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O'Neal named new coach

By Michael Butler

Tallassee has its new head football coach. The Board of Education approved the hiring of Lawrence "L.A." O'Neal at the Jan. 16 meeting. O'Neal will also assume the duties of athletic director.

"We had a good applicant pool - 81 applicants," said Dr. Brock Nolin, Tallassee City Schools superintendent. "Coach O'Neal rose to the top. His connnections to the community, both sides of the river, are going to help our program tremendously."

O'Neal becomes Tallassee's 26th coach. The 39-year-old spent three years at the helm at Booker T. Washington, his first job as a head coach. He was the Alabama Sports Writers Association 2023 Class 4A Coach of the Year last season, leading the Eagles to the semifinal round of the playoffs.

"We had an opportunity at the state championship," O'Neal said. "I had a great group of kids. You grow to love them and care for them."

O'Neal will now see them as the opposition as BTW becomes a region opponent for the season ahead.

"To be on the other sideline is going to be emotional," he said, "but without a doubt we're going to win the game."

Before his first head coaching position in Tuskegee, O'Neal was on Patrick Browning's state championship staff at Pike Road.

"He brought up Tallassee being a place that you can win at a high level," said O'Neal of Browing. "We talked about all the resources and kids here. It took me going through Tuskegee, but the timing seemed right when I got the phone call."

O'Neal played college ball at Western Kentucky and Samford. His high school days were spent at Reeltown. His dad, Jackie O'Neal, had a Hall-of-Fame career with 28 seasons as the school's head coach. His first of two state championships came with L.A. at quarterback in 2001. O'Neal was an all-state player on that squad.

Jackie was an assistant for Duane Webster, another Hall of Famer, with ties to Coach J.E. "Hot" O'Brien at Tallassee. Webster coached most of his 30 years at Reeltown but four came at Tallassee (1970-74). He won Reeltown its first state title in 1987 with O'Neal on the sideline.

"It was a blessing to not only play for my father, but to coach with him at the tail end of his career. I don't take any of it lightly."

With his upbringing as a true-blue Reeltown Rebel, envisioning himself as a part of their No. 1 rival was never a thought.

"I never expected to get this phone call, but I knew God would equip me to take the position if it was for me."

The Tallassee/Reeltown series has been an on and off again affair. The game returned to the schedule in 2020, but after four meetings is back on the shelf again.

"I would love to see it come back within the next few years when we realign again."

O'Neal now takes over a program that went 1-9 record in '23, the worst in two decades. BTW was coming off of three consecutive one-win seasons when it hired O'Neal. He went 4-6 in year one and followed it with 6-6 and 9-5 seasons. He said the turnaround starts in the weight room.

O'Neal with principal Drew Glass

"The weight room builds confidence. Practice on the field builds competence. We pair those two and get the kids to believe you can do it. When you don't cheat the work or process, then you can win at a high level. We want to make the atmosphere here at Tallassee the greatest high school experience. We've got everything we need to do it."

Spring football is not far off and O'Neal is working on a spring game opponent.

"We're looking at Wetumpka for May 17," he noted. "We've got to hit the hallways. That's where you do your recruiting."

There will be a meet and greet on Monday, Jan. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at the J.E. "Hot" O'Brien Stadium fieldhouse.

"At about 6 he will address the parents," said THS principal Drew Glass. "Have the kids come and meet the coach. We want to get some excitement."

*WTLS Interview