“I’d stand a better chance if I was playing against him. I think I could outrun him, even though he looks a lot younger than I do.”
— Danny Horn on Terry Curtis
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
LINEVILLE — In a few weeks, there might be a new winningest high school football coach of all time in Alabama.
But you wouldn’t guess it by his unpretentious 12×12 white-painted cinderblock enclosure with one window which gives him a narrow view of the parking lot at Central Clay County High School — not a majestic panorama of a sport the state has made more important than anything else besides God, and in some quarters even that is debatable.
There are bigger storage closets in many palatial fieldhouses across the state.
In fact, you’d have to look closely in Danny Horn’s otherwise unadorned office to recognize the eight plaques he has received as a state championship coach. They’re mounted on the bricks above and behind his chair, so he doesn’t actually see them unless he twists around, which he’s not apt to do.
For a frequent flyer to the pinnacle of high school football in Alabama — Horn has coached in 10 state championship games — only one tiny Super 7 decal is affixed to the small vertical window of the humble coach’s office door. It’s like using a post-it note to announce you have repeatedly been to heaven.
But to become the coach with the most victories in state history, Horn must defeat the man who currently has the title stuffed in his pocket, along with his meticulously crafted but seldom-consulted play sheet, lucky rocks and the peanuts he snacks on during games.
UMS-Wright’s Terry Curtis will be on the other sideline Friday night, a blend of brilliance and superstition determined to orchestrate a monumental upset in a season of rare struggle.
It’s the first time in state history two coaches with this many victories (705) and state championships (16) between them finally have a rendezvous.
Their teams — the No. 3-ranked Volunteers (10-0) and the unranked Bulldogs (6-4) — will collide at 7 p.m. on an amber field in Lineville to not only decide who advances in the Class 5A playoffs but determine which coach is atop the list of the state’s greats.
It’s a clash of city vs. country but the coaches’ philosophies and their records are remarkably similar, time tested and pure.
Curtis, 73, an offensive genius renowned for staying plays ahead of the opposition, is the all-time leader in victories at 354-97 over 35 seasons. Horn, 61, a defensive mastermind, is next at 351-96 in 35 seasons. Each has eight Blue Maps, an incredible testament to two men who have built their records with average athletes, not legions of Division I prospects.
Curtis is 74-16 in the playoffs at UMS-Wright; Horn is 75-23 at Clay County and Central Clay. Curtis is 23-1 in the first round with the Bulldogs; Horn 20-4 with the Vols and Panthers.
Both say the record, whoever’s hands it settles into, doesn’t matter.
“I don’t know how many wins he has and I don’t want to know,” Horn said. “It’s not important. I’m just trying to win the next game. The wins — I couldn’t care less. People try to make this out as me versus him but I’m not playing. Maybe he will. I’d stand a better chance if I was playing against him. I think I could outrun him, even though he looks a lot younger than I do.”
Curtis, while savoring the matchup, is glad it doesn’t happen every year.
“Thank goodness I didn’t play him that much because I wouldn’t have as many wins,” Curtis said. “We’ve gotten to be friends through the years. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s done things right. Regardless of what happens, I can say I was the first to 350 wins. To be first is very humbling.”
If UMS-Wright wins, Horn will be stopped, at least for this year, at 351 victories, at least four behind Curtis. If Fyffe wins the 2A state championship, Paul Benefield would tie Horn at 351.
If Central Clay beats the Bulldogs and goes on to win the state championship, Horn will be the new record holder at 356, two ahead of Curtis.
Old-school ways work
In the era of the spread offense, Curtis and Horn rely on fundamentals, discipline, special teams, scarce mistakes, the running game and defensive leverage to make opponents bend to their will.
“We were brought up in a time when you ran the ball and played good defense and you were fundamentally sound,” Horn said of himself and Curtis. “Football has changed over time — the spread has changed things and you have to defend more of the field now — but blocking and tackling never change. You still have to do those things to win games.”
Both teams rely on their running games — “He couldn’t care less if he throws it,” Curtis said of Horn — but both have vulnerabilities in the backfield to be exploited.
“You’ve got to get him behind the chains and make him do things he doesn’t want to do,” Curtis said.
The same could be said of the Vols’ approach to UMS-Wright’s running game, which has gone through four running backs and is averaging just 145 yards on the ground, mostly from first-year quarterback Joe Lott.
Central Clay has its own problems, losing star running back Ladamion Boyd to a broken fibula last week after rushing for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Horn lamented the loss of Boyd’s explosive plays but, being the old-school coach he is, was even more concerned about something else.
“He had 154 carries and didn’t fumble one time,” said Horn, which is impressive until he remembered Terry Heflin had 296 carries and only one fumble the year before.
Both coaches know turnovers will likely determine the outcome and Horn — perhaps the best defensive coach in state history — has seen his team force 22.
‘We still enjoy it’