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22 June 2007
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 doing.

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” after graduation.

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 fine teacher.”

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 the kids.”

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 to Farrell's.

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 out.”

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 for Farrell.

Ohatchee eventually won 14-6 and the officials remained free from incarceration.

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.

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