Published 11:40 am Wednesday, July 20, 2005
By By Bruce Hixon – Sports Editor
T.R. Miller football lost a piece of its history Sunday when former Tigers head coach Mack Wood passed away.
Wood, age 69, coached the Tigers from 1966-71 and led the 1969 team to the Class 2A state championship. Many consider Wood's 1969 T.R. Miller team the best in school history.
That squad not only went 11-0, but outscored its opponents by a stunning 484-28 margin. That margin included a 27-0 win over Aliceville in the state championship game.
While people here are most familiar with his work at T.R. Miller, they may have forgotten Wood had successful coaching stints elsewhere.
Wood left T.R. Miller for Charles Henderson High School in Troy and stayed there two years. His best season at that school came in 1973 when he guided Charles Henderson to a 7-3 record.
Wood decided to leave the coaching ranks after the 1973 season and went into private business for four years.
In 1977, Wood was lured out of coaching retirement when he took over what had been a struggling Elba program. Wood posted a 6-4 record in that first year at Elba and improved that mark to 9-2 by 1979. During that 1979 season Elba snapped Andalusia's 59-game winning streak. One year later Wood's Elba team upset Andalusia again, this time in the playoffs. That Elba victory snapped Andalusia's 65-game home winning streak.
Elba finished second in the state playoffs in both 1985 and 1986 and won the Class 3A state titles in 1989 and 1992.
Wood wound up with a 214-89-4 record before he retired again, this time for good, after the 1993 season.
Both Wood and Frank Cotten, who coached T.R. Miller from 1973-80, were both inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. Cotten was an assistant coach for Wood during his time at the T.R. Miller.
"Both Coach Wood and I came to the school in 1966. I remember him being a very firm, but fair person. He was real strict with his players. He expected the players to do what he asked them to do," Cotten said. "Coach Wood was a perfectionist. There might be times where we would spend an hour on what should have been a 15-minute drill. If it took that long for the players to get it right, that is what we did."
Cotten said another key characteristic of Wood's was his composure.
"Coach Wood hid his worries in front of the players and that is important. Players look at a coach's expressions on the sidelines and they feed off that," Cotten said. "Watching his composure and how he reacted to situations had a big influence on how I coached when I became a head coach."
Cotten is not the only Tigers coach Wood has influenced. Current T.R. Miller skipper Jamie Riggs played his freshman and sophomore seasons under Wood's direction.
"Probably the biggest thing I learned from Coach Wood was the difference between a player and simply being on a team. He taught us how to be tough on the field. Quite frankly, I probably never would have become a coach if it weren't for Coach Wood. He helped make me a lot better player than I should have been," Riggs said.
At the time of Wood's retirement, Elba superintendent Charles Pearce praised the way Wood's team acted on and off the field.
"If Coach Wood brings a group of boys on a bus, no matter where they are at, they get off the bus with class and get back on with class. If you can do that and win, that is all you can ask of a coach," Pearce said.
Funeral services for Coach Wood will be Thursday at 10:30 a.m. at the Hayes Funeral Home Chapel in Elba. Burial will follow at 2:30 p.m. at the Ebenezer Methodist Church Cemetery at Pigeon Creek.