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Lindsey, who retired in 2012 after more than 40 years in coaching, still resides at nearby Lake Martin

A Century of THS Football
Part XI - Lindsey

By Michael Butler

Winning was all the Phil Lindsey knew when he accepted the head football job at Tallassee. He coached 31 seasons in Georgia.

"(I) never had a losing season until (Tallassee)," Lindsey said.

Things could not have started better for Lindsey at Tallassee. The very first offensive play went for a touchdown against Wetumpka. It would be the Tigers' only score of the night in a 44-6 defeat.

"The first game I coached on the varsity level," coach John Mask recalled, "CJ Lebetter to Stephen Cooper. The "CJ Special," we called it. It was a reverse pass touchdown. I said, 'This is going to be easy.' It just didn't go as well the rest of the year."

Lindsey's debut was an 0-10 campaign in 2002, the first winless season in school history.

"It wasn't so much the players," Lindsey said. "We started drug testing because there was a problem. Five or six players decided not to come out. A few other players quit the team before we started the season because of discipline problems."

Lindsey and THS principal Carl Stewart got to go to Washington, D.C. The president's council on drug awareness honored Tallassee for its program.

Running back James Henderson

"I had multiple students come up to me, Demond Washington was one of them. He said, 'Coach, that's one of the best things that ever happened to me. On the weekends I used to have to tell people no when they tried to get me to do drugs. Now, I tell them I might be tested. They leave me alone.' It took the pressure off of them. The first couple of years was tough. If I had not had success in Georgia, I'm not sure I could've survived it."

Lindsey won a state championship at Lakeside High School in Atlanta in 1991.

High schools in Georgia played on Saturdays which was a conflict for Lindsey in watching his son Michael, who played for Auburn University at the time.

"We had 19 high schools in DeKalb County at the time. When my son signed at Auburn, I wanted to watch him play. I went to the athletic director and asked him to change some of the Saturday games. He didn't, so I said I'm going to resign. The very next year, the head football job came open at our rival high school Tucker. The principal called and asked if I'd be interested. I said, 'I can't. I've got too many Saturday games.' At the same time, my principal from Lakeside became the new athletic director for the county. He called me a few days later and said he would change the Saturday games if I would take the job. I said, 'I'll do it.' I said I'd be there only three or four years because I was planning on coming to Alabama and coaching and finish up watching Michael play."

Lindsey's Tigers take the field

When the choice to leave Georgia behind and tackle the prep ranks in Alabama came, Lindsey was looking for something close to his Lake Martin home and Auburn.

"I applied at Auburn High School at that time. In fact, when I got the (Tallassee) job the Auburn job came open. I had already told coach (Carl) Stewart that I would take the job. Auburn called me up and said they would like to hire me. I said, 'I can't.' I had taken the Tallassee job. It was hard to turn that down."

Lindsey's son-in-law Chris Brandt was on staff at Auburn High. He is the head coach of the varsity basketball team these days. Brandt played college ball for Auburn. With strong ties to Auburn, taking the opening in Lee County would have been more convenient for Lindsey.

"My daughter teaches there. My grandkids would go there. But, I made my commitment. I didn't feel like that was the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to make some tough choices to do what was right. I don't regret any part of it."

After the rough start at THS in '02. The 2003 season continued on a losing trend. The Tigers were 0-9 prior to the final game of the season at Dadeville. The program's longest ever losing streak dating back to 2001 was up to 20 games.

"The Auburn newspaper picked us to get beat by 21 points or something," said Lindsey. "We won by 21. That is the only time that I've ever had water thrown on me by my players. Even with the state championship, I wouldn't let players throw water on me. I said, 'No. Y'all throw it on each other. I didn't win this game, y'all did.' But for that one I really did not care."

Lindsey said in the post-game interview, "It's the most satisfying win I've ever had, state championships and all."

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The state title as a coach was not the only state title in football for Lindsey. He won a championship as a player in Georgia as well.

"I went to Bradwell Institute in Hinesville, Ga. I played quarterback my senior year. We ended up winning the state championship going 14-0. It wasn't because I was a great quarterback, but I could call plays and hand the ball off getting it to people who were the best athletes on the team."

Football was not Lindsey's only strong suit. He played baseball and basketball as well. He played baseball in college but was almost sent off to Vietnam instead.

"It was 1966. My baseball coach called me and told me that South Georgia Junior College wanted me to come and play ball there. I said, 'I can't because I'm going to the military.' A few days later I got a notice in the mail that said I was college deferred. Apparently he knew somebody. I would've been in Vietnam and would've gladly gone.

"When I graduated from junior college I went to Georgia Southern. They had the lottery for the draft. They pulled your birthday out of a hat. If your birthday was in the top 150, you were going to be drafted. Mine was 342 or something like that."

When college was done, coaching was not at the forefront of Lindsey's career path.

"I started managing a clothing store in my hometown. I absolutely hated that. After about nine months of that I had enough. I took a job as a teacher and a coach. I took a job at Liberty County High School which was the all-black school in my hometown. We had not consolidated yet. It was me and one other white coach and two white students.

"I actually played baseball at what was then called the Negro League. That was the term used for it. Me and one other white guy were the only ones that played in the entire league. I had a great experience. That year was one of the most rewarding. I'm so happy that I made that change."

The schools in Lindsey's hometown consolidated as coaching jobs followed throughout Georgia before he landed in Tallassee.

"The hardest thing when I first got to (Tallassee) was getting the kids in the weight room," he said. "I had some kids (say), 'Coach I'm working from 6 in the morning to 6 at night.' That was a problem for the first couple of years."

Mask remembers the program that Lindsey implemented called, "Morning Madness."

"We got up at 5:30 and did calisthenics and weight lifting before school," Mask said. "It was a big thing in the spring."

Lindsey's THS teams faced Reeltown just twice - in his first two seasons. The rivalry stopped in 2003 due to controversy, as it did in 1991.

"A player that we had left because of discipline problems," Lindsey remembered. "His answer was to go to Reeltown, but he didn't make a physical move. Another coach had heard about it. He told me he was going to wait until the end of the year and turn them in to make it really hurt. That way they would have to forfeit all their games.

"I said, 'You don't need to do that. You don't leave me any options because I'm not going to knock them out of the playoffs.' I went ahead and called the state. They met with me that day and went to the address where the kids was staying in Tallassee. They knocked on the door. The mom was living there. The kid was living there. That's all they needed."

2005-06 Tiger Tracks photo of THS cheerleaders on the sidelines

The first four games of Reeltown's '03 season were counted as forfeit losses after being won on the field by the Rebels. The next game was against Tallassee. Reeltown won 16-13. Reeltown went on to win the remainder of their regular season games going 6-4 instead of 10-0. They reached the third round of the state playoffs under coach Jackie O'Neal.

"If I had let it go, they would've forfeited the entire season instead of the first four games," said Lindsey. "We were (about) to play them. If I had waited and let them do that at the end, then we would've won by forfeit also. I did not want to win by forfeit. I didn't want to penalize Reeltown either.

"The Reeltown coach got mad at me for not calling him and warning him about it. I didn't feel comfortable doing that. I thought I was doing what I should do. It would've been a lot easier for me to ignore it and let them play it out. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

"I said, 'You had to know he was not living there legally. You didn't do your due dilligence.' He just took his word for it."

After the season, the Tallassee and Reeltown rivalry was finished according to O'Neal.

"As long as they have the same athletic director, administration there and as long as I'm still breathing. That's a dead conversation."

Lindsey gave his thoughts on the stoppage.

"I don't think they wanted to play us again because we were going to be a lot better. That's why Dadeville dropped us. They said it was because we celebrated so much. That wasn't it."

O'Neal retired in 2015. His successor and current Reeltown coach Matt Johnson along with Tallassee coach Mike Battles exchanged the olive branch in bringing the contest back for 2020. It's a decision that Lindsey thinks is a good one.

"I think it's great," he said.

2005 game program insert

After the Dadeville victory in '03, things turned around for the Tigers. In 2004, Tallassee beat Childersburg 7-6 to clinch a playoff spot going 6-4 in the regular season.

"It was good for the players to see that you get the reward from the hard times that you've put in and the hard situations you've gone though.

Lindsey's best year was the following season with a 9-3 record. Tallassee beat Jemison 42-36 in the first round of the state playoffs. The game was in Jemison with a raucous public address announcer offering commentary for the home folks which included an allegation of a THS player faking an injury.

"As a coach you can't be tied up in that kind of thing," Lindsey said of the off-the-field noise. "It's me calling plays and thinking about what's coming up next. If you think about what's going on now, you're not ready for what (about) to happen."

2005 game program with a typo on Washington's name

One of the reasons for the success that came in Lindsey's latter years can be attributed to standout talent Demond Washington, who went on to play at Auburn University and in the CFL.

"Demond had a lot of character," Lindsey said. "Demond had to go through some rough situations. I thought the world of him. He was a very good talent. It was hard to move him from running back to quarterback, but we were able to build the offense around (him)."

Washington was a ninth grader player on the Tallassee team that ended the long losing streak at Dadeville.

"It was tough when we were losing. We loved the game of football whether we were winning or losing," Washington said. "The '99 team left a mark on me. The '05 team was a great team. We had James Henderson, Melvin Lightfoot, Dan Benson, CJ Ledbetter."

Washington was a two-time all-state selection. At Auburn he played on the 2010 national championship team with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.

"When Cam came in, no one really knew who he was. He was just another guy until like the third or fourth game of the season when no one could touch him or even come close to him. It was a great experience being able to go to college and witness a championship."

Washington today

In Lindsey's final season, Tallassee made the leap to Class 5A football for the first time in 2006. The Tigers went 5-5. Lindsey then made the decision to step down as head coach.

"It was very tough after coaching so many years as a head football coach. When I gave it up here I went to Auburn City Schools and coached the 7th grade team there. That's low key. I taught elementary school for three years. That was a lot of fun."

Lindsey was honored for his 41 years in coaching in 2012. He has been inducted into the Lakeside and Bradwell Hall of Fames in Georgia. Now retired, he enjoys his time at the lake and the links where he is a scratch golfer.

"I really enjoyed being at the high school level. I had a couple of opportunities to be an assistant and college. I turned them down. I can't complain. It's been very rewarding."