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Longtime Columbus coach Bourland dead at 81


Tuffy Bourland

Tuffy Bourland



William Browning



J.D. "Tuffy" Bourland, a longtime Columbus coach and educator, died Friday at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. 


He was 81. 


Bourland coached for years at Lee High School, where he made a name for himself as a demanding leader who instilled confidence in the children he coached. 


"He was one of those guys who had high expectations and at the same time was just a rock solid coach," said Bob Williford, who played for Bourland at Lee High School in the late 1960s. 


Williford recalled a basketball game during his senior year when the team was playing a game in Alabama. The Alabama team was good and, "things weren't going so well," Williford said. 


"We walked into that locker room at halftime and I remember a clipboard flying," he said with a laugh. "That got everyone's attention real good." 


Williford said later that year Bourland asked him to help with spring football practice. By the end of that experience, Williford had made up his mind to be an educator and four years later, after he had graduated from Mississippi State University, he came back to Lee High to coach. When he led the varsity basketball team to the north state championship a few years later, Bourland, who had by then retired, was one of the first people to come by the school and shake his hand. 


"That's the type of guy he was -- the first to congratulate, to encourage, to just pat you on the back," he said. 


An Aberdeen native, Bourland was a fullback on the high school football team before spending two years playing at Mississippi State University. He was drafted into the military during the Korean Conflict and after being discharged spent two years playing at the University of Southern Mississippi. He met his wife, Vicki, in Hattiesburg. 


They have two children -- Jimmy Ray, 56, and John LeRoy, 54. 


Jimmy Ray Bourland, in an interview Saturday evening, said his dad's greatest strength, in his eyes, was treating everyone with respect. That respect came from a strong sense of empathy, he said. 


"My dad had an uncanny way of dealing with people from all walks of life," he said. "As I've gotten older, I've intersected with a lot of people who would come up to me and tell me what my dad meant to them, not only as a coach, but as a sort of mentor. I can't tell you what that means to me." 


Williford, a Columbus native who has retired after 40-plus years in education, said his career can be traced back to Bourland asking him to help with spring football practice in 1969. 


"That sort of thing encourages a kid," he said. 


Danny Carlisle, who was the head baseball coach at Starkville High School for 29 years, said when he began his career in 1976, Bourland's name was one that everyone in the profession in this area knew. 


"I knew him as a person who you looked up to in coaching," he said. 


Carlisle said as a coach if you can touch "one, maybe two lives" on and off the field, then you are a success. When it came to Bourland, he said, "we're talking untold lives that were touched." 


"There is no doubt for me," he added. "He lived a long and fulfilling life." 


Jimmy Ray Bourland said his dad preached to his children something his dad taught him: "A good name was better than silver and gold. I can't tell you how many times he told me that." 


A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Columbus.


William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.



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