"Pressed Between The Pages of Our Minds"
In the spring of 1955, a new high school was being born on Ann Street in what was then East Montgomery. At the time, Sidney Lanier High School, which had been an intellectual bastion of excellence and an athletic power in the state of Alabama, was bulging at the seams, with over 2,000 students. This was somewhat confusing news to nineteen Lanier football players that would be eligible to transfer to the new school, which would be named Robert E. Lee High School. We had all grown up hoping to play football at Lanier, so there was some hesitation on our part as to what to do.
Some fellow by the name of Tom Jones had been hired by the Board of Education to be the head football coach. Frankly, none of us had ever heard of Coach Tom Jones. However, he had been a very successful coach at Hayneville High School in Lowndes County, a 1-A school in our 4-A classification system in Alabama. There he coached outstanding players like QB Mac Champion, FB Wilber Supple and HB Todd Meadows. It would not be long before we, along with every football fan in Alabama would be familiar with the name of Tom Jones.
Tom passed away recently at the age of 90. A great offensive mind is gone, but his influence remains. This is his story.
In the fall of 1954, Coach Bill Moseley’s brother and assistant coach, Doug Moseley, was named head coach at Lanier. Bill had decided to go back to Kentucky to coach football. Doug was an All-American center and linebacker for Coach Bryant in 1950. This will be important to remember later in this story. He coached similar to his brother Bill, but with less personal interest in each player. This will also be important later in the story.
Most of the guys had heard little about the new school. We thought that it might be a small military school. My inclination was to stay at Lanier. That would change. Coach Neal Posey, the Lanier basketball coach had been named athletic director at Lee. Coach Posey called for a meeting of all Lanier football players that lived in the new school district that would serve Lee High School. That only involved nineteen players who were upcoming juniors and seniors. We had the choice to transfer or stay at Lanier, but we did not know enough about the choice to make that decision.
Our meeting with Coach Posey was held in the Lanier gymnasium in the spring of 1955. He told us that Coach Jim Chafin, the first year line coach at Lanier would be going to Lee also to coach the line and be the baseball coach. Coach Chafin was very well liked by the players. Posey did an excellent job of convincing the guys that Robert E. Lee would be a first class school and would have a first class football program. He told us that the senior class would be allowed to pick the colors, the nickname, the name of the yearbook and the name of the school newspaper. He said that Coach Tom Jones wanted the colors to be dark red and white so that the offense could hide the ball better. We did not go against the wishes of the new coach at a later meeting where all of the above named decisions were made. All but four players agreed to transfer.
So, in the spring of 1955, fifteen “former” Lanier players put on brand new practice uniforms of the Robert E. Lee Generals. We met our new head coach for the first time in the dressing room where most of us had played junior high ball under Coach Kyle Renfroe. Renfroe had been offered the Lee job but decided to continue coaching at Capitol Heights Junior High School. However, he was very helpful to the new Lee Coaching Staff.
It was mentioned earlier that Doug Moseley was a consensus All-American football player. He was not really popular with the new Lee “recruits”. Only one of the players that transferred was a full time starter at Lanier. That was All-State left halfback Earl Mills, who would make All-American at Lee. We kind of thought that “Coach Doug”, as we called him, gave preferential consideration to the “Cloverdale and Baldwin Boys”. So, Coach Tom Jones won us over quickly with this opening remark, “Boys I don’t think you have to be an All-American to be a good football coach”. That was all he had to say. We were ready to go to work.
All of the spring practices were held at Capitol Heights. There was no grass and it was littered with cinders. There were lots of cinder cuts and skinned elbows that spring. The Lee field was still under construction. We would first put foot on the Lee practice field in August of 1955.
I was privileged to be one of fifteen young men who played both for Sidney Lanier and Robert E. Lee. So, that’s what Coach Tom Jones had to work with. Incoming sophomores from Capitol Heights helped, especially fullback Carl Hopson and center Billy Williams. Now, Coach Jones had seventeen players. Lee students who had never played football helped to provide enough depth for Coach Jones to record a 6-4 season that fall playing a big boy schedule. The only losses were to Ramsey, Phillips, Fairfield and Opelika.
Jones would only lose eight more times in the next ten years on the way to six state championships. That first team accounted for one-third of all his losses at Lee. But, the foundation had been laid!
Tom Jones, who played for the great “Hot” O’Brien at Tallassee, would take over the duties of athletic director from Posey, who had taken a job outside of coaching. Someone had to replace Posey as basketball coach. Coach Leon Ford was picked for that job along with the duties of coaching the ends in football. Coach George Peters was selected to coach the “B” Team.
Tom Jones was known for his quick, fast offenses throughout a magnificent high school coaching career. Check out the following statistics:
7 yrs @ Hayneville H/S - 46 wins-16 losses-8 ties = 71.4%
11 yrs @ Robert E. Lee - 93 wins-12 losses-5 ties = 86.8%
18 yrs /H/S Coaching 139 wins-28 losses-13 ties = 80.8%
To put this into proper perspective, any coach at any level that wins 68% of his games is considered a great coach. Very few in the history of the game of football have won 86% of his games at any one school.
The Auburn alumni in Montgomery “encouraged” Coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan to hire Tom Jones as his offensive coach. Coach Jordan, like all successful college coaches, was butt-headed and didn’t like alumni telling him what to do. So, he appeased most people by hiring Tom Jones as his freshman coach and full time recruiter. This occurred in the late 60’s when Auburn was in a slump of mediocrity. Auburn had lost five straight games to Alabama. Tom did a good job with each freshman class and recruited some excellent players to Auburn. His most famous class was the 1968 class that included a guy named Pat Sullivan and a guy named Terry Beasley. Tom might have taught them a thing or two, you think? Auburn beat Alabama in ‘69, ‘70 and ‘72.
With the success Tom had at Auburn, Troy came calling to see if Tom could get the Trojans out of a long slump. It did not work out for Tom or for Troy. Even though Troy was Tom’s alma mater it just was not a good fit. The Troy of today does not resemble the Troy that hired Tom Jones.
Getting a bit long in the tooth, and having been away from his wife Evelyn and his family so much, Tom decided to give up coaching and try the insurance business. Anyone that knew Tom could have predicted that the insurance gig was not going to work. That interfered too much with Tom’s passion for hunting and fishing, mainly hunting. He also found that to receive a full retirement from the state, he would need two more years in the Alabama Educational System. There just happened to be a coaching job open. Guess where? Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery - he took it. After two years, Tom gave it up for good and retired to his beloved home in Lowndesboro, which he had kept through all the moves. He and Evelyn lived there peacefully for many years.
Occasionally, I would run into Tom at Cramton Bowl. We would sit there and discuss what we would have done differently, as Montgomery’s public high schools began to self destruct. Sometimes, I would meet Tom and Todd Meadows for breakfast at the only restaurant in Lowndesboro, or at his home. We didn’t go to his home often because our visits interfered with Tom’s “soap operas”.
Tom was always the offensive coach that I first met in the fall of 1955. But, like myself, he was finally satisfied to just talk about it, and not do it. He died in that same quiet, serene setting in Lowndesboro with Evelyn by his side.
The likes of his offensive mind we will likely never see again!