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Baynes was an All-SEC defensive end at Auburn and played in the Blue-Gray All-Star Game

A Century of THS Football
Part VI - The Baynes Era

By Michael Butler

When Tallassee folks hear the name Ronnie Baynes, they probably think of state championship baseball, but there is much more to Baynes' resume.

He coached baseball, football and girl's basketball while at Tallassee, and worked as a football official on the side.

Baynes grew up in Talladega and lettered in football, basketball and baseball at Auburn.

"Baseball was my biggest love," Baynes said. "In Alabama, especially when I was coming up, it was football, basketball and baseball in that order. If you signed in football you could play other sports. I kind of got wrapped up in the football business."

In 1965 he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys but the opportunity to play never came to fruition.

"God blessed me with a little athletic ability. Football is what it is. I got hurt my freshman year and played one game healthy at Auburn. I had a couple of injuries. Back then surgeries were not what they are now. When it came down to deciding between professional sports and coaching, I chose coaching. I think it was a wise choice for me."

1981 coaches: Baynes, Curry, Autery, Weaver, McDaniel, Posey

His first coaching gig was at Banks High School in Birmingham as an assistant with Shorty White.

"Banks was a real football powerhouse back then," Baynes recalled. "We coached the likes of Johnny Musso, Larry Willingham and David Cutcliffe. It was probably the number one sports school in all the state at that time."

Baynes' first head coaching job was in football at Parrish Selma which later became known as Selma High. The stint was from 1968-72. Baynes stopped coaching briefly then landed at his hometown school at Talladega.

"I was coaching track, ninth grade football and swimming. I was looking for a head coaching job. I came home one day and my wife Marie said, 'I think I've got you a head coaching job. Have you ever been to Tallassee?'

"I had never been to Tallassee. I had a teammate, Mac Bell at Auburn, who was from Tallassee. I had a basketball teammate at Auburn from Tallassee, Curtis O'Daniel. I knew about Tallassee, but had never been to Tallassee.

"She and I had been married over a year at this time. I said, 'Have you ever been to Tallassee?' She said, 'I was born there. I lived there through first grade.' I knew it was similar to Talladega. They're both Tigers. They both were predominately textile mill towns.

"I was coaching the Talladega swim team against Tallassee in Tallassee. We came that Saturday for a swim meet. The movers moved us in. The kids swam for Talladega on Saturday. On Monday, they started swimming for Tallassee."

Baynes with the 1977 senior players

Baynes knew after the first meeting about the Tallassee position that it was where he was going to go.

"I interviewed with Mr. McArthur. Mr. Little was in there. They liked me. I liked them. I was there for 18 years. I raised all my kids there. I loved every minute of it. It was a God blessing."

From 1981 (left to right): Ben Kelly, Todd Davis, Rhett Dennis

Baynes tenure as THS football coach became the longest since O'Brien's lengthy run. Baynes coached eight seasons from 1974-81.

"We were good when we had good players. It didn't matter who the coach was. There have been a lot of good coaches who came through Tallassee and had their up and down years like we did.

"When I came to Tallassee there were only four classifications. We were I think the third smallest 3A school in the state. We were playing; Auburn, Opelika, Valley, Wetumpka, Stanhope Elmore and Benjamin Russell. We were competitive. We were always competitive. When it went to six classifications and Tallassee was 4A, it put us in a situation where were a lot better."

Baynes' best year was in '76. Tallassee went 8-2.

at Lanett L 27-0
vs. Russell County W 20-6
vs. B.B. Comer W 14-6
at Dadeville W 48-0
vs. Valley W 33-0
vs. Elmore County W 25-22
at Wetumpka W 21-14
vs. LaFayette W 32-22
vs. Southside Selma W 19-0
at Stanhope Elmore L 45-20

The eight victories was the most by a Tallassee time over a 22-year stretch of mostly lean seasons. Mike Stokes was a first-team all-state lineman. His younger brother Randy would also have all-state status under Baynes.

Tallassee beat Elmore County 29-22 on Oct. 8 at O'Brien Stadium. The loss would be the Panthers' only setback. Terry Burt's squad went 13-1 and claimed the 2A state championship, the school's first title.

"That was one of the most exciting games. The competition between Tallassee and Eclectic was real good. Coach Burt had such a good program. He was such a great coach.

"For that game, the stadium was packed about 6 that night. There were people coming in to get seats at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. By kickoff, that whole stadium was standing room only.

"It was a heck of a ball game. We thought we had a real good defense. They thought they had a good defense, but neither team could stop each other. It was whoever had the ball last was going to win the ball game. We got it late and went for it on fourth down about three times to keep from having to punt to them. We were scared if we punted to them they would win."

1976 Tigers (left to right): Mike Daniels, Jimmy Haynes, Craig Goss

The 1976 Tigers' two defeats came against Lanett and Stanhope Elmore bookending a season with eight straight victories. The two losses were in region play denying THS of its playoff hopes.

1974 cheerleaders (front): Charles Blalock, Jr. Middle (left to right): Vicki Webster, Jan Emfinger, Terri Dailey, Vicki Clayton. Top (left to right): Sissy Lynch, Janet Dailey, Kay Stephenson.

One of Tallassee's biggest wins of the 1980 season was a 9-8 victory over Dadeville.

"It was maybe our best win," Dan Wilbanks said. "They were ahead 8-0. We kicked a field goal in the third quarter to make it 8-3. We called timeout late in the game. We were backed up on our three yard line. Jeff Webster is the quarterback. He says, 'Guys, hold 'em off of me. We think we've got a touchdown. I'm thinking we're 97 yards from a touhdown and JW's saying we got a touchdown on this play."

Baynes continued Wilbanks story about the call that did actually go for a TD.

"We called that play after a timeout. I made everybody back up on the sideline, because Moosecat was going to come by and score a touchdown. We ran the bootleg swing pass. He made some poor safety drop dead out there. He put a move on him so quick. That was one of the fun wins we had. Dadeville had a heck of a team."

Baynes on picture day in 1980

Baynes' team closed out the '80 season with a baseball-like final, a 2-0 win over Stanhope Elmore in Millbrook.

"It was a great win for us," said Baynes. "That was a good team. We ended up 5-5, but we were really better than that. Stanhope was 7-1-1. We shut them down. We went to a new defensive approach with them. They had trouble passing the ball. We went to a press defense and ran stunts almost every play.

"On the first play, they called Randy Stokes offside and gave them a 1st and 5. They didn't make the first down."

"Randy stunted on the first play," Wilbanks added, "and hit Andrew Gilder after being offsides. He hit him three or four yards deep and it set the tone for the entire game.

It was a defensive masterpiece, but the THS offense had its chances.

"We controlled it," said Baynes. "We went up and down the field. I don't want to complain about officiating too much since I'm an official, but I think we scored twice and they didn't give us a score. I know Steve Moss scored on the goal line one time."

Dan Wilbanks was the hero in the contest recording the safety for the Tigers. It came in the third quarter.

Randy Stokes with his son Hill who now plays football for Vestavia Hills High School

The Talla-Hi News reported, "The only score of the game came when Steve Moss punted from the Stanhope Elmore 36 to the 3 where Tiger Russ Newman downed it. The Mustang quarterback fell back into the endzone to pass and Wilbanks broke through to him for the safety."

"I think the quarterback's name was Mike Bush," Wilbanks said. "He had to go out wide a bit. I had beat my block, grabbed him and threw him down. We were all excited. It was still nerve wracking because we had to hold them for the fourth quarter. It was a great win and one that people ask me about an awful lot. I've even been accused of falling down in the endzone and the guy tripping over the top of me."

Baynes also commented on the special play.

"Dan was in a three technique on the right side. Randy was three technique on the other side. (Dan) ran that technique about as well as you could. He hit the guy and the guy didn't hook him. The play goes outside of him and he comes off that block and makes a heck of a play in the endzone. It was big time."

Linebacker Dwight Phillips was pivotal in the win as well with 20 tackles.

Talla-Hi News clipping of Baynes congratulating Dan Wilbanks after the Tigers' 2-0 win over Stanhope.

Stokes talked about shutout of a team that had beaten them 37-0 to end his sophomore season the previous year.

"It ranks as probably my top three most special games," Stokes said. "We had a better team than our record indicated, so we had a chip on our shoulder. It should've been worse than 2-0. Dan Wilbanks made a great play and we'll never forget it."

Wilbanks ranked Stokes in the upper echelon of Tallassee greats. He played in the AHSAA All-Star Game after his senior season prior to going to Auburn to play collegiately.

"It was a lot of fun," Stokes said of the all-star game. "Obviously Bo (Jackson) was there. A lot of the guys that signed in our class at Auburn were there. Later on down the road it became clear to me how big a deal it was. Everybody doesn't get to go. I was proud I had that chance."

"Randy was as good as I've been around," Wilbanks said. "He went on to have a great career at Auburn."

If it had been up to Stokes, he would have played at Alabama for Paul "Bear" Bryant instead.

"I grew up an Alabama fan. We went 1-9 my senior year. One Saturday down at Southside (School), I was working with Morris Purcell. I wouldn't give anything for those years working with that fine gentleman. Coach Dye comes in and I'm swinging a 12-inch paint brush in the hall. He said, 'Hey we want you to play at Auburn. We want to go ahead and offer you a scholarship no matter what happens to you. We know you're an Alabama fan, but we want your kind at Auburn.' That's what Coach Dye was trying to build. That meant a lot to me."

Dye passed away on June 1.

"He was a special person. He was a tough man and coach, but he was fair. I learned a lot about life (from him)."

Stokes ranks his first Iron Bowl as his favorite.

"The top football game of my career was the Alabama/Auburn game my freshman year. I had a strong burn in my stomach when I was told I was going to be starting. It was like a dream come true. When you sign a scholarship and they pay for your education, I called Dan Wilbanks the day I signed and said come over here and get all of this stuff out of may house."

An Auburn 1983 schedule poster with Stokes leaping in the air adorned the wall at the East Tallassee Cafe for years after. "My brothers give me a hard time. They'll ask me sometimes if I can still get off the ground that high."

Tallassee's own and Auburn freshman Randy Stokes celebrates the Tigers' game-winning touchdown in the 1982 Iron Bowl that broke AU's nine-game losing streak. The image was used for the cover of the Tigers' 1983 Media Guide and '83 schedule poster that was prominently displayed at the East Tallassee Cafe.

Dan Wilbanks is the namesake to his father who also played for Tallassee and the University of Alabama.

Ronnie Baynes Day in 2015

"Danny tells the story," Baynes said of the patriarch of five Wilbanks boys who played football in Tallassee and are about as well know in sports lore as the Baynes and Stokes families. "He told all five of them, 'Now guys, y'all don't have to play football, but if you're going to eat at my table at night you're going to play football. All five of them played real well."

Now almost five decades since Ronnie's first visit to Tallassee, his kids and grandkids have suited up for the purple and gold. His grandson Brandon broke Tallassee's single-game rushing in 2014 on the football field ironically at Ronnie's 50th class reunion at Talladega. Tallassee won 40-6 as "BB" ran for 392 yards and scored four touchdowns.

"I'm sitting up there with all my classmates and they kick off and Brandon returned (it) for a touchdown. That kind of set the tone for Brandon playing in the old stadium where his granddad used to play."

1976 cheerleaders (front): Teresa Sides. Middle (left to right): Janet Dailey, Cam Murphy, Ardelia Baker, Mona Moncrief. Top (left to right): Theresa Brantley, Donna Gray, Cindy Golden.

Baynes was 33-47 overall in football at Tallassee. His biggest success came on the baseball side, where he would go on to win five state championships in 1986, '87, '89, '90 an '91.

Baynes on the diamond with a post-game talk

"When it came time for me to step aside in football, I didn't want to make the same mistake I had made when I left Selma and got out of coaching. I asked to keep baseball. I was officiating football (and) starting to work the big SEC games. My weekends were doing the game Friday night and driving all night Friday to some place or get up early Saturday morning. There were a lot of Friday nights I'd get maybe two or three hours sleep.

"Having transitioned from no football to just baseball was the little bit of bump we needed to go from being a good baseball program to a great baseball program. A sportswriter called it "Bootcamp Baseball." We played tough and played hard. It was my football background in baseball. The kids had a tough, mental attitude."

Baynes and Tom Jones in 1985

The runner-up finish in 1985 was what helped spearhead what would become a dynasty on the baseball diamond in Tallassee.

Celebrating another state title

"When we came in second, that set the tone and let us know there was something out there worthwhile we wanted to work for. When we won it in '86, and from that time on, it was like that's what we were expecting. The great thing about those baseball teams is they were playing together, not for personal gain, to win championships. We had a run that kids were playing for what the whole team could accomplish."

Baynes Tallasssee baseball record from 1975-92 was 249-103.

"One of the really good things we had in Tallassee was the opportunity to be involved in all levels," Baynes said. "It's so important to get everybody working on the same page. I got involved. I had kids involved. I was down there coaching. It was not unusual for me to coach high school practice, Little League and Babe Ruth."

Somehow during his career, Baynes handled the balancing act of school work, coaching, football officiating and family.

"When I came to Tallassee I explained that I was starting an officiating career. They asked if it was going to interfere with anything I did. I said not at all. They said go for it. It's one of the reasons why I came there."

Baynes officiating career began in 1971 at the high school level. In 1974 he moved to the Southeastern Conference. In 1987 he got his shot with the NFL.

The Baynes officiating fraternity in stripes (left to right): Rusty, Ronnie, Allen, Mark

"The officiating was something I did to supplement income. High school coaches didn't make a lot of money. I had a bunch of kids that wanted to drive cars and go to college.

"College football is something you kind of did for fun. The NFL is very much a job. It's a lot of pressure and expectations with high accountability. I liked both."

All three of Baynes' sons; Rusty, Mark and Allen, followed in their father's footsteps into officiating. The elder Baynes has also worked as Supervisor of Officials and Director of Scouting in the NFL. He lived in Manhattan during one period.

"I used to tell people that I lived in a town called Tallassee. There were more people in the apartment complex that I lived in at New York than in Tallassee. It was quite a change. Marie and I loved it. We lived there for seven years."

In 2011 the league presented him with the Art McNally Award at the Pro Bowl. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Alabama Sports Officials Hall of Fame in 2019.

Tallassee's first baseball championship under Baynes in 1986