July 4, 2020 1:16:04 AM
Tony Seals coached high school sports in Alabama for 30 years, reached nine state championship games and lost them all, retired, moved across the Mississippi border five years ago and promptly picked up where he left off.
And he's not done yet.
"I'm 60 years old," Seals said. "I've still got that drive. As long as I've got that drive, I'm going to go as long as the good Lord will let me go."
That drive carried Seals to Caledonia High School, where his position as head boys basketball coach officially began Wednesday. Seals, who coached at Bradshaw, Russellville and South Lamar high schools in Alabama before working as an assistant at New Hope for the past five seasons, never thought getting a head coaching job would still be in his future.
"I really didn't think the opportunity would present itself again, and I was happy where I was at," Seals said.
When Seals was at South Lamar, his teams had played in plenty of tournaments with New Hope head coach Drew McBrayer, and a spot on McBrayer's staff was a natural fit when Seals retired from coaching and teaching in Alabama. For five years, Seals coached the middle school and junior varsity teams at New Hope and assisted with the varsity squad.
Then Caledonia called. The 'Feds had played against Seals-coached South Lamar teams plenty before and apparently liked what they saw.
"I thought, 'OK, this is an opportunity, and I'm going to jump on it, go with it and see what we can do with it,'" Seals said.
He told McBrayer, who was just as surprised that Seals was leaving to coach a rival as Seals was to get the position in the first place.
"He was just like, 'You took it?'" Seals said. "I said, 'Yes!'"
When offseason workouts started June 1, Seals took stock of the small roster he'd been handed. With many of last year's seniors graduated, the 'Feds boast only one returning starter: point guard Jarvis Leigh. A host of lesser contributors and JV players last season and some players who'd been out of the sport for years round out the group, with a crop of talented incoming freshmen ready to make an impact by coming up from the middle school team.
"There's some good young kids and some good older kids, and my job is going to be how to get them to jell together," Seals said.
After all, he's done it before.
In 2005, Seals inherited a South Lamar roster that had won just two games the year before. In 2015, in his last year before leaving, the Stallions went 28-2.
"I believe I can build a program," Seals said. "I'm excited about the opportunity, and I just want to take it to the next level and see how far we can go with it."
In his lengthy career in Alabama, he got tantalizingly close time after time. Two state championship appearances in basketball. Two more coaching softball. And five as an assistant football coach at Russellville.
But not one title game went Seals' way.
"I've been there nine times and never won it," he said. "Maybe this will be the charm if we can get things going."
That's what he hopes will happen at a school where he never expected to find himself coaching. While Seals said he typically stays put somewhere a long time -- seven years at Bradshaw, 10 each at Russellville and South Lamar and five at New Hope -- the opportunity to be Caledonia's new head coach was a "godsend."
"Sometimes, you don't even look for something, and God throws it at you, puts it right in front of your face," Seals said.
The coach said he was happy at South Lamar and loved New Hope. Now?
"It just keeps getting better," Seals said. "Caledonia's a good place for family, a good place for people, and I'm just excited to be there and see what happens."
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports and Mississippi State softball for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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