Innovator: Bill Farrell's Offenses
Were Ahead of Their Time
By Rip Donovan
Star Sports Correspondent
Reprinted here in its entirety.
|Bill Farrell, left, instructs his quarterback at
Piedmont. Farrell's innovative offenses were especially advanced for the high
school level of that time. Photo: Anniston Star file photo
His philosophy of coaching was simple. Make football something the players enjoyed
Bill Farrell took that straightforward approach with him to his first
coaching job — fresh out of college at Jacksonville State — in 1947 at Ohatchee,
where there had been no football for the previous eight years. It served him
well at Piedmont where the Bulldogs had losing records the three years before
his arrival in 1952.
And it worked at Anniston, a program that had experienced only one winning
season in the seven years before Farrell became head coach in 1971.
Saturday evening, the day after his 82nd birthday, Farrell's idea that
football should be enjoyed will take him into membership in the Calhoun County
Sports Hall of Fame.
“I'm not worthy of all this attention,” Farrell said earlier this week. “I'm
very honored and I certainly appreciate everybody who supported me. I wish my
players could accept the honor for me.”
While Farrell had talented players at each of his coaching stops, he was
known as a coaching innovator. By his own admission he was not a student of the
game as a football player at Jacksonville State and had to “learn to coach”
He started with the Notre Dame box and the Tennessee single wing. At a
coaching clinic University of Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson introduced Farrell to
the split-T formation and it was a match made in heaven.
“Spread the linemen, brush block and run by them,” Farrell explained.
“It was a great experience to learn from Bud Wilkinson because he was such a
Wilkinson also brought with him a skinny former quarterback named Darrell
Royal to demonstrate as he talked.
“I love offense,” Farrell said. “I was the offensive coordinator everywhere I
went and I called the plays. I felt I could do that and keep the pressure off
There were wonderful players along the way, too many to name them all. Some
on those Farrell recalled immediately included Ohatchee quarterback John Martin,
who went on to play at Austin Peay, where the Governors ran an offense similar
Halfback Billy Diffie, all 109 pounds of him, averaged about nine yards a
carry when Ohatchee went to the split-T.
After Ohatchee claimed the Calhoun County championship with an 8-0-2 record
in 1951, Farrell moved to Piedmont. Turkey Bowl championships in 1958 and 1959
followed. In each case, Piedmont avenged its only regular season loss.
At Piedmont, all-county tackle Charles Hurst was also Farrell's first
all-state player. What Farrell remembers most is the smile Hurst always wore, in
games or in practices.
Ray Glover, a quarterback at Piedmont, threatened to fight his coach when
Farrell tried to remove him from a game after he had been knocked unconscious.
The late Frank Watson, another quarterback, had the most football savvy.
Carlton Rankin, who followed Watson at quarterback, “was a super player in
high school.” Farrell managed to convince Tom Bible, who had gone to junior high
at Roy Webb, to come to Piedmont for high school. Bible, whom Farrell described
as “a man among boys” in high school, seemed headed for stardom at the
University of Alabama before he drowned.
Jim Simmons was another Piedmont talent at Alabama.
“If he had had one step of speed more I think he would have been as good as
Lee Roy Jordan,” Farrell said.
After his second Turkey Bowl victory in 1959, Farrell felt he had done all he
could do at Piedmont and became principal at Lineville. He remained in
administrative positions until John Fulmer talked him into taking the Anniston
coaching job in 1971.
By 1972, Anniston was 7-3-0 and Farrell was voted “Big Six” coach of the year
by his peers. He received the same recognition in 1973 after Anniston completed
its first undefeated, untied regular season.
In 1974, Anniston was undefeated (9-0-0) in the regular season again and won
a playoff game for the first time. That team was loaded with talent. Marty White
returned at quarterback, Ronald Young at halfback, Donald Young at flanker,
Keith Robertson at fullback and Rayfield Morrow at tight end.
Farrell called the '74 team his best at Anniston. He added that keeping that
team “from getting cocky” was his best coaching job.
Over his career, Farrell's teams were 134-69-7. He saw a lot of improvements
as the wins piled up.
When he went to Ohatchee “we didn't even have a shower. After practice every
day we'd go in the creek” just behind the football field.
There was no equipment at Ohatchee, either. The local American Legion post,
“made up of people who were very interested in improvements in the community,”
bought the first equipment and uniforms. They located almost everything they
needed but helmets just weren't available.
“We found some surplus army tank helmets and that's what my first team played
in for helmets.”
In 1948, the American Legion group also raised the money to make the Ohatchee
field the third in Calhoun County to get lights. The field then had no fence to
restrain the crowd, only a “plow line” tied around the light poles. In the first
night game at Ohatchee, the Indians entertained Childersburg.
Both Farrell and Childersburg coach John Cox wanted to win badly. Farrell was
out on the field “protesting calls every other play. The officials weren't
making bad calls but I thought they were. If I didn't go out (Cox) would go
After about 20 plays, Farrell realized that a prominent Ohatchee businessman,
also a deputy sheriff, had come under the restraining rope to join him on the
sideline. In all seriousness the man offered to arrest the offending officials
Ohatchee eventually won 14-6 and the officials remained free from
More than the wins Farrell seems to value the mutual feeling of respect that
good football games engendered.
“It was a joy to come across the field and end the ball game on good terms
with people,” he said.
About Rip Donovan
Rip Donovan contributes high school sports articles to The Anniston Star.
See story at The Anniston Star's website:
Note: JSU faculty, staff and students may access The
Anniston Star online through their affiliation with the University.
Those not affiliated with JSU may have to subscribe to receive The
Anniston Star online. If you already subscribe to The Anniston
Star, you receive a complimentary online membership. This provides
complete access to all the content and services of the site at no
additional charge. Otherwise there is a $5 online monthly charge for
their online service. Contact The Anniston Star for information.
for news releases by using the request form at www.jsu.edu/newswire/request.