By Gary Lloyd
BIRMINGHAM – It is rather fitting that the coach was born in the Home of the Blues, because today Birmingham has them. A legend has retired.
Briarwood Christian School head football coach Fred Yancey today announced his retirement in a team meeting.
Yancey retires with the 11th-most wins in Alabama high school football history. Yancey, the Briarwood Christian head coach since 1990, accumulated 278 wins and only 95 losses. Prior to Briarwood, Yancey posted a 41-20 head coaching record in Tennessee.
“Coach Yancey’s health is good and his passion for coaching is as strong as we have ever seen it,” reads a Briarwood Christian Athletics statement. “He decided early on that this was going to be his final season and he did it in typical Coach Yancey style…. like a champion.”
The statement goes on to state: “Coach Fred Yancey’s legacy and tenure as the head football coach at Briarwood will stand as one of historic excellence. All of the people that have been in contact with him throughout his 29 years at BCS and 49 years total as a head coach will say the same thing: Coach Yancey was a man who clearly demonstrated a passion for Jesus Christ and always understood his work to be primarily a ministry of discipleship.”
I met Yancey as a freelance sports journalist for the 280 Living newspaper, and please don’t tell other area coaches, but he was always my favorite to cover. He spoke to me before games while the teams warmed up or made their way to the locker room prior to kickoff. If I didn’t see him until just before kickoff, he made sure to say hello. He found me after games, when you must beg so many coaches these days for a quote, win or lose. He wore khaki shorts in October when it was getting cold, and that was always something to point out – was Coach Yancey wearing shorts come playoff time. He had a letterman jacket that he knows I envied. He got onto his players in a constructive way when it was necessary, but he always found the good in all of them. He led prayers after games.
I covered eleven of Briarwood’s games in the last three seasons, the best I can count. I covered five in 2016, four in 2017, and two this year. I wrote six player or team features and one season preview, the 2017 outlook in which I wrote that the Lions had knocked on the door in 2016 and were looking to knock it down in 2017. They almost did, coming so close to a Class 5A state championship.
There are standout moments with Coach Yancey, of course. In 2016, Briarwood Christian went on the road to defeat fourth-ranked Mortimer Jordan 23-14. After the clock hit 0:00, he told me that his players were hungry, and the only way to feed that hunger was with hard work to prepare. In a 2016 12-7 win over Pleasant Grove, Yancey told me afterward that he had told his players at halftime to “keep chopping wood.” He was glad that in that game, just before the playoffs began, that his team was tested. An easy game would not have prepared his team as well for the playoffs.
In 2017, his Lions put an end to a three-game losing streak to Chelsea due in large part to a fourth-down decision to keep his offense on the field. After the game, he told me that “We just gave it a whirl, and we got us a pretty little play.” Beautiful. Yancey tended to go for plays like that, to fake a kick or punt every now and then. It was far from reckless, often during calculated times in the game, but sometimes I wondered if the play-calling kept opponents off balance. I suppose that’s the genius in a successful coach.
This season, the last time I got to cover Briarwood, his team blasted a Class 6A team in Hueytown, led by Alabama-committed running back Roydell Williams, who had run for more than 400 yards in one half in an earlier game. The Lions held him to 145 yards on 27 carries, one of his lesser games. Yancey told me that he was proud of his defense for “fighting for every brick in the building.” Who else says that? Again, beautiful.
Senior running back JR Tran-Reno said Yancey taught his players to be Godly men on and off the field.
“We are going to miss him for sure,” said Tran-Reno. “He left such a great legacy at our school. He set standards here at Briarwood. (We) seniors are honored to be his last class. We all loved the same energy he brought to practice every day. He was never much of a yeller but would instead make sarcastic jokes that were almost worse. I remember after most big plays I’d make he’d come up to me and say, ‘Son, are ya lucky or good?’ He was such a fun coach. Although he was much older than us his sense of humor and personality remained young.”
Cade Dickinson, a senior defensive back for the Lions, told me today that his favorite Yancey moment came when he was a freshman, when the team won a playoff game. The players were undressing in the locker room when Yancey walked in and goes, “Boys, I think we got our swagger back!”
Yancey was a first-rate quote for a sports journalist, and a first-class gentleman. There is not a better combination in this business.
Yancey’s first coaching job was at Memphis Overton in 1969 and he later came to Briarwood Christian School in 1990. Yancey has coached three state championship teams (1998, 1999, and 2003) and three state runners-up at BCS (2007, 2010, and 2017). He is recognized not only for his football excellence, but also his strong testimony for Jesus Christ.
An image that will forever capture this ministry is both teams meeting at midfield after a hard-fought game where Yancey would always commend the opponents and their coaches whether Briarwood won or lost. He would always direct the conversation to the Lord and His blessings as both teams prayed together.
Yancey took Briarwood Christian teams to 26 straight playoff appearances. He is third all-time in the state of Alabama for most wins at one school, fourth all-time for area/region games won, and fourth for most playoff games won all-time in the state of Alabama.
Yancey was honored as the Varsity Football National Coach of the Year by the National Christian School Athletic Association for the 2017-2018 season and will likely be a future selection for the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Briarwood Christian School will appropriately recognize and honor Yancey’s ministry during a home football game next season. Plans will be forthcoming.
I hope, like after every Briarwood Christian victory, Yancey finds himself in the middle of a scrum of players, and he is the one who shouts, “Raise the gold!”
Because a man who has established such a gold standard deserves it.