“We were playing Foley one night when Terry was an assistant and they scored about 30 on us, maybe by the half. Terry walked up to me and said, ‘If they score a hundred, maybe the scoreboard will go back to zero.’”
Former B.C. Rain coach Ed Lathan
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Tales and observations about UMS-Wright coach Terry Curtis are as richly textured as the man himself. From the night of the chicken wing to controlling a baseball game behind the plate and mulling whether to kick the ball to a one-armed player, here are some of the best stories told by those who know him best:
Former UMS-Wright tight end Preston Dial, one of the most heavily recruited players in the class of 2005, also played at Alabama for Nick Saban, lives in Nashville and works in commercial real estate development. He was also a ballboy for Curtis at Murphy High while in elementary school.
‘Go get it’
“Freddie (Engine) was the head manager at Murphy and we were playing Vigor at Ladd Stadium and coach Curtis had this Bosnian kicker,” Dial said. “I couldn’t tell you how to spell his name but Freddie told me to take the kicking ball out to him. I took the referee the kicking ball but that kicker was taking his own ball out. He couldn’t speak English well. When I went to get it from him, he punted it way up in the stands. I thought it was hilarious. Coach Curtis came over and I was cracking up. He said, ‘What happened? You think that’s funny?’ I said I did. He said, ‘Good, go get it.’ So, I had to go about halfway up in the stands and get the ball away from these people who thought they got a free football.”
‘Blow to my ego’
“He started me out at the bottom of the barrel (at UMS-Wright) with a yellow jersey, then he gave me a chance with the varsity with the expectation of going back to the freshman or JV team,” Dial said. “But one day he gave me an opportunity to play tight end just to tick off the older guys and light a fire under them. He wouldn’t say a word to me but here I am starting. Three or four games in, we were playing Robertsdale and they had a grown man playing defensive end and he was everything I could handle and more. During the game, coach Curtis was lighting into me about keeping my hands inside. When we watched the film on Monday, he told the coaches, ‘Remind me about this next year but Dial, you’ll be the last freshman I’ll ever start.’ I needed it. It was a blow to my ego and pride and he waited until I got a little too big for my britches to say that. I never forgot that, even at Alabama. I learned I had to be accountable.”
‘Didn’t matter who you were’
A 42-16 win in a state championship game would ordinarily put a coach in a good mood but Dial, in his final game at UMS-Wright, got one last dose of Curtis’ discipline in the rout of Deshler in the 2005 finals.
“I had a lot of eyes on me,” Dial said. “I had committed to Alabama early and I turned my attention to winning the state championship. Michael Scott was our quarterback — he’s passed on now — and coach Curtis was real good at taking baseball guys and making them good quarterbacks. Michael was one of those. He couldn’t see over his offensive line if he was on a trampoline. (Against Deshler) He rolled out on a sprint right and their linebacker, in my opinion, gave him a late shot. Two plays later, on third down, he sprinted out right again and I stayed in protecting the backside and I made a beeline for my buddy. About three seconds after he let the pass go, I coldcocked this kid and put him up in the third row at Legion Field. It was right in front of the ref — personal foul, 15-yard penalty, we punted. Coach Curtis read me the riot act on the field for minutes on end. He made sure I knew I was selfish. It didn’t matter who you were.”
Gibson, a highly recruited wide receiver, also played for Curtis and Saban, lives in Tuscaloosa and works as a team builder for private and public organizations.
A life decision
“Coach Curtis is one of the greatest leaders there’s ever been in my life and a huge father figure because I didn’t have my father with me,” Gibson said. “He taught me accountability and consistency and a lot of great life lessons in the six or seven years I was there. Lots of college coaches came to see me and coach Curtis said to look at it as an opportunity, not an obligation. He said, ‘I highly suggest you give them all the time of day, be respectful and dress nicely and enjoy it. Don’t choose that school for the next four years, choose it because it’s going to affect the rest of your life.’ And him being an Auburn guy, he never tried to steer me to Auburn.
“I decided on Alabama but coach Curtis wasn’t one to want you to wait until signing day. He said, ‘The best thing you can do is go ahead and tell Alabama you’re coming there and then call all the other schools who offered you and give them a chance to give that scholarship to somebody else.’
“So, I sat in his office one day for a few hours calling every one of those coaches. It was one of the toughest things I ever had to do. A lot of kids these days hide behind their parents, their phones or social media. I’m so thankful for that guy.”
‘You’re going to roll’
“I was a Junior Olympic track athlete and I traveled around the country in the summer in the triple jump and 400 meters,” Gibson said. “But I also had summer training for football. So, I’d have this same conversation with coach every summer and tell him I thought track would make me a better football player. And he’d say, ‘OK but your ass is going to roll when you get back.’
“A roll meant for every practice or workout I missed, I’d have to roll hundreds of yards going head over heels, doing somersaults, up and down the football field. You talk about getting tired and dizzy. But that was anybody who missed practice or a workout. If you got in trouble with coach Curtis, you were rolling.”
‘I’ve still got it’
“I always get on the sideline when I come visit for a game and I can remember he made a big call, I think it was against Vigor this last year,” Gibson said. “I was on the sideline and he didn’t know I was there and I walked over to him and whispered in his ear: ‘That was a great call.’ And he said, ‘I’ve still got it in me!’”
Powell, who proved his championship chops as the head baseball coach at Fairhope and the head football coach at McGill-Toolen, coached UMS-Wright’s quarterbacks for Curtis in 2017 and 2018 and knew Curtis when they were assistant coaches in the 1980s at Fairhope and Murphy, respectively.
“Back in the early days when he was an assistant at Murphy and I was an assistant at Fairhope, we were in a big game and we were in the press box with headsets talking to the coaches on the sideline,” Powell said. “Before a game, the coaches usually get together and decide which channels they’ll be using so we wouldn’t be talking to each other but we had a mixup.
“The game started and I thought, ‘Either they know our gameplan really well or they’re hearing us. How are they figuring out what we’re doing so quick?’ Then I kept hearing some of their stuff and I could tell they were hearing our stuff. I looked around the corner and said, ‘Hey Terry, what channel are you on?’ and he asked what channel I was on. But we got it straightened out pretty quick.”
Kittrell coached UMS-Wright to a state baseball championship in 1978, the school’s first in any sport, and later coached Curtis’ son, Brey, at the University of South Alabama. Terry Curtis, who pitched at Auburn, was also a highly regarded umpire who let Kittrell know who controlled a game.
Better not question him
“I always considered Terry one of the best plate umpires around but as good as I thought he was behind the plate, I questioned him on a pitch at the armpits,” Kittrell said. “I thought it was a strike and he called it a ball. I popped off at him a little and said, ‘That was a darn strike!’ About two or three pitches later, it was the same pitch. Before he called it a ball or a strike, he looked over at me and pointed at me and said, ‘Ball.’ I knew I had messed up when I got on him about balls and strikes. He let me know I better not question him and I didn’t after that.”
Boutwell has the distinction of coaching Preston Dial and Brandon Gibson at UMS-Wright and now Ryan Williams at Saraland as the receivers coach. Dial and Gibson played at Alabama and Williams, one of the nation’s top wide receiver prospects, has committed to the Crimson Tide.
‘Run the dadgum football’
“In 2005, coach Curtis let me call a game against Hillcrest-Evergreen,” Boutwell said. “Michael Scott was our quarterback and Preston Dial was our tight end and Brandon Gibson was our wideout, so that was a loaded offense. And we had one of the biggest offensive lines we ever had, so it was easy to call plays.
“He always wants to run the ball and throw only when he wants to. So, the first seven or eight plays I call are pass plays and Preston and Michael and Brandon are loving it. We’re up 14-0 and coach Curtis came by me and said, ‘This ain’t 7-on-7, run the dadgum football.’ And those three are saying to keep throwing it. Of course, we started running it.”
Few expected the Bulldogs to beat No. 2 McAdory in the first round of the 5A playoffs in 2007 since UMS-Wright was having a rare losing season and entered the game 4-6. Curtis and Boutwell didn’t even pack any clothes to attend the coaches’ playoff meeting the next morning in Montgomery but the Bulldogs prevailed 23-20.
“Coach Curtis asked me to stay with him so we could go to the playoff meeting the next morning but we didn’t have any clothes,” Boutwell said. He said, ‘We can’t wear the clothes we wore during the game because we’ll get made fun of.’ We were staying at the hotel by the Galleria and he sent me over there to pick out some shirts and jeans and gave me his credit card. He was always getting on me about wearing plaid shirts; he preferred solid ones. But I came back with a plaid shirt and I got him one and he got on me about that.”
They were late to the meeting, a rarity for the punctual Curtis, and AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese expressed his displeasure about the tardiness.
“Coach Savarese was getting on us and coach Curtis said, ‘Oh come on Steve, you didn’t think we’d be here anyway!’” Boutwell said.
‘They’re on my side now’
“We played Dadeville for three straight years in the playoffs, 2011, 2012 and 2013, and the last year we had to go up there,” Boutwell said. “The town has shut down and they’re telling us they’re ready for us and they’ve finally got us on their field. There’s a long line to get in. They put us in the gym to get ready. It’s a long walk from their gym to the field and there are all these tents and all those people are out there tailgating and coach is saying, ‘Hey, going to the field is going to be tough with all those people out there. We need to make sure the boys keep their mouths shut when we walk down to the field.’
“I get my group and we’re walking down there for the pregame and I don’t see coach Curtis. All these people are hootin’ and hollerin’ and I look over and there’s coach Curtis sitting under one of those tents eating chicken wings with their people. He looked at me and said, ‘They’re not going to get after me tonight, they’re on my side now.’”
UMS-Wright won 35-34 on Gunner Roach’s fourth-down touchdown pass to Troy Dixon with seven seconds left. Curtis enjoys postgame fried chicken on the drive back from road games but it’s doubtful he found anyone in Dadeville willing to share after that.
Tillman, a former pro boxer and Mobile County sheriff, coached Curtis in Babe Ruth baseball in 1965 despite their similar ages. “I had a better curveball than him,” Tillman said.
‘Get your stuff and get out of here’
“I remember when he took over at Shaw, I was the resource officer, and I told him he had a challenge there because they had no discipline but they had good athletes,” Tillman said. “One day they were practicing and this boy walked up to Terry and Terry asked him, ‘Who are you?’ The kid says, ‘I’m your quarterback,’ and Terry says, ‘No you’re not. You’re 20 minutes late. Get your stuff and get out of here.’ That kid came back with his mother about two days later and he let him back on the team and he never had any problems after that.”
Lathan has a long history with Curtis dating back to the mid-1970s when Curtis’ first coaching job was as an assistant to Lathan at B.C. Rain. Lathan also served as UMS-Wright’s upper-school principal.
Back to zero, please
“We were playing Foley one night when Terry was an assistant and they scored about 30 on us, maybe by the half,” Lathan said. “Terry walked up to me and said, ‘If they score a hundred, maybe the scoreboard will go back to zero.’ I used a cussword, and he laughed and I laughed. But the scoreboard didn’t go back to zero.”
‘Kick it to him’
“We were watching film for the next week and the other team’s kickoff return team had a one-armed kid on the front line,” Lathan said. “Terry kept saying, ‘Kick it to him, kick it to him, he can’t catch it.’ I said, ‘We can’t do that, Terry.’ He was going to kick it to him but he had second thoughts and didn’t. But if it had been in the heat of a game, he might have done it.”
Sealy, a former state championship catcher at Satsuma and at the University of South Alabama, also serves on officiating crews for high school football games and once kicked a game-winning field goal for the Gators against Curtis’ Shaw team.
They all cheat
“Terry doesn’t really mess with (officials) during a game,” Sealy said. “Before the game is when it’s fun. We’ll go over things to watch for and he’ll always say, no matter who they’re playing, ‘They cheat and they hold.’ I’ll ask him what number and he’ll say, ‘The whole offensive line. But now we don’t hold and we don’t cheat.’
“He likes the five-man crews. He will not use a seven-man crew. He says the extra two guys aren’t that good and if they have flags in their pockets, they’ll use them.”
Dixon, an outstanding baseball player at Mobile County High and South Alabama, had three sons who played for Curtis at UMS-Wright.
‘You were a freshman too’
“If your son was a freshman, (Curtis) called you a freshman too,” Dixon said. “He did a lot of bond building. Every Thursday, all the players and some of the parents would get together and eat. He’d take two parents for each grade, freshmen through 12th grade, and the parents would get together and figure out where they’re going to eat and buy everybody’s meal. The parents would split the bill. You had to sign up for it. You’d rotate the parents by grade. I’ll tell you, I spent six years there and that’s a lot of meals.”
Dixon, the son of Tyrone Dixon, is UMS-Wright’s all-time leading rusher and a former pro baseball player who is now finishing his degree at the University of South Alabama.
Putting on the heat
“I came to coach Curtis as a determined athlete already due to my upbringing,” Dixon said. “He was good at adding fuel to the fire. He saw that fire in me and knew how to use it on the field. He encouraged me to push myself in constant times of adversity. He demanded a high standard of execution that would speak for itself on Friday nights. He’s a specialist that believes in putting in the hours and that sets the tone for the entire program.
“He was good at applying pressure on you. When I was a freshman, he had me returning punts and I was brand new at it. It was sort of like catching fly balls but not really. They’d kick them to me or use the machine. I’d be catching punts and he’s five yards away and he’s in my ear: ‘If you drop one, you’re going to do up-downs.’ Or he’d be cracking a joke. After that, during the game, there was no pressure at all.”
Loved the smile
“My favorite part was always seeing him celebrate,” Dixon said. “He’s so serious most of the time when it comes to execution, so when he cracks that smile, it was genuine. Since I scored touchdowns, I got to see it a lot. But there were certain things you knew he’d get mad at. For me, it was missing a hole, especially when we’d look at the tape. He is a tape specialist.”
Brandon Dean played his senior year on Terry Curtis’ first UMS-Wright team in 1999 and is one of four former Bulldogs players on Curtis staff; Grant Barber, Brock Reaves and Russ Myers are the others.
Win the ones you’re supposed to win
“I think one of the big things that separates him is we don’t lose games we’re supposed to win,” Dean said. “The games we lose, we’re probably not quite as good as the other team and we still win a lot of those. The big games will take care of themselves. We prepare and practice the same way for every game. They all matter.”
“I talked to him about what I wanted to do because I decided I wanted a career in sports and he said to give him a call when it came that time,” Dean said. “I drove down one spring break (from the University of Alabama) and walked into his office and he said, ‘I was going to call you today.’ I thought, ‘Sure you were.’ But he showed me this note — he writes everything down and never throws anything away — and it said, ‘Call Brandon Dean about a job opening today.’”
Let the players decide
Dean said when UMS-Wright played for the 2017 state championship in a rare snowfall at Bryant-Denny Stadium, it wasn’t the only strange thing that happened.
“He never rides the bus but that day we’re going to the game in the bus and he sits next to me,” Dean said. “For Alabama, it was a blizzard. I asked him, ‘Have you ever played in the snow?’ and he said, ‘What do you think?’ kind of bluntly. The AHSAA was deciding whether or not to play and he called all of us into a room and asked what we thought. We said, ‘We want to play this thing,’ so we did. That was a great memory for everybody involved.”
Israel also played on Curtis’ first UMS-Wright team as a senior in 1999 and went on to become an Army Green Beret and serve in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He is also the founder of Warrior 360.
A master’s in football
“When coach Curtis arrived and brought in his staff, it was like you took a master’s-level course in understanding football,” Israel said. “My junior year, we’d fly to the football but didn’t know what you were really doing. By my senior year, we could read the offense and know what they were doing. Coach Curtis said at his previous stops he’d have to reteach things but we were like sponges. He was a phenomenal teacher and had such a brilliant mind when it came to football and that gave us confidence.
“He was extremely talented at mastering the basics but also teaching you how certain plays could be run from several different formations. From a defensive standpoint, we learned about seeing the stances and splits of the offense. If somebody was running the wing-T, we knew the guards would take you to the football and we could just ignore all the misdirection and everything else.”
‘He built that tribe’
“Two-a-days were intense and hot and coach Curtis had a very old-school mentality,” Israel said. “We learned what we were capable of and about pushing ourselves and developing mental toughness. But we also taught him some things. We didn’t have the depth he had at the public schools, so we were teaching him about the balances and getting the best from the athletes you have. He has such a gift with how he builds a team.
“When he came in, he wanted to understand the landscape and he had 100 percent confidence in what he had to do. That confidence breeds success and it cascades and permeates throughout the school. People want to be part of a tribe and he built that tribe. UMS didn’t have that before.”
‘This is what right looks like’
“I’m 40 years old and a lot of people helped shape me,” Israel said. “But when you are young and impressionable, you’ve got to have those solid mentors. You want to have someone that you feel, ‘This is what right looks like’ and coach was part of that.
“I don’t know how much longer he’ll go. He recognizes he’s got people on his heels but I don’t think that is why he keeps coaching. He gave a talk and said coaching has never been a job as long as he’s been doing it and when he feels like it is and there’s nothing else in the tank, he’ll probably step away. I don’t envy the person who follows him.”