Most who knew David Coates knew him as a offensive-minded football coach, loving father, dedicated athletic director and a man who never enjoyed the spotlight.
In the last 15 months of his life, though, drug charges forced Coates into lights far brighter than those on the Northwest Rankin High School football field, where he coached for 19 years. Authorities arrested Coates in March 2011, charging him with marijuana possession and two counts of conspiracy to sell or transfer marijuana.
The arrest was part of a local, state and federal investigation authorities called "Operation Brilliant Orange." Officials spent months on the operation, which concluded with the arrests of Coates, his son Patrick, his daughter Mary Alice and 14 others on drug-related charges.
Patrick Coates now faces nine years on federal drug charges while he awaits additional charges from the state. The courts sentenced Mary Alice to eight years. David Coates was awaiting his trail, set for August, when he died of a heart attack June 28, his 57th birthday.
A few hundred family and friends held a memorial for David at Pinelake Church on Highway 25 in Brandon. The church set up a designated media area outside the church to keep members of the press away from the family.
Rick Hammerstrong--who coached both against and with Coates at Northwest Rankin--gave the eulogy. Coates' priority was his children, Hammerstrong said.
"Every time we'd get in conversation, that's who he'd always talk about. He'd talk about (his son) Pat and (his daughter) Allie," Hammerstrong said. "He said, 'You know there's problems.' I said, 'Oh yeah, I've raised two sons and a daughter. I know exactly that there can be problems.'"
Authorities linked the Coates family to the drug operation through Patrick, who had received treatment for drug addiction and allegedly sold drugs, first while a student in Hattiesburg, then in Oxford. Authorities tapped Patrick's phone and reportedly recorded conversations Patrick had with drug suppliers, his sister and his father, David, about drugs.
The authorities allegedly recorded a conversation in which David Coates agreed to bring marijuana to Patrick in Oxford, enough evidence for the conspiracy charges. When authorities arrested the coach, they found marijuana in his house, which resulted in the possession charge.
Hammerstrong said he understands Coates decision, because everyone makes bad decisions in life.
"There's not a one of us, if you've got a child, that you wouldn't do anything for your child and your children, no matter what it took," Hammerstrong said.
Nothing changed who David Coates was -- a man who loved his children and the children he coached -- Hammerstrong said. There were times he gave football players another chance after making bad decisions, even when he would have kicked the players off the team, Hammerstrong said.
"He said, 'Well, Hammer, everybody deserves a second chance," Hammerstrong said. "The Bible says that some people will be judged at death, but other people can't be judged, because their works follow after them. Trust me: (David's) works will follow after him, and The Master will use them for his glory."
Coates grew up in Bridgeport, Ala. He attended the University of Misissippi on a football scholarship, before becoming a coach at Northwest Rankin High School. In his 19 seasons at Rankin, he compiled a record of 123-96. He also served as athletic director at the school.