Glory days at Andalusia

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Many coaches have come through the Andalusia High School football program, but none with the success that Don Sharpe enjoyed while at the helm.

0728-spt-Donnie-SharpeFor his successful career, Sharpe will be inducted in the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in Dothan on Saturday.

“It’s quite an honor,” Sharpe said. “I’m thankful for the honor. It makes me think back on those years, the players, coaches, fans, administration and everyone who had a part in it. It’s great for everyone to share this honor many years later.”

Sharpe’s illustrious coaching career was something that almost never happened.

“I graduated from Troy State as a math and science teacher, and because of a family situation I couldn’t move and had to stay in Montgomery County,” Sharpe said. “I applied to every school in the county, but couldn’t find anything. Then the Mr. L.H. Knight from Floyd Junior High School called me and told me about an opening for an eighth and ninth grade science teacher.”

The job offer came with one stipulation, Sharpe would have to coach basketball, football, track and cross country.

“He told me the only way I could have the job was if I coached,” Sharpe said. “He asked if I played sports in high school and I told him that I played them all. I then asked what the coaching jobs paid and he told me ‘nothing,’ but I decided to accept the job.”

For five years Sharpe taught and coached at Floyd, before being hired by Jeff Davis head football coach Bill Livings as an assistant coach.

“When I went to Jeff Davis, that was when I became a coach first and a science teacher second,” Sharpe said. “I’ve never really been sorry about that, but I did always enjoy the classroom.”

In the 1973, the football head coaching job came open in Andalusia, and principal Ed Richardson approached Sharpe about it.

“I had never been a head coach of anything except the track team at Jeff Davis, but Mr. Richardson asked me to come to Andalusia as the head coach,” Sharpe said. “The two of us had taught in Montgomery together and together we sponsored the Montgomery County science fair, so we had gotten to know each other very well.”

Even though Sharpe had no head coaching experience, Richardson saw something in Sharpe, and it turned out he was right. Between 1973 and 1979 the Bulldogs, under Sharpe’s guidance, compiled a 76-7-2 record with two state titles and two runner-up finishes. Most of those wins came during the Bulldogs’ historic 58-straight regular-season games without a loss (57 wins, one tie).

Sharpe arrived in Andalusia during the summer of 1973, and quickly got the ball rolling by implementing coaching philosophies he had picked up along the way.

“I picked up a lot of my philosophies from different coaches along the way,” Sharpe said. “Coach Livings, especially, was someone I tried to coach like. His philosophy was ‘Don’t beat yourselves and it will make it hard for the other team to beat you,’ and that just means taking care of the little things like penalties, turnovers and things. The second philosophy was that we required discipline and dedication from our players and coaches. We down played individual performances in the name of the team. There were no big ‘I’s’ and little ‘U’s’. Our motto was absolute dedication to work ethic. We intended to outwork our opponents to the point that we deserved to win, not hoping win. My coaching motto was to treat everyone equally and fairly. Creating a cohesive group with all the parts working in the same direction towards a common goal.”

Sharpe said his coaching success at Andalusia wouldn’t have been possible without the people around him, especially coach Richard Robertson.

“When I got to Andalusia, the one shining star that helped me more than anyone else was Richard Robertson,” Sharpe said. “We had known each other since high school. We didn’t run in the same circle, but we knew each other well enough to have mutual respect for one another. When Robertson came to Andalusia he was very instrumental at the time of integration. He was the coach of the junior high team and he required the same type of discipline that we required for the high school team. That gave the kids a seamless transition for the kids going from junior high to high school. He was probably the single prime mover in my success.”

Robertson also is a Wiregrass HOF member.

Sharpe said there were also many gifted athletes on his first team at Andalusia.

“There was a great nucleus coming back for that first year,” Sharpe said. “There were a lot of very gifted athletes, but they weren’t the strongest because Andalusia had never really had a weight program before. They were very good, but they just hadn’t got over that line yet. Also, that first year we only had four sophomores when I accepted the job, so we walked the halls and recruited 16 more to play that had played before but had quit for one reason or another. When that group was seniors they tied for the state championship. That means that the nucleus of that 75’ team was walking the halls of the high school when I got there.”

Once the wins started piling up, Sharpe said the morale of the entire school shifted.

“It was amazing how quickly the faculty and staff bought into the value that the football program added to the school. Discipline in the halls and the pride of attending Andalusia High School increased in that period of six years. More kids were coming to school, doing their work and graduating.”

Sharpe said there were many memorable moments in his coaching career at Andalusia.

“It’s probably the near-misses that stand out the most to me,” Sharpe said. “That first year we were down 21-3 at halftime to Ozark, but we came back and scored at the end of the game to tie at 21-21. All we had to do was kick the extra point to win, but we missed it and that was the only tie during that period.”

The high point of his career came on busted play that won a game for the Bulldogs.

“The first time we beat Enterprise was probably the high point in my career,” Sharpe said. “They were beating us 7-0, but we scored towards the end of the game and needed to hit the extra point to tie the game. We had never beaten them before so I decided to go for the tie. At this point, the game would have ended in a tie. Something happened on the snap and the holder fumbled the ball. We had a play designed if something like that happened, and the holder hollered ‘Fire, fire’ and the tight end released into the end zone where the holder hit with a pass and we won the game. I was getting all the praise for the play call, but I didn’t call that, it just happened.”

Sharpe said that one moment that he calls the low point of his career came in the loss against Elba that ended the streak of 58-straight regular-season wins without a loss.

“I take full credit for that loss,” Sharpe said. “We had just got the 58 straight games and we had been out there grinding for a long time. We just lost our focus and I underestimated our opponent. Elba wasn’t nearly as good of a team as we were. We relaxed and I let the team down by relaxing myself. That’s the low point of my coaching career, but there were so many high points that outweigh that.”

That Elba team was coached by the late Mack Wood, who also is in the Wiregrass Hall of Fame.

The nucleus of that 58-straight team is still around the Andalusia football program, trying to restore the program to greatness, Sharpe said.

“The nucleus of my former players are actively trying to bring the program back to where it was, and I think they are moving in the right direction,” Sharpe said. “Lucky Cope, Lex Short, John Jones, Tim Nall, Eddie and Allen Williamson, Daniel Shakespeare are all out there trying to improve the program and Trent Taylor is right there in the middle of that group. There have been some good things since those years, but these guys want greatness, and I believe they will succeed. These are also the people I feel indebted to for me making it into the Hall of Fame.”

After leaving Andalusia in 1979, Sharpe continued to find coaching success at Woodham High School in Pensacola, where he coached for six years. In his six years at Woodham, Sharpe piled up a 60-11 record with two state titles. He also had a 28-game regular-season winning streak at Woodham.

Sharpe ended his coaching career after 13 years during which he compiled a 136-18-2 record and won four state titles.