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Coach Rodney Dollar with 2010 homecoming queen Kelsey Baker

A Century of THS Football
Part XII - Dollar Days

By Michael Butler

Rodney Dollar was a three-sport star at Central Phenix City High School in the late 1970s. He played football, baseball and basketball.

"I played everything. My favorite sport at the time was basketball," Dollar said. "I had a chance to sign with Larry Chapman (at AUM). I played one summer of AAU. They didn't play any zone, so I couldn't get a shot off. Everybody else was so quick. I decided I'd better go with a slow white man's sport."

That sport was baseball. Dollar was quite successful on the diamond in college which led to a contract with the Houston Astros organization.

Drum Major Tyler Sayers performs "Ice Ice Baby" at halftime

"I led the nation in hitting at Wallace of Dothan a long time ago. I signed at Auburn after that. We weren't very good at Auburn, but I wouldn't trade those years for anything.

"God gave me a lot of ability, but I was nothing compared to those 15- and 16-year-old Dominicans that were coming over. They were phenomenal. It's unreal the things they could do."

During Dollar's playing days he roomed with a couple of notable players; Charles Barkley, who went on to become an NBA superstar and Shawon Dunston, who excelled in the Major Leagues.

"Shawon ended up being pretty good. The thing I remember most about him is standing behind home plate at the backstop and throwing the ball over the center field wall which was about 435 or 440 feet in rookie ball. He had one of the best arms I've ever seen.

"Charles (was) a suitemate at Auburn. (There) was a lot of eating going on, a lot of cards being played and gambling. We had a few one on ones that were ugly."

Hunter Mullins was a placekicker and punter during Dollar's time in Tallassee

In 1986 when a coaching opportunity came for Dollar, it was in football.

"My first year at Carroll High School in Ozark, the coach told me, 'You've got the B-team.' I said, 'Are we going to go over stuff?' He said, 'No. We're going to film it. I'll tell you what you did right and wrong.' That's how I learned to coach."

After one year in Ozark as an assistant, Dollar was offered his first head coaching assignment in his hometown of Phenix City at Woodland Christian.

"I beat Glenwood, which was the big private school in Phenix City. That win propelled me to jobs after that."

The next job would come in 1988 at Glenwood. He coached there two seasons. His '89 club reached the championship game coming up a hair short to Morgan Academy, 14-10.

T.C. Robinson

Dollar's next position came in the public school ranks at Headland High School in 1990. There were just eight wins in the three-year stint.

"If you look at my whole career, it's the only place that I was not successful. We didn't have a lot of talent, and I wasn't a very good coach at that time. I probably learned more from that job than any other job. After three years it was time to move on."

After Headland, Dollar spent only one season at Samson in 1994, but it was a good one.

"I wish we could've stayed longer. We went 10-2 with just three seniors. That led to probably one of my favorite jobs of all in Frisco City. That's as close to "Friday Night Lights" that you'll ever see. The whole town packs up and goes with you on Friday night."

The Whippetts made the playoffs all three years under Dollar. He was 25-11 from 1996-98. The '98 squad reached the third round of the post-season falling to Notasulga 27-21.

The next year, Dollar was off to Dothan and Houston Academy. His eight seasons brought a lot of wins to the school in the "Wiregrass," but winning did not come easy early.

"They were actually about to close the program down. The first night of practice I came home and told Kim, 'We've made a mistake.' That was the worst brand of football I've ever seen."

The Raiders were 1-8 the year before Dollar arrived. His first team also went 1-8, but the turnaround came shortly after. From 2001-2006, Houston Academy was 59-14.

"Things started happening. Our last two years we were 11-1 and 12-1. We won a lot of football games. That's probably the best move I made in my whole career. (It) led me to the big job, the job I wish I was still at - Tallassee. I still have tremendous friends in Tallassee."

2009 Game Program Cover

Dollar landed at THS in 2007, but it could have happened earlier. He applied for the vacancy at Tallassee in 2002 as well. Steve Stokes served on the hiring committee when Tallassee chose Phil Lindsey that year.

"Carl Stewart was a big Rodney Dollar fan," Stokes said of Stewart, who was principal at the time. "When we hired Phil, Dollar was on the list too."

Dollar remembered the first interest in Tallassee.

"Because of that time, that's the only reason I interviewed the next time. I was quite impressed the first time I interviewed. I told Kim, 'That's a place I think I'd love to coach.' It was a very good place to study football and grow as a family also."

Tallassee did not pass on Dollar the second time. He was hired in 2007.

Dollar had high hopes right from the start.

"The football team can be 9-1. And, I'm not saying we can't beat Eufaula," he said after taking the THS job. "When I first got there we had just got to 5A. You would've thought that the sky was falling. 'What are we going to do?' I said, 'We'll just get in the weight room and work harder.' The kids bought in."

Mike Smith

A nine-win season was off the mark initially. Tallassee was 4-6 in Dollar's first season, but the next three produced winning seasons and playoff berths.

Mike Smith was a big part of the success. He was named all-state in 2009.

"Smitty Grider, who was the coach at Beauregard at the time, is now the coach at the new Dothan High School," Dollar said. "He and I have had lunch a couple of times. Smitty always tells me I wasn't a good coach. I just had a good player. He's speaking of Mike Smith. Mike was a major difference in whoever we played at the time. If he broke it, he was gone."

Smith was the "Lightning" in the Tigers' "Thunder and Lightning" backfield with Quan Williams.

"I had other good players too," Dollar added, "Trey Cochran-Gill, Davis Knapp, Jonathan Haynes. I had some real cerebral players too along with great talent.

"There are so many times people say the coaches win or lose or quarterbacks win or lose. I was not near the coach I was without Trey Cochran-Gill. I do remember when I had to go to parents, I wasn't going to start him when I first got there. They let me put him in as a ninth grader. When he was on the field, he was never flustered. He was fantastic."

Seniors in 2011 (seated): Megan Mann. (Kneeling, left to right): Caleb Parker, Trey Cochran-Gill, T.C. Robinson. (Standing, left to right): Laken Pitchford, Tyler Sayers, Carly Garnett.

Cochran-Gill remembers when his opportunity came as a ninth grader.

"We were about three games into the season and coach Dollar came to me and said, 'I want to start you at quarterback. Do you think you're ready for it?' I was like, 'Yes sir. Let's do it. I jumped in there. Having so many great guys around you, made it a lot easier. My freshman year and sophomore year we were super talented.'

That first start for Cochran-Gill came against at Carroll of Ozark, the program that gave Dollar his first coaching job two decades prior. It became one of the biggest comebacks in Tallassee football history.

Tallassee trailed 21-0 at halftime, but caught fire in the second half. Jonathan Haynes had a career night in the 35-34 Tigers win.

"It was one of the more exciting games in my career," Dollar said. "We could do no wrong offensively and could not stop a pee wee team defensively."

Smith, Cochran-Gill and Hunter Mullins were all-state first-teamers during Dollar's time as head coach at Tallassee. Mullins was a two-time first-team pick.

Similar to Derrick Ansley, another THS quarterback, Cochran-Gill was recognized for his defensive position not offense by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.

"I was a free safety," he said. "I was always around the ball."

Trey Cochran-Gill

Other ASWA first-team choices from 2007-10 were; Chris Stice, Tyler Grant and T.C. Robinson. Robinson played in the 2010 AHSAA All-Star Game.

Mullins played played college football at UAB. Cochran-Gill went the baseball route to Auburn. Knapp also played baseball at South Alabama.

"Trey and Davis always clicked," said Dollar of the tandem. "We had Mike and Quan. Somebody was going to make a play. You didn't have to worry. They took over. It had nothing to do with me."

Cochran-Gill said he enjoyed both sports.

"I would've loved to play football, but I'm only like 5-10. If I could've had a few more inches. I still miss it. I still enjoy throwing the football. It would've been nice to go to college and play both."

Now a member of the Oakland A's organization, Cochran-Gill has his sights on reaching the big leagues. The success in football has in Cochran-Gill's mind aided on the baseball diamond and vice versa.

"You're competing against a batter, but really it's just you and that mitt. I think that carried over to football as well. Stick to the basics. Do the best you can. Manage the time. Try to put the guys in the right position to come out on top."

Dollar and the coaching staff (left to right): Jared Jones, Rick Golden, Scott Justiss, John Mask, Charlie Winchester, Leslie Waters, Adam Clayton, Terrel Brown, Danny Worley, Kenny Peters.

Tallassee beat No. 1 Eufaula 20-17 in 2008 with Cochran-Gill as the field general. Brian Simpson returned a kick for a 99-yard touchdown. Hunter Mullins kicked a 33-yard field goal that put the Tigers on top.

"Hunter got us out of a lot of problems," said Dollar. "At Eufaula, Dan (Klages) had some really good athletes. That's always special when you can beat number one."

Cochran-Gill said the 2008 team might have been the best during his four years with the program.

"I think that team was probably the most talented team that I played on. You had Mike Smith and Quan Williams at running back. The receivers could catch and fly. Good defense. Good line. All the way around the board, that was a solid team right there."

Miles Hathcock of WTLS interviews Coach Rodney Dollar after the Tigers' overtime win in Valley to clinch the 2009 region title.

Tallassee won its first region title in 5A football in 2009 with a 17-14 overtime win at Valley.

"The one thing I do remember about that game is they scheduled us for homecoming," Cochran-Gill said. "That kind of lit a fire under us and gave us a little extra motivation."

The Tigers made a stop in the extra frame to preserve the victory, but the chance would not have come if not for a blocked field goal by Davis Knapp late in the fourth quarter.

"I went out on the field," said Dollar. "Davis Knapp runs up to me and says, 'I think I can block it coach.' I said, 'Block it.' He figured some way (to) beat that corner and he did.

"That was the biggest win we had. It meant the most. That was a good night. We came back listening to the "Scoreboard Show" on the bus."

WTLS Scoreboard Show host Trey Taylor remembers Dollar's wife Kim calling in.

"She wanted to hear, "No Parking on the Dance Floor." Kudos to Kim. We jammed it."

2009 Tigers

Tallassee made its first appearance in the ASWA poll as a 5A team prior to the 2010 season at No. 10. ONe of Tallassee largest crowds came in the 2010 season opener vs. Benjamin Russell. J. E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium had undergone renovations with seating expansion in the off-season including flipping the the home side stands to the west side of the playing field.

"The atmosphere was great," Cochran-Gill said. "The fans came out and rooted us on. That's one of the great things about Friday night; coming out of the new fieldhouse, the walk through into a full stadium, underneath the lights. That was good to see that turnout."

Tallassee won the game 19-17. After winning at Troy vs. Charles Henderson 28-27, Tallassee climbed to No. 9 in the rankings.

The new home stands at J.E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium after stadium expansion in 2010

Game three of 2010 would become an instant classic vs. Eufaula - although it ended as a loss. Cochran-Gill orchestrated one of the most memorable last-minute drives. The Tigers drove 92 yards to score and cut the deficit to a single point with just 6.9 seconds remaining. The extra-point attempt was missed and the Tigers lost 14-13.

"We lost yards on first down," Cochran-Gill recalled of the sack on the first down play that put Tallasee on its own one-yard line. "Coach Dollar and coach (Jared) Jones did a really good job of preparing us for that type of drive. At the end of practice we would always do a two-minute drill. Basically, we just had to go out and execute it.

Cheerleaders during "Tiger Night" prior the 2010 season. Tiger Night was started during Dollar's tenure.

"We were running our spread package, throwing the ball around. We had guys that could catch it. We just drove down the field. That drive was crazy. We were definitely prepared. We were confident we could get down and score."

Jones gave his take on that night.

"It's one of the classic drives I've ever been a part of. I remember we didn't have a timeout to take," Jones said. "I remember Coach Dollar looking at us. Do we want to go for two? We didn't really say. Chris Adams, who was the kicker, was standing over there waiting for us to make the call. Davis was the holder and ended up taking the kick. Coach Dollar said if I had it to do over again I would've taken the five-yard penalty and let everybody settle down. It was so climactic of a drive and then missed that extra point."

Cochran-Gill liked the Tigers' chances with a two-point play.

"We had a really good one with T.C. Robinson. He was on the line back side and would just kind of flare out. We might have run it once. Every time we would run it in practice it would always get the defense. We had a good one. I just think we ran into a little confusion right there at the end."

The one-point defeat cost the Tigers a perfect regular season.

2010    
vs. Benjamin Russell W 19-17
at Charles Henderson W 28-27
vs. Eufaula L 14-13
at Rehobeth W 40-10
vs. Elmore County W 28-14
vs. Caroll Ozark W 41-17
at Russell County W 21-20
at B.T. Washington W 37-26
vs. Valley W 28-23
at Beauregard W 28-16
vs. Spanish Fort L 34-21

"It could've been another 10-0 season. Coach Dollar told me early in the summer, we don't have Mike Smith. We're going to have to throw it 20 times a game. I looked at him like, 'Coach, you're crazy.' Coach Dollar was not a throw it around guy either. If Trey could've been three inches taller, he could've easily been a college quarterback."

The one blemish against Eufaula made Tallassee a No. 2 seed entering the post-season. Spanish Fort, an unlikely No. 3 seed, beat Tallassee 34-21 and went on to win the Class 5A state title.

"I think if we would've gotten past them, we would've had a good shot," Cochran-Gill said. "We had the momentum, were driving on them and had a fumble at midfield. (We) turned it over and they scored again. They kind of took the air out of us."

Dollar talked about the scene throughout the week.

Spanish Fort Toro Mascot

"I'll never forget that last game in the playoffs. That whole week. T-shirts were selling. The crowds were unreal. That crowd that last game was unreal. It was just electric. I've never seen anything like that in high school to this day."

The Tigers fell in the first round of the playffs in 2008, '09 and '10.

"We had a lot of talent. It was just getting past that first round," Cochran-Gill noted. "We always matched up with that Mobile region. Any of those teams could've been the No. 1 seed."

Spanish Fort beat Tallassee in 28-13 in 2008. Gulf Shores topped the Tigers 17-13 in 2009. The rematch with the Toros in 2010, a 34-21 setback, would be Dollar's last game at THS.

"You always say, 'I want to go back.' You can never go back. Once it's done, it's done. You've got a life of memories. I miss that."

Dollar and the THS football program put on a Punt, Pass and Kick contest in 2010 at O'Brien Stadium

As athletic director, Dollar started the Tallassee High School soccer program in 2008.

"I always wanted the kids to be involved in everything possible. Soccer helps the special teams portion of football."

Not only did soccer help with football, so did wrestling.

"The most important part of the (football) program was wrestling. (It) was phenomenal. You could not come close to blocking our wrestlers because you couldn't get to their legs. I first thought it was 'wrasslin' and never saw anyone get slammed with a chair."

Dollar with asssitants John Mask and Rick Golden

After Tallassee, Dollar coached four games at Pike County in 2011 but stepped down due to health issues. He returned as a head coach at Carbon Hill in 2013 for one season.

"I had a stroke in 2013. If you were to see me now you would never know that anything ever happened. I'm working my way back."

Dollar is back in Headland again in semi-retirement.

"All of my ex-players are great friends of mine now. We still go out and do things together."

The now grandfather of three still says a return to coaching is a strong possibility.

"The last four months, I can't tell you how many jobs I've applied for. I've interviewed for seven or eight of them. Being out for seven years, people are questioning whether I can do it again. Somebody's going to take a chance on me. I'm going to come back and beat a lot of people when that happens."