Fontes says Giles changed tight end position

Not often do you answer the phone and the voice on the other end is a former NFL Coach of the Year.

That happened to me a few minutes ago.

“This is Wayne Fontes,” the retired coach said, “and I wanted to tell you how badly my wife and I want to be at your Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame banquet Friday night. We’ve both just had surgery and there’s no way we can make it. We wanted to be there for Jimmie.”

That’s Jimmie, as in Jimmie Giles, the four-time Pro Bowler for the Tampa Bay Bucs when Fonts was an assistant coach under John McKay.

Fontes was later the head coach of the Detroit Lions, whom he guided to the playoffs four times. He was chosen the NFL’s top coach in 1991. He also is known for insisting the Lions choose Barry Sanders in the NFL draft against the wishes of his scouting staff.

At Tampa Bay, he coached defensive backs and was the defensive coordinator, which, he says, only gave him a better appreciation of Jimmie Giles.

“Heck, we had to try and stop him in practice and we never could,” Fontes said. “Jimmie was the piece of the puzzle we had to have in Tampa Bay. He gave us a threat. In my opinion, he changed the way the position of tight end is played in the NFL.

“Before Jimmie, nearly all tight ends were big guys, who blocked and ran five-yard pass patterns,” Fontes continued. “Jimmie was a big guy, too, but he not only could block, he could run pass patterns like a wide receiver, he could go deep and he could run with it after he caught it.”

Fontes confirmed that Tampa Bay demanded that Giles be part of the trade that sent Tampa Bay’s first pick of the draft to the Houston Oilers. The Oilers used that pick to take Earl Campbell.

“We got other players, but the one we had to have was Jimmie,” Fonts said.

“What people who don’t know Jimmie need to know is that as great a player as he was, he is a better person,” Fontes said.

“This is my opinion but I know most people who know football and watched Jimmie would agree: He deserves to not only be in your Hall of Fame but also the Pro Football Hall of Fame, because he really did change the way the tight end position is played,” Fontes added.

Giles will be one of six inductees in the MSHOF’s Class of 2013, joined by Bill Buckner, Gerald Glass, Doc Harrington, Langston Rogers and Michael Rubenstein.

Tickets to Friday night’s banquet at the Jackson Hilton (reception at 5:30, dinner at 7) are available by calling 601 962-7293.

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