Eight months after being gunned down inside his office by an angry parent, Canton High School football coach Gary Joe Kinne is making history in the temporary space he now occupies.
The school is building him a new office, equipped with security and door locks that might have slowed Jeff Doyal Robertson from barging inside April 7 and firing a single shot to Kinne's abdomen, leaving him critically wounded and bringing tumult to this two-intersection East Texas town.
In the meantime, Kinne is focusing on his team's unprecedented playoff run -- including Canton's upset of defending Class 3A state champion Gilmer last week, and Friday's 42-14 win against Emory Rains.
Now 12-1, Canton has advanced to the fourth round of the state playoffs for the first time in school history. Two more wins, and Canton will play for the 3A state championship.
"I have instant name recognition," Kinne said. "It would be nice to do something on the field to back that up, otherwise I'll just be remembered as the coach who got shot. Maybe this can be a better story."
Kinne's temporary office is sparsely furnished. There's a baseball bat in one corner, a box on the floor and an 8-by-11 inch framed photo of his highly recruited son, quarterback G.J. Kinne, standing with Tennessee Coach Phillip Fulmer and a cache of trophies in a portrait aimed to prod G.J. toward the Volunteers in 2007.
Trophies on Kinne's desk take up the most space. He cleared room for another last week after the defeat of Gilmer, among the biggest upsets in Texas' glutted high school playoffs.
Kinne's story so far has read like a made-for-television script:
A coach takes over a historically irrelevant football team in a small town about 60 miles east of Dallas, and decides to start his hotshot son at quarterback on the varsity his freshman year. Then he's gunned down at school by another player's father known for his temper and an arm tattoo of cartoon character Yosemite Sam brandishing two guns and the words "Born to Raise Hell."
Authorities say Robertson, whose attorneys concede he was the gunman, then fled to nearby woods and slashed his wrists before being arrested.
The bullet destroyed 80 percent of Kinne's liver, but the 38-year-old coach who once starred as a linebacker at Baylor recovered in time for Canton's first practice in August. Weak and nearly 90 pounds lighter, Kinne led practice from a golf cart the first two months but was pushed by his wife, Laurie, to resign for the season after a liver infection hospitalized him the morning before Canton's third game against Sabine.
Kinne likes the last act best: He returned to the team by midseason, ditched the golf cart, packed on about 35 pounds, watched colleges like Alabama and Tennessee jostle for his son's attention, coached Canton to its first district championship in 41 years and led the football team to its best season in school history.
"I knew I was going to pull through," Kinne said. "There would be days where it would be frustrating, where I'd think, 'Why did this happen? Why me?' That self pity. You wonder how much you can take.
"It was never in my mind that I wasn't going to make it. Part of what we're going through as a team has brought us so much closer together. It's brought our kids closer, it's brought our families closer, it's brought G.J. and I closer and it's brought me closer to God."
Kinne, unlike much of Canton in the months following the shooting, has been straightforward and open since his return. Candid about the medication he takes to prevent a relapse. About his family moving 25 miles outside Canton to a gated community "to be a little less accessible." About the way his assistant coaches become protective when unknown visitors enter the field house, and the surprised stares they give Kinne when he leaves to greet new faces unescorted.
Nor did he ask players to ignore the story. Kinne spared no detail during his first meeting with the team after his release from the hospital. Players allude to the shooting in their pep talk before each game. When Canton fell behind Sabine by 21 points with Kinne hospitalized, Ellis huddled the team at halftime and used the shooting as a rallying point.
"I told them coach Kinne was going to be all right," said Ellis, a senior with green-and-white colored braces that match Canton's colors. "We had predetermined before the game that we were going to play for him, and we weren't doing it. We came back and won it."
G.J. Kinne puts it another way.
"I always say there's a positive to every negative," said the younger Kinne, who had thrown for more than 3,500 yards and 35 touchdowns this season entering Friday's game. "We already had a great team, but without what happened . . . I don't know. It's made us focus so much better."
Kelly Wilson, one of three lifelong Canton residents with a son playing for Kinne, said the community hasn't forgotten the shooting but that it's "not something we talk about at the coffee house on Saturday mornings" in the town of about 3,500 residents. Canton superintendent Jerome Stewart said the shooting "runs silently and parallel to a lot of things," but that it's not a cloud hanging over the town.
But for friends and family of Robertson -- of which there are still many in Canton -- the shooting remains an uneasy subject.
Robertson is being held in Upshur County Jail in Gilmer, about 70 miles northeast of Canton. He's charged with first-degree felony assault on a public servant, punishable by up to life in prison. The trial is set for Feb. 21.
After Robertson was arrested, Canton Police Chief Mike Echols revealed Robertson had been banned from the school's campus in the fall of 2004 and told not to attend school functions, including football games, after several confrontations with coaches. One of those included Robertson "shoving and verbally abusing" coaches at the annual football players picnic, he said.
Prosecutors are not seeking attempted murder because it is a second-degree felony with a lesser sentence.
Robert Perkins, Robertson's attorney, said his client has a litany of medical problems and has lost vision in one eye because he hasn't gotten proper medical care since being jailed.
At a September hearing at which a judge refused to reduce the $1 million bail, Perkins submitted to the court more than 60 letters written by family members and friends of Robertson. Included is a five-page handwritten note from his wife, Carol.
The letters, including one from the parent of a Canton football player, don't condone the shooting but insist Robertson is a gregarious and generous father who deeply loves his two sons. Many offered stories of Robertson, who owns a Dallas-based heating and air conditioning business, performing free repairs and installing free equipment to those who couldn't afford it -- how he moved mailboxes to the front of houses for elderly neighbors and leased a back hoe to clean up dead trees on other people's property, always refusing payment.
When Charlotte Richards' husband died in a car accident, she said Robertson was the first person at the scene and one of the last people to leave her side.
"Jeff is a real kind person with a real big heart," Richards said. "He was a sweetheart if he was your friend, and he was your friend to the end. But if he didn't like you, he didn't like you. If he got mad, he told you he was mad."
Kinne, relieved that the trial won't be until after the season, said he's simply glad his team was not hampered by what happened.
"I told the kids that if they played like I knew they could, the story would eventually be about them," Kinne said. "I told them I'll get better and they'll forget about me. But if they kept winning they would be the story, and that's exactly what has happened."