A Brief Character Study of Coach Eddie Rake From “Bleachers”

The character Coach Rake from the novel "Bleachers" by John Grisham is discussed. He is portrayed as a brutal man but a legend of a football coach.


Cover of Bleachers

               In the novel Bleachers by John Grisham, a man by the name of Eddie Rake is one of the main characters.  Known to his players as Coach Rake, he is loved, revered, and hated throughout the novel by those who knew him.  During his years as a football coach, Rake perfected the coaching technique that he used to craft an unstoppable high school football team.  His achievements are many and are what put the small town of Messina, Mississippi on the map.  He coached a total of 714 players.  Of the 480 games in which Rake was the coach, only 62 were losses for Messina.  Coach Rake led his players to win 13 state championships and once had a streak of 84 wins in a row that began in 1964 and ended in 1970.  Aside from these goals, Rake also helped integrate Messina High School in 1969 by putting all of the football players, both black and white, in their jerseys and having them greet students as they got off the bus on their first day of school that year.

                Despite all of his accomplishments, Rake, like every individual, had made his share of mistakes in life.  His biggest flaw was that he could not easily handle defeat.  Rake became enraged when one of his players fell short of his standards.  He was notorious for “demonstrating” by hitting players during practice.  However, he only hit two players off the field in his lifetime.  The first time was a hothead who wanted to make trouble.  The second time was during halftime of the championship game of 1987.  Coach Rake punched his All-American quarterback, Neely Crenshaw, in the face in a fit of rage.  This act brought many of his players to despise him.

                Furthermore, Coach Rake was said to over-work his players.  This came to the entire town’s attention in August of 1992.  After a horrible scrimmage, Rake was determined to condition his players to ensure that they would be ready to win the next game.  He called a Sunday practice in which the assistant coaches were absent.  After the team’s warm-up, Rake called “Bleachers!”  This word filled the team with dread, for it meant that they were to be subjected to a grueling running exercise in which they run up and down the rows of bleachers.  During the third round of running, a sophomore special-teams player named Scotty Reardon collapsed and never recovered.  His autopsy showed that he had died of heatstroke.  The superintendent of education, who was Scotty’s uncle, demanded that Rake be fired.  The town was torn apart by the situation.  Some believed Rake treated his players too harshly and should lose his job, while others felt that he should retain in his current position.   In the end, Rake was fired, and his position as coach filled.

                As a result, Eddie Rake was forced to find something to fill the void that had been left after he lost his job.  He began to pray more often.  He attended Mass every morning.  After Rake’s former player, Nat Sawyer, opened a coffee shop in Messina, Rake began to go there in the mornings to read and discuss books with Nat.  It was through this that Nat became closer to Rake and saw him as something other than a legend.  Every game night, Rake would take his wife to Karr’s hill where they would watch the game. 

                Although Coach Rake’s legend lived on in the town of Messina, he himself was not immortal.  During the last days of his life, many of his former players returned to the field and discuss the times they had with their coach.  Rake died on a Friday in October.  At his funeral, three former players gave eulogies.  The first of these was Mike Hilliard, a judge “in a small town a hundred miles away.”  The second to give a eulogy is the Reverend Collis Suggs.  He was one of Rake’s former noseguards, and it is said that Rake would sometimes go to Rev. Suggs’ church on Sunday nights just to hear him give the sermon.  Finally, the third eulogy is given.  Coach Rake wished for the final eulogy to be given by the only player he had ever struck in a fit of rage, Neely Crenshaw.  Crenshaw was apprehensive about speaking in front of the crowd at Rake’s funeral, but after speaking for a while he eventually began to speak naturally and comfortably.  In his eulogy, Neely explains that after one has played for Coach Rake, you carry him with you for the rest of your life.  It is during his speech that Neely finally forgives Rake for the incident of ’89.  At last, the souls of both men are able to rest at ease.

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