James Phillips had the feeling it was going to be a rough day. Normally a restful sleeper, he had tossed and turned in bed before waking up with a splitting headache around 3 a.m. yesterday.
Two hours later, Phillips was reawakened by the phone call that made his headache seem insignificant.
Earl Banks, known simply and affectionately as "Coach" to his co-workers and former Morgan State football players, had died.
Yesterday, Phillips fought back tears while recalling Banks' effect on his life.
"He was the father away from home for me, the man who gave me opportunities and took care of me when I needed help," said Phillips, who first played football under Banks 30 years ago, then came back to Morgan State in the early 1970s to stay, first as an offensive line coach under Banks. He has been the school's wrestling coach for the past 17 years.
"He taught me how to coach. He was a minister in the classroom and a minister on the football field. I'm a little Banks," added Phillips. "He had a unique ability to motivate young men, the ability to guide young men in the right direction and make them good citizens, not just good players."
And look at the players Morgan State produced during Banks' sterling, 14-year tenure.
Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier, who won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs. Leroy Kelly, who starred at running back for the Cleveland Browns. Raymond Chester, who delighted Baltimore Colts fans with his pass-catching ability. Just a few of the 40 players who went on to play in the NFL.
"The man had values. The man had integrity. The man had interest in you outside of the football field, and he taught us about real life," said Lanier, a financier in Richmond, Va.
"I sometimes reflect on the importance of foundation and all of the pieces that go into the puzzle of who you become. I wonder if, without Earl in my life, everything else would have occurred for me [the way it happened]. I tend to doubt it."
Joe McIver, Morgan's sports information director the past 18 years and a graduate of the school, has known Banks since he was a boy. His first supervisor was Banks. The first time McIver worked a Morgan football game, Banks was the coach.
After Banks stepped down as Morgan State's athletic director in 1987, McIver stayed in touch with him. While operating the Cotton Club bar in West Baltimore, Banks managed to get back to Hughes Stadium occasionally to watch the Bears play. He last visited the school two weeks ago at homecoming.
"I'd see him at least once a month. I was just down at his bar with him on Monday," McIver said. "This is tough to handle. He was a mentor of mine."
That sentiment was echoed by Leonard Braxton. He served as Morgan State's athletic director for four years after Banks stepped down. Braxton now coaches track at Arizona State University.
"That was my second dad. He nurtured me, he spanked me. He was the one I'd call on when I had problems. He's the one who gave me my start," said Braxton, whom Banks hired in 1977 to teach physical education and coach track.
"I've seen him get people through school whom he didn't even know," Braxton said. "He never stopped caring. He touched my life. He changed it. I just hope that I can touch other people the way he did."