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Hue Jackson's ascension to head coach of the Raiders is a source of pride to those who knew him in South Central L.A., yet his career path was seldom discussed because it seemed a foregone conclusion. (Laura A. Oda/Staff)

The burgundy Ford Maverick pulled up to his family's apartment building almost every morning in the summer of 1982, and Aaron Cox was powerless to do anything but go along for the ride.

Huey Jackson was not one to take no for an answer.

Jackson would weave his way through the South Central Los Angeles neighborhoods awakening to another day of life-and-death struggles over street corners and gang turf.

A sanctuary, a 100-yard patch of green grass, could be found in the middle of the Dorsey High campus.

"We'd go for hours, I'd be running pass routes, and he would call out situations in incredible detail, right down to down and distance, defensive alignments, weather conditions, the cut of the turf, the smell of popcorn in the stands," Cox said. "It wasn't until I got to college when I started practicing where I thought, 'Wow, I'm ahead of the game. I did this already.' "

Hue Jackson's ascension to head coach of the Raiders is a source of pride to those who knew him in South Central L.A., yet his career path was seldom discussed because it seemed a foregone conclusion.

As a child and teenager, Jackson was known as "Huey," which is how he is listed as a 5-foot-10, 170-pound quarterback on the 1982 all-Valley Southern League team.

But his teammates often called him "Coach," and those who thought Jackson was too assertive weren't long for the Dorsey team. They got on board, or got out of the way.

Craig Austin was at the Raiders' facility in Alameda on Jan. 18 when his friend of 35 years was promoted from offensive coordinator to replace Tom Cable, and Austin thought back to their days as Pop Warner teammates in the Baldwin Hills section of Los Angeles.


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"Even then, when he was 8 years old, he was always rubbing elbows with the head coach," Austin said. "We were all just playing the game, but he was trying to understand it."

Jackson doesn't know where he got the coaching bug. Neither of his parents were coaches. He does know it was never enough to simply play his own position, not with so many other pieces of the puzzle to consider.

"I had a fascination for knowing what everybody was doing, and I was always thrust into the forefront and given leadership roles by coaches," Jackson said.

When Dorsey beat Locke 13-0 to win the 3-A city league title in 1982 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the big play was a 51-yard pass from Jackson to Cox on a seam route they'd practiced hundreds of times over the summer.

Cox would go on to Arizona State and become a first-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams, Jackson to Glendale Community College, University of the Pacific and the inevitable transition into coaching.

Jackson wasn't a fast runner and his arm strength was average, so he relied on fundamentals, accuracy and command. It got so that his coach at Dorsey, Glenn Bell, grew comfortable with Jackson running the offense.

Paul Knox, an assistant coach in 1982 and the current Dorsey head coach, remembers the Dons being backed up at the 1-yard line and needing a first down to finish out a close game, and Jackson waving off a play from the sideline.

"He called an option play, made the pitch, and it broke to about the 20-yard line," Knox said. "It's not something we would have called, a pitch out of our own end zone. But they didn't expect it either, we got the first down, killed the clock and won the game."

Gil Ruedaflores watched Jackson closely at Dorsey, recruited him to play at Glendale and said, "He had football sense -- high quality football sense."

With the Raiders, Jackson, who was hired as the team's offensive coordinator before the start of the 2010 season, immediately increased the intensity of practices by prodding offensive and defensive players with a steady stream of good-natured trash talk, a tactic he also used at Dorsey.

"He'd tell a guy what route I was going to run and when I was going to run it, and we'd still complete the pass," Cox said. "We prepared so much that we thought no matter what you did, you couldn't stop us. He made it fun. He challenged guys.

"He knows how to push certain buttons to get results. And that's part of being a great leader."

Austin, the Pop Warner teammate who was later a rival quarterback of Jackson at Palisades High and Santa Monica College, said Jackson's style is borne of his inner-city roots.

"There's a brashness and a swagger that comes into play from being in certain environments," Austin said.

Jackson and his circle of friends opted to use those qualities on playing fields instead of street corners.

"We made a pact with each other we would do everything we could to stay out of trouble and be the best at whatever direction we decided to go," Jackson said.

The gang-bangers, in some cases, backed off in a show of respect.

"I'd be walking back to the apartment where I lived after practice, some guys would size me up," Cox said. "I'd show them my helmet, and they'd give me a nod. They'd read about us in the papers and understood we were trying to make something of ourselves."

When Jackson wasn't playing football, he was the point guard on the Dorsey basketball team, running the offense, distributing the ball and playing defense while mixing in the occasional jumper.

"Sports saved a lot of people, including us," Austin said. "He was in an area where anything could happen. There were a lot of opportunities to do the wrong thing, and a lot of people we knew got caught up in it."

Bell, who died in 2009 of heart failure on the first day of his retirement after 40 years as an educator and mentor, is one of the people Jackson calls "heavyweights." They are the people who helped steer Jackson and his friends clear of bad influences.

"He was strict as far as training and making sure we did the right things in school and in our personal relationships with girls," Cox said. "He would intervene if he saw us doing the wrong things.

"Every now and then he'd take us to his home in the suburbs and he'd have us do yard work, pay us 15 bucks here, 20 bucks there, because he knew our families were struggling and didn't have any money. He never condemned or judged you, just gave you options on how to do things better."

After playing at Glendale and UOP, Jackson ascended the coaching ladder, going from graduate assistant at Pacific to Cal State Fullerton, the London Monarchs (NFL Europe), Arizona State, Cal, USC, the Washington Redskins, Cincinnati Bengals, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.

Ken Bell, the older brother of Glenn Bell, heard about every stop.

"He'd call me and be so excited, saying, 'Ken, did you hear? Huey got another job,' " Ken Bell said. "He never wanted to show favoritism with his other players, but he always said Huey was the glue of his championship team."

Jackson routinely piled teammates into the Ford Maverick, drove them to the Dorsey field, and supervised workouts while giving driving lessons on the side.

"My mom and dad scuffled real hard to get me that car," Jackson said, breaking into laughter at the memory. "It had nice rims on it, it was sharp, and I used to put everybody I could in it and teach them how to drive."

A recently retired high school and junior college coach for more than 40 years, Ruedaflores still talks and texts regularly with Jackson. He is touched that Jackson singles him out at coaching clinics as someone who made a difference in his life.

"You go to the neighborhood and see gang-bangers, and they're smoking dope, listening to sounds, and that's their life," Ruedaflores said. "Then you go across the street to Jackie Robinson Stadium and you don't see gangs, you see teams. That's the way it is. You're either in a gang or you're on a team. Hue was always on a team, and leading the team.

"Look at him now -- he's the head football coach of the Oakland Raiders. That's the epitome of adjusting to adversity and negativism. You have no idea how important that is here."