E.A. Sports Today

Leap of faith

Darby determined to turn Talladega around, takes a tough job ‘because God wants me to be here’

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA – Ted Darby sat at the podium and started to describe all the things he didn’t have when he first came into the Talladega High School football program.

There were a whole lot of things with no in front of them and not a lot of yesses. No blocking sleds, no cameras, no headsets, no shoes, no uniforms, no footballs. From that standpoint, it may have been the poorest football program in the state.

It begged the question if the program was so lacking in the barest necessities why would anyone want to be the head coach there. The answer, for Darby, runs a lot deeper than just wanting the chance to run your own team.

For the former Oxford quarterback, it truly was a leap of faith.

“I’ve been asked that a million times why I took the Talladega High School job,” he said Friday in response to that very question at the Talladega County Football Media Day. “I’m going to tell you this: These kids ain’t had a chance.

“I like a challenge. We’ve got the athletes; it’s my job to build them. Everybody wants to run away from it and I ran to it. I’ll tell you literally why I’m here – because God wants me to be here.”

Darby’s faith and heart for coaching was shaken in 2009 when he lost his 15-year-old daughter Kayla after a two-year fight with cancer. It was only through the intervention of a principal at Shades Valley High School he got back in the game, although at the time he didn’t really see the favor she was doing for him bringing him aboard as that.

“Half my heart was gone,” he shared. “There’s not a day goes by I don’t think about my little girl.

“You know, God works in mysterious ways. I know where my little girl’s at. I said God what do you want me to do. I needed to be home with my wife and son. Mary Beth Blankenship really blackmailed me into coaching because I was going to quit coaching. She did me a favor and I thought that she wasn’t.”

Munford head coach Bill Smith was the Shades Valley coach at the time and together they put together a pretty good three-year run at a place where it had been tough to win. Sound familiar?

But Darby knew he needed to be closer to home. He joined then-Talladega coach Robert Herring’s staff to run the defense and when Herring stepped down at the end of last season Darby threw his name into consideration for the job.

“He and I talked at length about the death of his daughter; that’s had a huge impact on him as a father, as a coach, but it’s a driving factor in his life,” Smith said. “We’ve shed tears many times talking about that. You’ll never get over the death of his daughter, nor should he, but I think … he felt he got to the point where his daughter would want him to coach again.

“Somebody with as much passion as he has for coaching needs to be coaching. They’ve given him the tools to be successful, so I’ll be looking for big things from them.”

It’s never been easy at Talladega. The Tigers haven’t had a winning season since 1994 or won more than three games in a year since their last playoff appearance in 1995. They’ve had eight head coaches in that stretch. They’ve never won a playoff game.

In a sense, Darby sees the Tigers’ plight as a reflection of his own.

“It’s the game of life,” he said. “You get knocked down, you can stay down or get up. These kids have been knocked down a lot. Talladega’s always the cow’s tail on everything, but what I tell my kids is I like it that way.

“We’re going to fight and we’re going to turn the Talladega program around. We’re going to play with a chip on our shoulder. It’s not because anybody owes us anything; we’ve got to earn it. It’s going to have to kill me or we’re going to be successful. It’s a process and it’s coming. I don’t know when it’s coming, but it’s coming. If we do things right and do what we’re supposed to do and stay together we’re going to be OK.”

On the cover: New Talladega coach Ted Darby (center) talks about turning the Tigers around.

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