June 28, 2013 4:15:19 PM
Acclaimed is a word that seems to fit Tony Stanford after 37 years as a football coach.
The Mississippi Association of Coaches used that word to begin a biography it did of the longtime coach. The list of Stanford's achievements stretched for nearly two pages, which is expected when someone has been involved in an endeavor for that length of time.
Immersed in the wins and losses and dates associated with Stanford's coaching travails is an honor -- the Barry Memorial and Coaches Award -- he received when he was still a student at Winona High School. Stanford received the award for his character, athletic ability, and his academics.
"That's probably the first time I won an award that really meant something," Stanford said
Tonight, the Columbus High School football coach will receive another prestigious honor when he is one of five to be inducted into the MAC Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Jackson.
Thirty-seven years after his first award, Stanford looks back and ties it to coaches like Wally Bumpus and Henry Allman he had at Winona High who helped set him on path to coaching and teaching and helped make him the man he is today.
"The biggest thing for me is it is picked by my peers and past presidents of the Mississippi Association of Coaches. That is a real honor," Stanford said. "Those are some of the top people in the state of Mississippi on that committee. I am real honored my peers feel I have done a good enough job to be in the Hall of Fame."
Stanford's coaching career has includes stops at Louisville, Choctaw Central, Philadelphia, Kosciusko, Lumberton, Neshoba Central, Morton, Carroll Academy, and Columbus. He came to Lowndes County in 2008 as defensive coordinator for head football coach Bubba Davis, who also is a Hall of Famer. When Davis left the school prior to the 2010 season, Stanford stepped in to lead the program. Last season, he helped guide Columbus to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
Stanford said he wouldn't have accomplished any of it without men like Bumpus, his football coach at Winona High, and Allman, who was the football team's defensive coordinator and the head coach for the baseball team. As a sophomore in high school, Stanford believed he was going to be a mechanic. He said Bumpus helped change his thinking and realize he might be better suited to become a coach. Allman nurtured those thoughts by being a role model who showed him how to do things the right way. He said Allman cared for his players and would do anything for them.
"He brought me up," Stanford said of Allman. "If it wouldn't have been for him, there is no telling what kind of person Tony Stanford would be."
Stanford took the lessons he learned from Bumpus and Allman and became a coach who tried to be just like them. After earning degrees at Holmes Junior College, Delta State University, and Mississippi State University, Stanford began his coaching career as an assistant at Carroll Academy. He coached at Kosciusko, Lumberton, and Neshoba Central before arriving at Louisville High in 1985. He went to Philadelphia High for one season before going back to Louisville High. He then went to Morton High for two years before he returned to Louisville High. From 1995-2000, Stanford led Louisville to four division titles, one North State title, and the 1995 Class 4A State crown.
A stop at Choctaw Central followed before he landed at Columbus High.
Jim Hamilton, who has worked as an assistant football coach with Stanford at Columbus High, said consistency has helped Stanford stand the tests of time.
"He is gong to do, as he puts it all of the time, the way it is supposed to be done," Hamilton said. "The kids know he cares about them first. His style of discipline is somewhat old school in that he is going to give a kid a chance, but he is always going to stick to his guns. Regardless of the punishment, it comes back to the point that he cares about the kid first. For that reason, the kids still play for him."
Hamilton said Columbus High's physical brand of football reflects Stanford's old-school ways. Stanford takes a lot of pride in the strides the Falcons have made in the weight room. That hard work has helped the Columbus High football team change its losing ways and compete in Class 6A with some of the state's best programs. Hamilton said that, too, is a testament to Stanford's ability to set expectations, to follow through, and to get players to buy into what they have to do.
"If you can get that out of a young man, regardless of who he is and what his background is, you are always going to be successful," Hamilton said. "That is how he has done it for more than 30 years. He is going to be hard-nosed and he is going to have discipline. The other side of it is he is going to show the boys he cares."
Allman, who still lives in Winona, isn't surprised by Stanford's success or the methods he has used as a coach. He said he "wouldn't miss" tonight's ceremonies because Stanford is a "most deserving" inductee.
"I just always knew he would do the right thing and that he would make something of himself and do quite well at it," Allman said. "Tony came up the hard way, and he got what he earned."
Allman thanked Stanford for calling him a role model and a major influence in his life. Stanford likely will mention Allman again tonight in his remarks at the induction ceremony. He better be careful, though, because Allman will be just as quick to offer praise about the young man he coached and the coach he became.
"He just had ambition," Allman said. "He just wanted to be somebody and he worked hard at it. ... We have always been close."
Stanford said he is "privileged" Allman will be in attendance tonight to share the experience. True to his nature, Stanford said he will thank the players, coaches, teachers, and administrators he has worked with throughout his career. He also will thank his family, especially his wife, Sue, who didn't know much about sports when they were married 37 years ago. But Sue Stanford has been right by her husband's side at every step, helping to clean the locker rooms, to do laundry, and to take care of anything else. That shouldn't be surprising, either, considering Tony Stanford took Sue to his family and then to coach Allman to make sure they approved.
Years later, the lessons Stanford learned from Allman and all of the other coaches are still giving back.
"The players keep me young, and I have a good time with them," Stanford said. "I don't think they think anything about my age. We have a good time and do a lot of things together. We don't have a lot of problems because my players always support me and believe in what we do.
"If you talk to some of my early players, they will say I have mellowed into a real soft guy. The main thing about it is I think the players understand what I am about and what I expect from them and that I am going to keep up my end and I expect them to keep up their end.
"You can't ever be exactly like a person, but I wanted to be someone like coach Allman. He cared about people, and no matter what he had going, he had enough time to spend with you and do anything for you. ... (A lot of our relationship) had to do with his personality and how he brought you up to be a good person. He wanted to relay that to his players. Any time you came to talk to him, he was willing to listen and to help you any way he could. He was always there for us no matter if it was a good time or a bad time. ... If I am half the man he is I feel like I would have lived a good life."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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