Mark Clark: Coach Redd wanted me to be successful, too

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Gosh, it has been a very long time since I sat in the press box at Phenix Municipal Stadium – now Garrett-Harrison Stadium – with Coach James B. Redd. Coach Redd was my teacher back then. Oh, I was not in his class at Central High. He taught chemistry and physics. I was, and am still, not very smart in those subjects, but I was smart enough to know I wasn’t smart enough. Coach Redd was holding our weekly class on football statistics.

Coach Redd once kept the stats for the Central Red Devils football team. I was once a young guy trying to learn as much as I could to help me with my sports writing. Heck, at that time, I had not covered any sports event other than Chattahoochee Valley Community College basketball – and I was not very good with those statistics either.

But, I had someone willing to help me – someone willing to take the time to teach me. Coach Redd would go through what I needed to understand and keep track of before the games. When the games began, I sat right next to him and he watched me as he kept up with the Red Devils’ stats for the game. I could not have had a better teacher. I could not have had a more patient teacher. I miss those days.

I miss them even more now. Coach Redd died last week after a brief illness – he had a stroke back in January. He died on Feb. 28th. He left us a day before I am sure he, or his son Kelvin at his request, would have called me to talk about me selecting Travis Grant as one of the 10 Best College Basketball Players of All-Time last week. We had Travis Grant in common. Coach Redd was Grant’s coach in high school at Barbour County Training School. I was a Grant fan when he played in the American Basketball Association with the San Diego Conquistadors. Instead, I received an instant message from Kelvin to call him ASAP at 6 a.m. I knew this was not good, but I hoped it was.

It wasn’t.

Kelvin informed me that his father had died that morning. I told him I was sorry and to let my family know if there was something we could do to help. When I hung up the phone, my heart ached. I had not just lost a teacher. I had not lost a coach that I once covered for the Citizen. I lost a good friend who wanted to see me succeed as a sports writer and as a person. Coach Redd wanted all of his students to be successful. That was his way.

As I reminisced on my first meeting James B. Redd, I remembered when he was named the head coach of the Central High basketball team in 1974. That was my senior year. I think I probably thought the school system had given up on the program by naming a chemistry and physics teacher as the man to lead the team. Of course, the team was spiraling out of control. It had not had a winning season in its previous four years. The team was not much of a team. It was just a bunch of individual players performing as individuals. Boy was I ever wrong in my thoughts.

In his first season, Coach Redd led the Red Devils to the championship game of the William Henry Shaw Christmas Tournament at the old Columbus Municipal Auditorium. That was big back then folks. There was not a more important tournament in the area – not even the region tournament to determine which teams made the playoffs. Central lost that game 59-47 to Baker High under a former Central coach Henry Gresham. Little did we know then that Central’s basketball team would be in 14-consecutive Shaw finals and win nine of those games and lose two others by single points. Central went 16-9 that season and reached the semifinals of the region tournament and lost to Benjamin Russell 82-76.

But, when that season was over, everyone knew Coach Redd intended for his team – his guys – to be successful. They were successful. Over his 14 seasons with the Red Devils, Coach Redd created a dynasty. His teams won 325 games and lost only 97. No one before Coach Redd could boast those numbers. Coach Redd did not boast about them either. That was not his way. He just expected success. He knew Phenix City had the talent to compete in basketball. He just needed to bring it out of the kids in the community. After that first season, the numbers of kids wanting to play basketball increased. They grew each season. 

The Red Devils’ success drew the kids to want to play. It was what Ken Johnson, Frankie Griffin, Ben Hicks, Steve Gordon and Irvin Miller did in that first season that set the wheels of the future of Central basketball in motion. Coach Redd always gave the players the credit for the success of the program he created – the dynasty he created. That was his way.

I remember Coach Redd telling me one day about telling his players they could really be a great team if he could find a shooting guard. Ken Johnson said, “Coach, you got one.” Coach Redd said he wanted to know where that shooting guard was hiding. Johnson said, “Right over there coach.” Coach Redd said he looked and saw a ball boy gathering up the balls. “Where?”, Coach Redd asked Johnson again. “Coach, you are looking at him.” Coach Redd said the ball boy was Eddie Adams – the greatest basketball player Central High has ever seen run up and down its court. Coach Redd talked to Eddie and got him to play basketball instead of being the ball boy. It was a great decision. Coach Redd took a chance on Eddie and watched him be successful.

Coach Redd took a chance on a lot of players over the years that were successful and a few who were not. That’s okay. Coach Redd was proud of the players who were successful and he took the blame for those who were not. That was his way.

I know I did not play basketball for Coach Redd, but he still took a chance on me when he spent his time teaching me to understand statistics for football. He told me he was proud of my success in my writing career. I told him how proud I was of his success as a coach. He would never accept credit for that success. That belonged to his players and students. He did everything he could to help them be successful – even a weekly newspaper writer. Why? Because, that was his way.

Mark Clark is a local sports writer for The Citizen of East Alabama.