Class of 2011
Red Bay High School guidance counselor Micah Jackson said it was his special coach, Max South, who set him on his career path at that very school in the early 1990s.
"When he first came to Red Bay, I couldn't stand him," said Jackson. "I got so mad at him that I even let the air out of his tires after football practice one afternoon. It was my first year and I was probably cocky. But he helped direct my vocation and I became a basketball coach, math teacher and now guidance counselor at Red Bay."
Max South, a former Athens High School football player, lost his battle with brain cancer in 2001 while serving as coach and mathematics teacher for Coffee High School in Florence. He is being inducted into the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night.
Jackson said that South knew that anyone choosing a career in high school coaching needed to have a strong academic background to fall back on. "He said if I could teach math I would always have a job," said Jackson. "He was selfless. He would do anything to help you out, but was never loud about it. Sometimes he helped people and they never knew it. I'm absolutely honored to have known him."
According to a tribute provided by Coffee administration and staff written at the time of South's death, one of the coach's strongest attributes was being a team player.
The tribute quotes former Athens High School assistant principal Mike Lewey as saying that while South played quarterback for Athens from 1981-'83, he was so dedicated to winning that he would have played tackle if that would have benefited the team more.
After graduating from Athens in 1984, South enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi where he was a student trainer in baseball, track and football. He was in the top five men in his freshman class and a student representative on the athletic eligibility committee.
While head basketball coach at Red Bay from 1988-'95, South set a 90-71 record. As assistant football coach, he had three players named to the all-state team. He was Franklin County Coach of the Year three times and coached the Red Bay team to make the state playoffs the first time since 1935. After going to Coffee in 1995 as head basketball coach, he amassed a 112-62 win-loss record. His team had three back-to-back 5A Area 16 championships and played in the Northwest Regional Tournament three years. He had two 5A State Most Valuable Players; two players in the Birmingham News Super 5, and back-to-back Times-Daily Classic winners. He had a Times-Daily Classic trophy named in his honor and he was the administrative coach for the Alabama All-Stars for four years. His overall record in the 12 years he was at Red Bay and Coffee is 202-133. Three men who were childhood friends and teammates of South's, say there were early indications that his team spirit and dedication would take him far. Martin Bailey, who teaches and coaches at Athens Middle School, said South gave 100 percent, no matter what the situation. "One of the things I love about football is that you get your brains beat out for the guy next to you," said Bailey. "That's the way Max was. He gave his all even if we were playing four-square at church. We didn't have good running backs or receivers, but he was good at quarterback and wanted you to play as hard as he did. You can't coach this into someone; they have to be born with it. If everyone played like he did, we'd win every game."
Brian Moore, now an executive with Martin & Cobey Construction, who graduated a year ahead of South, remembers him as, "not the fastest but the smartest player." "He knew all the plays," he said. This trait was especially evident when the Athens team played Giles County High School in Pulaski when both South and Moore, considered two of the slowest guys on the Athens team, scored touchdowns against the faster team. "We'd been told all week how fast Pulaski was," said Moore. "I thought it was funny that the slow guys had the touchdowns against the fastest team."
Another teammate and longtime friend, Kevin Robinson, who is executive director of internal auditing for Auburn University, said he was told he needed to get to know Max South when his family first moved to Athens. He did, and the two became fast friends.
"He was not the greatest athlete, but he was a good player," said Robinson. "He was smart and good with his teammates. I'm not surprised that he was a successful coach. He was the kind of guy you'd want your kids to play for."
At the time of his death on Oct. 27, 2001, South had earned a master's degree in math and technology from the University of North Alabama. For two years, he battled the brain tumor that eventually took his life.
He continued to show his love and dedication of teaching and coaching while having surgery, radiation and chemo. At one point, he had surgery on a Monday, came home from the hospital on Wednesday and coached the team to a win in the season opener with Hartselle on Friday night.
A Coffee High School scholarship was established in his memory, which made it possible for several Coffee students to attend college.