Class of 2012
As a young high school coach in Iowa, Gerald (Jerry) Todd made a decision that would define his coaching philosophy for the next 25 years. As a first year freshmen basketball team coach, he decided the gymnasium was going to be like a classroom and his players were going to work hard and have fun, the fun being in the work. He would later bring this simplistic approach to Athens High School and win 447 games as coach of the Golden Eagles basketball team.
“My philosophy was that simplicity was the closest one could get to perfection,” said the 2012 Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame inductee. “My goal was to teach basketball and for my teams to strive for perfect practices. I was a believer that teams played like they practiced. We were going to have fun in practice as well. If we didn’t laugh two or three times, I considered practice a failure.”
Todd says he is honored to be part of the hall of fame. “This is certainly a great honor for me but it is really honoring all the players that played for me at Athens High School. I was very fortunate to coach some really good players and have excellent assistant coaches in the program,” said Todd.
Todd led the Golden Eagles to 11 Area Championships, seven ‘Final Eight’ and two ‘Final Four’ appearances. Athens High School became a regular stopping place for college basketball recruiters as 55 of Todd’s players signed scholarships at all levels.
Former Athens High School and University of Alabama basketball standout Keith Askins remembers Todd as being more than just a basketball coach. “Coach Todd was grounded in his values and always put family first. He stressed academics and didn’t tolerate mediocrity in the classroom. He strived to make us better people which in turn he believed, would make us better players. From a basketball standpoint, the work ethic and fundamentals I learned from playing for Coach Todd helped prepare me for the University of Alabama,” said Askins, who now serves as an assistant basketball coach for the NBA Miami Heat.
While the Golden Eagles enjoyed unprecedented success under the leadership of Todd, he was very close to not accepting the job when it was first offered to him in 1978. Todd was born in a log house in Limestone County. He attended Piney Chapel Elementary through the fourth grade but his father, who was a cotton famer, left farming to work in the steel industry and the family had moved around. After spending some time in the Michigan and Ohio, the family would eventually move to Birmingham where Todd would graduate from Woodlawn High School. He was a three-year starter in basketball and an All-State performer in track, with the team winning three city championships.
After serving a three-year stint in the army, Todd enrolled at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. He would graduate and begin his coaching career at Mediapolis (IA) High School. His first job was the head coach of Mediapolis middle school basketball team only because he had to take a coaching job to get a teaching job. His next stop was a town called Humeston, Iowa as an assistant basketball coach and middle school football coach. The following year, he became the head coach at Humeston and an assistant coach at Southwestern Community College. After receiving his Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling, he then moved to Creston High School as a counselor and was named the ninth grade basketball coach. The ninth grade team had struggled the previous year. “I told everybody we would go undefeated,” remembers Todd.
“Folks there thought I had lost my mind. But, when I opened the door to our locker room and out stepped a couple of kids who are 6’6” or taller, I sort of like my chances against other ninth grade teams on our schedule. We thought I had the best job in the world. I was working with great kids. The administration was great. My wife (Louise) was from around the area. I could really see myself at Creston for a long time.”
A trip to Athens to visit family would change Todd’s plans and the direction of Athens High School’s boy’s basketball program. Todd’s mother and father had moved back to Athens by the mid 1970’s and while visiting, Todd was told Athens High School was looking for a new basketball coach.
“Out of curiosity, I looked into the job,” recalls Todd. “I really wasn’t interested in the job. Creston was where my heart was. In fact, I was about to leave to go back to Iowa when the principal Mr. (Marvin) Clem and the board offered me the position. I told them no at first but (Coach) Johnny Black convinced me the Athens High basketball job would be a great opportunity for me and my family. Johnny was right.”
After being hired, Todd immediately put his stamp on the Athens High program. He started the first basketball camp in Limestone County. Fundamentals and defense became the standards of which he held his teams to. Athens High School soon became one of the premiere basketball programs in the state. “I have always thought of myself as a teacher/counselor first,” said Todd. “In fact, that is what I enjoy doing most. My goal was to indentify our best players and teach them fundamentals.”
Todd’ focus was always on his players and his teams. He was never one to consume himself over opponents. “I hardly ever scouted our opponents and didn’t require my assistants to either. When practice was over, it was family time for our staff. Besides, my focus was my team doing what they could control and not worrying about what the other team was going to do. We played Scottsboro one year and they had a player (Terrance Meade) who had signed with Alabama. I didn’t know who he was. I just put one player one him and when he couldn’t guard him, I put another on him. I wasn’t concerned about what players could do on the other team or what offensives or defensives they ran. Our preparation was on what we could do best and try to make our opponents adjust to us,” said Todd.
Mike McCoy, who played for Todd at Athens High in the mid 1980’s, says that his former coach was philosophical in his approach to the game. “Coach Todd would often time come up with these profound statements that may not relate to anything directly associated with basketball but had a purpose in what he was trying to say.
His approach to the game concentrated more on our being prepared based on what we could do and not on what the opponent might be able to do. We didn’t always understand his approach to practice, which might have been unorthodox on occasion, but he always had a reason for his approach, which usually resulted in a positive outcome,” said McCoy.
Unorthodox was the way Todd approached some of his in game decisions as well. Todd recalls one time when one of his Athens High teams fell behind 15-0 to start the game. “My point guard Billy Rice, came over to the bench and asked me if I wanted to call timeout. I told him no, that they got us into this mess and it was their job to get us out of the mess,” laughs Todd.
Todd says he will never forget the great experience he had leading the AHS boys basketball program. “I was truly blessed being the boys’ basketball coach at Athens High School. I worked with the best faculty in the nation. I coached some great kids and we made some great memories at Athens High School. I felt very lucky to be able to return to my roots and be close to my family.”