“Three Yards to Glory”
Ernest Vernon Cosson, 88, of Oak Ridge, passed away on Monday, October 27.
He was born on February 23, 1926, to parents William Sydney Cosson and Elizabeth Smith Cosson in Morristown.
Known as “Baldy” by his hometown family and friends, Cosson excelled in sports in high school and college. At Morristown High School, he played on the varsity football team as a freshman. In his sophomore year, Cosson got honorable mention on the 1942 All-East TN team. Football was suspended in 1943 due to World War II, and Cosson did not play his junior or senior years.
Cosson was also a member of the Morristown High School basketball team in ’43 and ’44, and was named to first team All District in 1944, when the team was District Champions.
In 1944, Ernest joined Army Air Corps during the height of WWII. In his two years of active duty, he became a corporal and trained as waist gunner and assistant engineer on B-29 Superforts. He was a member of the 509th Bomb Group, and was one week away from shipping out for combat action when his commanding officer, Major Charles Sweeney, piloted the B-29 Bockscar over Japan, dropping the A-Bomb on Nagasaki.
After the war and a three-year absence from football, Cosson’s high school football coach, Petie Siler, encouraged him to try out for Carson-Newman’s football team, coached by Frosty Holt. What ensued was an incredible football career for Ernest noted by his starting every game as a freshman, sophomore, and junior, and all but three games as a senior, due to a shoulder injury.
In his senior year at C-N, he scored a touchdown on the opening kickoff in two games: a 90-yard return against Western Carolina, and a 99-yard dash against Emory and Henry, a school record that stood for 36 years.
In 1947, Cosson was the team’s leading ground gainer and scorer as C-N was Smoky Mountain Conference Champions for the school’s first undefeated and first bowl team ever. He was listed in a national publication as one of the nation’s leading scorers.
In 1949, as a senior, Cosson was named Carson-Newman’s MVP for the football team and was First Team All Smoky Mountain Conference.
Frosty Holt deemed Ernest the “Best player ever to play at Carson Newman” in his 25 years as coach.
After finishing his bachelor’s degree, Cosson returned to Morristown, where he was the junior high’s athletic director, establishing and coaching the football, boys basketball, and girls basketball teams. Cosson led the boys basketball team to the district title and the girls team to district and regional titles. His football players went on to high school and accumulated 29 wins and five losses in three years.
He met his future wife, Janet McCleary, while working in Morristown. They were married on July 22, 1955.
Cosson then moved into high school coaching and teaching at Elizabethton High and was named Big 7 Coach of the Year in his first year (1962), tied for conference champs in 1963, and won the Exchange Bowl that same year.
Ernest became well-known around Oak Ridge when he and his family moved there in 1965. He was an accomplished Spanish teacher, and his outgoing personality, gregarious nature, and sense of humor made him the favorite of many students.
He coached at Oak Ridge High School for nine years, and in his four years as their head defensive football coach, the teams held their opponents to an average of 10 points a game. In 1968, his players set a record with seven interceptions in one game, playing the current #1 team that week, Maryville.
Cosson furthered his education, picking up master’s degrees in education (Syracuse) and Spanish (UT-Knoxville). His coaching prowess in football was matched by his love of the Spanish language, as he was as accomplished in the classroom as on the football field. He was a member of the Spanish Honor Society, Alpha Delta Phi.
There were many other achievements in Ernest’s career, including his stint at TMI academy (college prep school), where in 1981-82, 35 of the 55 football players received college scholarships.
At Doyle High School, as kicking coach and defensive secondary coach in 1984, Cosson’s stingy defense helped a team who had only won three games total in the previous three years amass a 10-0 record, allowing an average of only eight points a game.
In 1986, as assistant head coach to longtime friend Buddy Fisher at Carter High School, the team went 10-0.
In his final coaching job in 1993, Ernest again teamed up with Buddy at Farragut, where he led the kicking and defensive secondary. That season, the team went 11-2, losing in the state playoffs to the eventual state champions.
Cosson’s last six years of football coaching helped his teams to a combined 53-6 record, and over his 33-year coaching career, he had a total of 230 wins (69 percent).
Ernest’s prodigious athletic and coaching career resulted in his induction into the Carson Newman Athletic Hall of Fame, Morristown High Hurricane Hall of Fame, and lastly, the Oak Ridge Sports Hall of Fame.
In addition to teaching and coaching, Ernest had a love for and an ear for music, and he was as likely to play a song on his guitar and sing, as he was to tell a joke or engage a stranger in conversation. For 15 years, he was in the Latin American band, “Los Latinos,” which played at various venues in Oak Ridge.
After retiring after 44 years of teaching, Cosson continued to use his skills in Spanish by translating maps from English to Spanish for SmartMaps of Knoxville.
Cosson was also a devoted father, as he and Janet cared for their son, Bill, for 20-plus years, as Bill lived with ALS, after a prognosis of only 2.5 years.
In his final years, Ernest continued to keep in shape, working out three times a week at Paragon and then The Rush. Anyone who knew Ernest knew his jaw got as much exercise as his body, as he was always in conversation with a friend or a future friend.
Ernest and Janet made their closest friends as members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, and those friendships endured over 40-plus years, including Sunday afternoons by the Cosson pool in the summer.
Cosson was preceded in death by his wife, Janet Stirling McCleary Cosson; his son, William Ernest Cosson (Bill); and siblings Mildred Cosson Dixon, Bill, David (Curly), James (Zeke), Sydney, and Roberta Cosson Rogers. He is survived by his daughters, Cynthia Cosson and Harriet Armstrong, as well as his son, Michael. He is also survived by his sister, Betty Cosson Akin.
The family requests that any memorials be in the form of donations to the Ernest V. Cosson Scholarship Fund at Carson-Newman University.
The family will receive friends Saturday, November 1, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Weatherford Mortuary. An online guest book may be signed at www.weatherfordmortuary.com.