Elvis' coach shares his memories

Malcolm Phillips talks about coaching Elvis at Humes High School in Memphis. Phillips' recollections about the superstar are included in a book titled "Early Elvis: the Humes Years" by Bill E. Burk.  

By Cheryl Owens | The Meridian Star

NEWTON, Miss. — More than sixty years later, one Mississippi native still has fond memories of coaching the shy young man who would grow up to become one of America's greatest entertainers. 

Malcolm Phillips, 88, from Newton has long been associated with football and coaching around eastern Mississippi since playing for East Central Community College in the early 1940s. Phillips went on to play for the University of Memphis in Tennessee and later took a job as assistant football coach at Humes High School where he met Elvis Aaron Presley, who graduated from the school in 1953.

Phillips said his first impression of Elvis was that he was a very shy kid.

"The first time I met Elvis he was walking down the hall at school and when I saw him he was so shy he hid behind a door," Phillips said. "Elvis lived in the projects like a lot of the students did and most of them were very poor and shy."

Phillips was already coaching Bobby "Red" West, who would also grow up to be an actor and songwriter, and began coaching Elvis, West's close friend, when he signed up for spring football practice.    

"At Humes, if you were male you were expected to play football. He was pretty quick and had some speed but didn't want to hit and didn't plan to get hit." Phillips said

Phillips said Elvis didn't like to wear his helmet either because he didn't want it to mess up his hair.

"I would tell the boys to keep their helmets on and every time I glanced back at them there would be one without his on and that would be Elvis," Phillips said.  "All the other boys had a buzz cut but Elvis had a lot of hair. It was his performing hair and that didn't go well with a helmet."

Phillips said it wasn't long before Elvis quit the team to get a job after school.   "He came in my office one day and told me he was getting a job packing groceries so he would have to quit football," Phillips said. "He needed money to pay for his school lunch. Football wasn't his forte' anyway. It was always his music."

Phillips remembers the first time he heard the normally shy Elvis sing, at an annual school carnival.

"His knees were a-knockin', he was singing and boppin' all over the place," Phillips said. "Those kids were screaming and hollering, 'Encore, encore!' When Elvis got that guitar in his hands he was not shy anymore. He was the bravest guy I've ever seen."

Phillips said shortly after that Elvis recorded his first 45 rpm records with Sun Records.

"After his songs starting playing on the radio he became very popular with all the kids," Phillips said. "Instead of eating in the cafeteria the kids started going across the street from the school to a little restaurant to hear Elvis' records on the jukebox and dance. There would be about 500 kids out in that parking lot dancing. The music was so loud the guys on the football field could hear it and they would be dancing around everywhere too."

Phillips said he didn't see Elvis much after that and never went to visit his old student at Graceland.

"We lived ten minutes from Graceland but never visited," Phillips said. "I knew him and that wasn't Elvis to me. The other was the boy I knew, where he came from and how he got there."

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