mention All - State in 1951. He began his college football career at Jones Junior College in Mississippi on a full scholarship. In 1952, he received a full scholarship to East Tennessee State University. He lettered for three years, playing fullback and linebacker. During his senior year, he was chosen team co - captain, VSAC All Conference MVP and NAIA All - American.
He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at ETSU.
Saulsbury’s teaching career in Morristown spanned 34 years from 1959-1993.
He was an assistant at Morristown High School when West High was created. He was the first head coach to lead a Trojan football team on to the field at Burke-Toney Stadium back in 1968, and he remained head coach through 1977 and an assistant under L.T. Helton and Dale Chrisman until his retirement from coaching in 1989.
“I had an idea that it would be a very good school when they split from the old school,” Saulsbury told the Tribune in 2009. “I had been there for nine years at Morristown High School, but going to West was a great opportunity and I knew it would become a great program. It has now become a great program, and that comes with a great sense of pride. I had some really great times coaching there with Raymond Williams and Don McDonald, and we had some really good athletes come through there.”
In addition to serving as football coach, Saulsbury was director of vocational job placement and the Adopt-A-School program. The field at Burke Toney Stadium is named in his honor along with Burleigh Davis and Petie Siler. Perhaps Saulsbury’s most lasting legacy is his service as a role model and father figure to thousands of former players and students.
“I could write a book,” former student and player David Wild said of his former coach. “Not only a great coach of football, but more so, he was a great coach of life. Coach was always checking and inquiring about his former players and students. His legacy will be for not only being a great parent, football player, coach and educator but a man who influenced and coached his players and students on becoming productive and great people.
“My reflection of coach and Sallie, his late wife, shines through their three children David, and Ann and Bo and his 13 grandchildren; I know how proud he was of them.
“Heaven is welcoming a great man.”
Saulsbury’s contributions did not go unrecognized. He was elected to both the Greeneville and West high schools halls of fame. He was also recognized by the Morristown Boys & Girls Club, along with fellow educator George Quarles, for his contribution to the lives of local youths.
“Over the years I have thought often of the teachers I had, especially my high school teachers and coaches. Two of those teachers and coaches that come to mind immediately are Buddy Saulsbury and Gene Quarles,” Federal Magistrate Dennis Inman said in 2012.
“I invariably wonder if these two men truly understand and appreciate the powerful influence they had upon me and hundreds and hundreds of other students and athletes during their careers.
“A lot of people owe a tremendous ‘thank you’ to both these men.”
In addition to being a dedicated teacher and coach, Saulsbury was a talented artist who became a regular fixture at Rose Center’s Mountain Makins presenting his heirloom, handmade Santas.
His artistry began in 1984 when he learned basic woodworking techniques at the State Vocational Technical School. Two years later he took a course from noted wildlife carver Don McDonald. From there, Saulsbury branched out on his own, making a name for himself carving beautiful versions of Jolly Old St. Nick out of a bass wood, white pine or buckeye. It was Sallie’s love of collecting Santas that drew him to the subject.
“He was just a great guy,” Chrisman said. “He didn’t have any shortcoming that I can think of. He was a tremendous friend.”
Arrangements for Saulsbury had not been announced by press time Tuesday.