Coach Duard Walker's windowless office is as cluttered as a garden
shed, with the detritus of a lifetime in sports. Dusty trophies
line the top of the 76-year-old athletic director's bookcase, and
shelves overflow with outdated Milligan College schedules, team
yearbooks, instructional videotapes and such arcane coaching
volumes as a 1949 edition of Modern Football by H.O. (Fritz)
Crisler. The floor is a minefield of bursting boxes--collection
points for rule books, pamphlets, posters, record books and
Milligan memorabilia. Photographs of long-vanished playing fields
and teams hang from the painted cinder-block walls, each a
special memory to the man with the twinkling blue eyes who is
seated behind his desk.
"A friend told me a retired person is someone who gets up in the
morning with nothing to do and goes to bed with only half of it
done," he says with a chuckle. Walker, the only athletic
director Milligan has had since 1951, wouldn't know much about
that. But he'll find out in May, when, after 50 years of
coaching and administrating, of teaching and supervising a
dormitory for this small (900 students) liberal arts college in
northeastern Tennessee, he will call it a career.
To say it will end an era in this lovely portion of the
Appalachian Mountains is to understate the impact Walker has had
on his school. He's a local legend, and his longevity and
integrity are of another time. He is one of the last of a breed
of coaches whose lives were shaped while growing up in the
Depression and fighting in World War II. So he knows that
winning and losing on a college athletic field is only important
in the context of how it prepares young men and women for life.
Walker has had a direct hand in molding the values and habits of
thousands of Milligan students in a career of coaching
basketball, baseball, track, cross-country and tennis. "He's one
of the finest gentlemen in basketball, in the same breath as John
Wooden," says Del Harris, the former Los Angeles Lakers coach who
is now an assistant with the Dallas Mavericks. Harris played four
years for Walker in the late 1950s. "To him, players weren't X's
and O's; they were human beings," Harris says. "It's incredible
that he lasted 50 years when you look at how we move around
today. He represents everything a basketball coach should be."
"He made you play hard, and he got you in shape," says Sonny
Smith, another one of Walker's disciples, who coached Auburn
basketball from 1979 to '89. (Charles Barkley was one of Smith's
players.) "If you broke a rule, it didn't matter who you were, he
sat you down. He was the same, win or lose. He wasn't happy about
losing, but he didn't get in your face about it. He was an
even-keeled kind of guy, and we wanted to play for him. He gave
you freedom, but he had discipline."
Walker never judged himself, or his teams, by their won-lost
records, and he has no idea what his lifetime winning percentage
is. "If you're below the .500 mark, you don't remember those
things," he says, noting that in the years he coached basketball,
from 1951 to '66, Milligan, whose rivals included far larger
powers such as Austin Peay and East Tennessee State, didn't give
athletic scholarships. "I've worked under seven college
presidents, and I've never had one of them say, 'Win or get out.'
They knew what the limitations were."
Born in 1924 and raised in Piney Flats, which is 15 miles from
the Milligan campus, Walker grew up on a 40-acre subsistence
farm. Like most of their neighbors, the Walkers were poor but
well-fed, raising cows, pigs, corn, beans and potatoes. "People
of my generation lived through hard times," Walker says. "We had
good discipline at school and were taught about fairness at
He came to Milligan as a sophomore in 1942, joined the Navy as
an ensign in 1944 and served on the USS Newberry, an attack
transport, seeing action in two of the bloodiest battles of the
Pacific theater: Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Honorably discharged in
1946, Walker returned to Milligan, where he met his future
bride, Carolyn Roberts, who became the homecoming queen the
following year. Walker lettered in five sports--baseball,
football, basketball, tennis and track (one of his track
teammates was Francis Gary Powers, who was captured by the
Soviet Union in 1960 in the infamous U-2 spy-plane incident
during the cold war)--and in 1948 won the Virgil Elliott Trophy
as the college's top scholar-athlete.
After graduating he earned his master's degree at Teachers
College of Columbia University, then returned to Tennessee to
coach one season at Farragut High outside Knoxville. In 1951 he
was hired to coach Milligan's baseball, basketball and track
teams (for financial reasons Milligan had dropped football in
1950) and serve as athletic director. He's been at it ever
since. In the years that followed, Duard and Carolyn raised five
children, all of whom graduated from Milligan.
It was a different world, of course, when Walker started.
Different values, different expectations. Walker had no athletic
budget. He rolled the track by himself and laid the foul lines
with the help of his players before baseball games. In the fall
he also worked as a high school football referee, which he
continued to do for 36 years. Looking to expand Milligan's sports
curriculum, Walker started a cross-country team in 1961 and
guided it to seven straight Volunteer State Athletic Conference
titles, between 1962 and '68. His secret? "We worked hard," he
recalls. "I'd get them up before daylight for training runs and
drive behind them in my car, showing the way with the
In 1975 Walker started coaching tennis, a sport he'd learned on a
homemade dirt court on his family farm. He's now in his 26th year
as Milligan's tennis coach. Walker tolerates no foul language or
racket throwing from his players--he still remembers that his
first tennis racket cost 50 cents at a time when farm labor paid
a dollar a day--and any player foolish enough to violate his rules
suffers the consequences. Walker once threw his top player off
the team three years in a row for ungentlemanly behavior.
"Country-club tantrums," Walker says, adding that the offender
grew up by his senior year. "Tennis rats, I call them. I won't
recruit them. I've always tried to teach my players to win with
dignity and lose with grace." So they do. "We're not only tennis
players," says Jeremy Epling of Lebanon, Va., a senior who plays
No. 1 for Milligan. "Coach Walker wants us to grow up to be men
and fine citizens as well. How you conduct yourself both on and
off the court is important to him, and he lets you know that from
Day One. He's a great role model. That's what I'll take away from
playing for him."
At the heart of Walker's work is his bedrock belief that, as he
says, "good sportsmanship is the oil of human relations." In a
1973 interview conducted by a fellow Milligan coach, Harold
Stout, who was working on his doctoral dissertation in education,
Walker summed up his philosophy: "In my opinion athletics is one
of the few remaining bastions in our society which can help mold
such badly needed personal characteristics as self-discipline,
rugged determination, self-control in times of stress,
unselfishness, good sportsmanship and fair play. I hasten to add
that most of these qualities must be taught. It is certainly not
true that all athletes have these characteristics, hence the
importance of the coach."
Twenty-seven years later, when that quote is read back to him,
Walker thinks for a moment before deciding he wouldn't change a
word of it. "A coach has got to be a teacher, and not all coaches
are good teachers," he says. "Sportsmanship has got to be taught.
It doesn't come naturally. The deterioration of sportsmanship and
honesty is the biggest change I've seen over the years in sports,
not just on the part of the players but the spectators too. It
was a gradual change, and it started with the expectation that
teams must win, win, win, no matter how."
How has always been important to Coach Walker: how a player
practices, how he behaves, how he fits in with his teammates and
how he develops into a man. That is how he'll be remembered, and
lose with grace."
were, he sat you down."