Local coaching legend cements legacy
FAYETTE – Waldon Tucker readily admits last Friday night was probably the toughest evening he has had in nearly four decades of coaching. The iconic face of Fayette County football became only the second high school coach in Alabama history to win 300 games when his Tigers downed upstart Sipsey Valley 28-6.
Calling the shots for Sipsey Valley, and making his head coaching debut in that contest, was Waldon’s oldest son, Lance.
“I had to play it against my son,” the elder Tucker said. “That wasn’t any fun. I don’t like playing my own blood.”
But while the residue of the moment’s melancholy still hung in the air just days later, Fayette County’s lead Tiger could scarcely keep from reminiscing about the journey which led him to become the winningest active football coach in the State of Alabama.
“One of the biggest things I’m proud of is that we’ve been in one place for 27 years,” he said. “That’s unheard of nowadays.”
Tucker’s coaching career began as a graduate assistant at Livingston University in the early 1970s. His first paid opportunity arrived shortly thereafter when he was afforded the opportunity to work with another coaching legend.
“What little I know about football I learned from Nolan Atkins,” Tucker said of his time at Sweet Water under the man whose name now graces the Bulldog’s home stadium. “He was gracious enough to let me be one of his assistants.”
His first stint as a head coach came outside of the Alabama High School Athletic Association when he led now-defunct Demopolis Academy to 25 victories over a five-year span.
“I went to Demopolis Academy for about five years. They ran me off and then I went up to Gordo,” Tucker said.
Tucker won a state championship at Gordo with an undefeated season in 1980, a feat he would repeat at Fayette County 16 years later. With a 223-92 mark at FCHS, Tucker has has now pushed his career record to 300-123-3. That mark is good enough for second all time in Alabama behind only Glenn Daniel, who finished his career with 302 victories between Luverne and Pine Hill high schools. Daniel was inducted into the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) Hall of Fame in 1991 as the winningest coach in the association’s history, finishing with a mark of 302-167-16.
Tucker will likely pass Daniel’s win total later this season but all indications are that he will not officially break Daniel’s mark for most victories in the AHSAA. Tucker’s Demopolis Academy stint means that only 275 of his 300 victories are under the AHSAA banner and, while making up those 25 victories would likely take only a few years, Tucker does not intend on staying around that long.
“I want to get through this year and get out,” he said, indicating 2010 will most likely be his last year in the business. “I’m pretty sure it will be [my last year].”
He has stood across the field from some of the greatest coaches in state history and he has found ways to beat most of them. But retirement is unfamiliar to Tucker. He even concedes the concept intimidates him.
“Retirement has scared me more than anything else. I don’t know how to do anything else. I’m too dumb to do anything else,” the self-depricating Tucker said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. Hopefully Lance will let me come down and stand around on the sidelines with them a little while at Sipsey Valley.”
If his oldest son will grant that request, Waldon will be able to begin his retirement by helping Lance work his way toward win No. 300.