Column: Loyalty and coaches

Published 1:45pm Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A lot has been made in the last few hours about Jamey Dubose’s sudden departure from Charles Henderson in Troy to Central-Phenix City.
I am not going to go into my thoughts in Dubose’s decision other than he said he and his family put a lot of time and prayer into the decision and he decided to do what was best for his family. Hard to fault a guy for that other than it looking bad on his record for the amount of jobs he has had over the last few months.
Al.com has had several stories on Dubose’s decision as had our sister paper The Troy Messenger.
While reading one of Al.com’s stories on the issue, I came across Josh Bean’s column. Josh and his wife Kerry used to live in Brewton and Kerry was the publisher here at the paper. They recently moved to Birmingham due to a promotion for Josh within the company of Al.com.
Here is Josh’s column on the Dubose situation: http://highschoolsports.al.com/news/article/870700711085380421/does-jamey-duboses-move-to-central-phenix-city-mean-loyalty-no-longer-matters/
After reading Josh’s column, I got to thinking what is the longest tenure one coach has had at one particular school?
A site many sportswriters from across the state are familiar with—and some fans might be as well—is the website ahsfhs.org. If you are not familiar with the site, I recommend you check it out. It is full of all kinds of information.
While on the site, they had just the information I was looking for: http://www.ahsfhs.org/articles2013/coaches1.asp
While looking at the site, there are nine currently active coaches who have been at one school for over 24 years or more. One of those coaches is T.R. Miller’s Jamie Riggs. Riggs has been at T.R. Miller for 25 years and has a record of 261-56. He is currently sixth on the active list and second on the list for most wins at one school.
The longest tenure at one school all-time, according to ahsfhs.org, is Woody Clements at Holt. Clements coached 41 years and went 238-167-7.
Pretty interesting!!
Riggs will begin his 26th year at T.R. Miller in 2014. Straughn head coach Trent Taylor, a school T.R. Miller fans are familiar with as the two teams have been paired in the same region for many years as of late, will begin his 25th season at Straughn in 2014.
Here is Riggs’ record at T.R. Miller:
http://www.ahsfhs.org/teams2/coachestop1.asp?Coach=Jamie%20Riggs&Team=T.R.%20Miller
What are your thoughts on the whole situation: Dubose, Riggs, loyalty and coaches? Feel free to share your comments on the situation.
Well, until we meet again here or out in the world of sports, God bless.

T.R. Miller head football coach Jamie Riggs.
T.R. Miller head football coach Jamie Riggs.

Here is a story on TRM’s Riggs back in 2008 when he was about to start his 20th year at the helm as T.R. Miller’s head football coach. In the following story, Riggs comments about what has kept him at T.R. Miller for so long.:
When T.R. Miller Tiger head football coach Jamie Riggs steps on the football field Friday night in Atmore, he will begin his 20th season as head coach for the Tigers.
Riggs, one of the most successful coaches in the state of Alabama, has compiled an overall coaching record of 223-63 in 19 seasons at T.R. Miller and three seasons at Opp.

 

 

While 20 years is a long time for a coach to stay with one team, Riggs said one thing has kept him there.
“I have been here all these years because one thing has really stuck out above the others,” he said. “That one thing is the players here. Football has been important to them and they have had this spirit about them that has made coaching fun. It has been work now, a lot of late nights, but the players here have been the reason I wanted to coach. I have had some opportunities to do some other things, but I have not found anything better than this yet.”

With Riggs at the helm, the Tigers have reached several milestones and records over the past two decades: four state championships, Riggs’ 200th win overall and 200th T.R. Miller win, the most wins in the state in the 1990s, wins over rival W.S. Neal and several undefeated seasons.
But Riggs could not name his most memorable moment at Miller. “It’s hard to name one because it has been so many,” he said. “But one thing that does stand out is that we have been able to play at such a high level for so long. We had our first losing season last year in 25 years, and to be able to play at that level just says something about your players. … It’s a rare thing.”
Evolving as a coach
For years, Riggs walked the sidelines during Friday night games in a shirt and tie. Two decades, more than 200 wins and one major heart surgery later, he said he has learned to appreciate coaching more — and he’s even relaxed his wardrobe, wearing a golf shirt rather than the old threadbare tie.
“After my heart surgery, I guess I was trying to be more laid back,” he said, although he joked that last season’s record means he might need to wear that lucky tie again.
Riggs bought the tie after T.R. Miller started 0-3 his first year, and he wore it for every game after that.
“I still have it around here somewhere or at the house,” he said. “I bought that tie and a new shirt, and we won. The shirt wore out along time ago, but the tie was pretty well worn and it was literally falling apart. After that, I decided to retire the tie, but I may have to pull it out here and there.”
Each season has brought new players, but assistant coaching changes have been a rarity in Riggs’ tenure with the Tigers.
“I have had some really good coaches to work with. The strange thing about that is that I have almost completely created two different staffs,” Riggs said. “Used to, with a change here and there, I had the same staff and it stayed until about two or three years ago. And then all of a sudden we have had coaches that have retired and taken other jobs and leaving. But my staff is almost completely different than what it was five years ago.”
A new staff hasn’t changed the quality of the coaching, though, Riggs said.
“I guess I have just been lucky because a lot of people who are good football coaches haven’t had the opportunity to get the quality of assistant coaches that I have,” he said.
Assistant coach Marc Edge, who coached against Riggs while at Daleville, said he appreciated the time Riggs spent with him even when he was an opposing coach.
“I would like to think that we share a friendship for a lot of different reasons, but the greatest of these reasons is a passion for the game and the kids, his drive and professionalism push you to excel,” he said.
Edge called his mentor “a special man in a special place doing an extra special job being the best he can be to help others be their best. That somehow works into a definition of generosity — giving back to this great game is part of who he is.”
The health scare
Two years ago, Riggs wasn’t entirely sure he’d be able to continue coaching. In 2006, Riggs underwent double bypass heart surgery. One artery had 95 percent blockage and another was completely blocked. He was hospitalized for five days, including two in intensive care. Despite a non-heart-related illness that kept him from practice for a few days before this season began, Riggs has a clean bill of health from his doctor.
But the heart scare helped Riggs re-evaluate his priorities — and he’s trying to teach those lessons to younger coaches.
“I think it has made me recognize that I need to do some things differently if I still wanted to continue to coach,” he said. “It also made me recognize that there were some other guys in this profession who are doing some of the same things I was doing. I would not sleep very much and not eat right so now I try to encourage them to do what I didn’t do.”
Riggs said he has also learned to turn over some of his responsibilities to his assistants.
“I delegate more things now than I used to,” he said. “I have got some good people who do things and they do some things better than I do probably because I am older now.”
Riggs’ health scare also showed him how important coaching is, and reminded him that it’s not just about the win-loss records.
“It made me appreciate coaching more and what everybody gets out of athletics,” he said. “Football is about relationships. It’s about relationships with the players and relationships with other coaches at other schools. It made me appreciate those relationships, and it made me reflect more.”
Changing the playbook
Riggs’ coaching style may have evolved, but he said his relationships with players have not. And many former players remember his influence years later.
“Playing for T.R. Miller and Coach Riggs is something that helps young athletes build a sense of confidence and strong character,” former T.R. Miller player Brandon Wilcox class of 2002 said. “Coach Riggs didn’t always look for highly athletic players, he looked for high character people.”
Attracting students to the football field is getting harder, Riggs said. “One thing I have learned is that you have to promote (the program) more now. When I first got here I was just doing my job and whatever happened, happened,” Riggs said. “Because there is so much competition out there now, you have to promote more to get kids to play football. It’s so much easier to play video games, and there is so much more sports now.”
Despite having different activities to compete with, Riggs said that doesn’t change the way he interacts with players.
“The players are not different in my opinion,” he said. “Things around them are different.”
So are the strategies and equipment — better shoulder pads, helmets and shoes; new passing and spread offenses; different ways to move the Xs and Os.
Adapting to those changes keeps the playbook current, but Riggs also sticks with what he knows best. “I try to stay with what has been good to us,” he said. “We always re-evaluate what we are doing with the schedules and workouts, but I try to keep it the same with what has worked for us.”
Former player and now assistant coach Daniel Wilson said Riggs’ consistency is key.
“He’s the same, driven, hard-working, up-beat person everyday,” Wilson said. “When playing for him, it wasn’t always easy to come in and do all the tough things we were asked to do on a daily basis. Riggs always met us at the door, revving us up for practice. Even today as a coach, it is not always easy to work the long hours we do, even though it is our profession. His attitude is still the same, and he does such a great job at not only motivating his players, but those of us on his staff as well.”
Beyond the records
Riggs’ first losing season last year marked the first time since 1999 that the Tigers did not have at least 10 wins in a season and the first time since 1988 that the Tigers had not had an eight-win season.
Considering his entire tenure, that’s an aberration for Riggs. At T.R. Miller, he has compiled a 211-44 record and four state championships (1991, 1994, 2000, 2002). Riggs’ teams in the 1990s decade posted the wins of any team in the state of Alabama with a 117-19 record and two state championships.
“It’s everybody,” Riggs said, deflecting credit for the records and championships. “The ability for the school and the administration to understand the importance of football being played in the school has been an important issue. Also, the support of the parents and the people in the quarterback club because we have had a tremendous booster club in the T.R. Miller quarterback club.”
When Riggs began coaching in 1989, football was not exactly turning a profit at Miller.
“We had no money, several bills and they were taking the money from the baseball concession stand that they would make and take half of the profit and pay on a bill and use the other half to buy some more hamburger meat for the next game,” he said. “From there, to the organization we have today and all the good things that have been done for all the sports have been a good thing.”
Community support has been key, Riggs said.
“We have been able to get some games with other teams because they know that we will bring our band, all the people and that all the people from Brewton were coming,” he said. “Our parents and all the football parents were going to be there and they knew if they played Miller they would make more money than any other game. So even when we were really successful, they knew they would make money from us and that’s the community and that part has been terrific. You don’t see that everywhere now.”
What next?
Riggs will walk the sidelines this season knowing he’s nearing the end of his coaching career, even if that doesn’t come next year or the year after.
“I have been coaching for 30 years, and I am at the tail end here,” he said. “Depending on how much more I go depends on my health. I can’t tell you how much longer I will coach. It is literally year-to-year now.”
Riggs said he wants to be remembered as a coach who made the T.R. Miller football program “first class.”
“To be remembered like that would be really good,” he said. “In coaching, I am responsible for way more things than I can control, and you have to have a lot of good people to help you with that to run a first-class program. I put a lot of time in what I do, and I tried very hard not just to do a good job but this is my school, too. And I want it to be done right.”

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