GREG COLEMAN | An interview with the first black African-American punter & a Vikings legend.
Gregory “The coffin corner” Coleman was the first black American football punter who had an incredible 12-year career in the National Football League, playing for the Cleveland Browns, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Washington Redskins. He also attended Florida A&M University.
Greg grew up in the inner city of Jacksonville, Florida. Football always being a huge sport in any American neighbourhood he naturally gravitated towards the game. One day his coach passed him a bag of balls and said “Go kick” not realising what this would do to the young man's life. Greg likes to refer to this as what gave him a “leg up on life”.
Prior to joining the NFL, Greg graduated from Florida A & M University and was a high school teacher/coach. Known for his strong leg, Coleman became the first African American punter to be drafted into the NFL. The Cincinnati Bengals selected him in the 14th round of the 1976 NFL Draft. However, only playing on Cincinnati’s practice squad, he would move to play for Cleveland the season after. It wasn’t till he joined the Minnesota Vikings where Coleman made his mark in the professional ranks. He played for the Vikings from 1978-1987.
During his time for the purple and gold he earned the nickname "Coffin Corner" because of his ability to aim his kicks near the corner of the playing field where the end zone and out-of-bounds lines meet. Due to his uncharacteristic speed (for a punter) defences often lined up to guard against a fake punt because he was a threat to run for a first down.
Greg holds the distinction of being the first African-American punter in the National Football League. He is also a member of the Florida A & M University Football Hall of Fame, Raines High School Sports Hall of Fame in Jacksonville, FL. A member of the State of Florida Track & Field Hall of Fame and was named to the All-Time Black College Football Team. He was named the Minnesota Vikings NFL Man of the Year in 1985 and was also selected by fans to be a member of the Minnesota Vikings 25th and 40th Anniversary teams.
Known for the nickname "Coffin Corner", how did it feel being dubbed that nickname? That kind of nickname was special because it came from a sports icon back in the day on Monday night football and that was Howard Cosell. He also said, Coffin Corner Coleman. And when Howard Cosell gives your name like that in my mind it meant that you had made it to The Show!
You were the first ever African American punter in the NFL, how does it feel making such incredible history?
Let me be clear, there were other black athletes who had punted in the NFL long before I got there, after searching long and hard and finding out that these other men also played other positions so being the first African-American to only punt yes I guess I could say I was the first African American punter in the NFL. You know it’s only now at this stage of my life that I’m taking the time to realize how incredible this statement really is, it’s not something that I set out to do to be the first black Punter, I was a Punter who happened to be black.
You went to Florida A&M, how was your football playing years there and now being in the A&M football hall of fame? My HBCU experience as a student athlete at Florida and M was incredible, like most athletes back during the early to late 70s I wanted to attend one of the larger major schools but I had one coach said Greg, we are just getting our alumni to except the fact that we’re going to have a black quarterback l can’t have a black kicker at the same time. I always thought that I was a better place kicker than Punter but the opportunity to compete for field goals in extra points never came up so I focused on my punting. Back to my experience at Florida and it was amazing, I also ran track. I was an all American hurdler qualified for the Olympic trials but I had to make a decision if I was going to follow my track dream or my NFL dream.
Being a part of the Florida A&M football Hall of Fame was a great honor, I was not able to attend the ceremony because that happened I believe it was 1985 and we were in the middle of the season so I couldn’t break away miss a game to attend that ceremony so my mom and my brother went to Tallahassee and accepted the award for me. To be in the same hall of fame as great men like Bob Hayes, Willie Gallimore, Ken Riley just to name a few it’s a great honor and I will always treasure it.
12 incredible years in the NFL, how was it and what was your favourite moment?
12 years is a long time, there's lotta great memories, and it’s hard to say what was my favorite memory because there’s so many both on the field and off the field with some great organizations. I guess I can say when I was named special team captain for the Minnesota Vikings that had to be one of the most memorable experiences that I had not to mention the great teammates and the relationships you develop over 12 years and some of those relationships are still solid today many many years later after our playing days are over.
How was it being inducted in the Vikings 40th anniversary team? Being a part of the Vikings 40th anniversary team was very special because you were chosen and selected by the fans of the Vikings. But also I think being mean to the 25th anniversary team was very very special. It was one of the great honors that I received even while I was playing for the Vikings and it was an honors that I got to share with my dad while he was still alive. I know you didn’t ask this question but being a part of the 2021 class of the Black College Football Hall of Fame has to be one of the greatest honors that has been bestowed upon me I look forward to the celebration and the ceremony later this summer in Atlanta with my wife, kids, grandkids, friends, family, teammates and coaches.