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Chiefs coach personifies 'throwback'

In the 1950s, Billy Turner was a multi-sport star who trained hard and played in pain. As a coach, he has had to make some adjustments.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001


In the 1950s, Billy Turner was a multi-sport star who trained hard and played in pain. As a coach, he has had to make some adjustments.

TAMPA -- As a student in Billy Turner's third-period class approached his teacher to ask for a hall pass, he was sidetracked by a newspaper article on the desk.

"Is this you?" the student asked, comparing the slender, light-haired, freckle-faced kid leaping to throw a football in the posed, black-and-white photograph to the older, graying man seated in front of him.

Looking closer, the boy read that Turner was a four-sport athlete at Auburndale, won 12 letters at the University of Tampa and was the class of the intramural circuit.

"Man, you played everything," the boy said.

"I was just a jock," Turner responded, cracking a smile.

These days, Turner is a teacher and a coach, the winningest in county history.

But before he made his mark at Chamberlain, Turner epitomized the nose-to-the-grindstone approach to the games he played -- so prevalent 50 years ago but seldom seen these days -- that spawned the term "throwback."

A 6-foot, 150-pound quarterback at Auburndale in the 1950s, Turner led the Bloodhounds to a 20-0 record in his final two seasons. He averaged 16 points a game for the basketball team, which went 56-0 during his junior and senior years.

As a middle infielder, he helped the baseball team to a 22-2 mark during his senior year. He set a Polk County record (4 minutes, 36 seconds) in the mile.

Turner played baseball, football and basketball at UT, eventually earning induction into the school's hall of fame.

He also won intramural titles in pingpong and horseshoes and was a runner-up in badminton, golf and tennis.

But it was his knack for pushing himself beyond his abilities, willingness to play through adversity and unquestioned loyalty to his coaches that set him apart.

The stories about Turner are legendary.

As a junior and senior in high school, he worked weekends at a clothing store then went to Auburndale to run laps at night with a flashlight.

He practiced pole vaulting in his back yard using bamboo poles, sandbags filled with sawdust and a fishing pole.

Once, he sprained an ankle playing basketball. He had the ankle taped, took a shot of novocaine and went back out to play.

These days, you'd have to look long and hard to find a player like Turner.

"Times have changed. And kids have changed, and coaches have changed," he said.

"I don't even know if a coach can demand the things he used to. I think we're a little more liability conscious."

Thanks to weight training, year-round workouts and the use of supplements, athletes today are bigger, stronger and faster than in Turner's day.

But not necessarily tougher.

Turner said kids played hurt more often in his day, even though doctors were present. Nowadays, doctors, not coaches, decide if a player is fit to return to the field.

"The game is a safer game today than when I played," said Turner, 63.

"Equipment is a lot better. But it's still blocking and tackling. The skill of these guys isn't much better than it was then."

Turner does not condone the use of supplements of any kind. Just eat, sleep and exercise. He still makes demands of his players.

But he, too, has changed with the times.

"I don't demand perfection near as much as I used to," said Turner, who has coached high school football for more than 30 years.

"I don't run my kids as much as I used to. But I still demand a lot to coach these kids."

Today's players have shorter attention spans, Turner said. They are more likely to question their coaches.

To adapt, Turner shortened practices from four hours to two. He explains himself to his players. And he puts his expectations in writing.

This year, he created a committee of five seniors whom he consults to discuss disciplinary matters.

"I think I've changed with the times," he said. "I think if someone didn't change, they couldn't stay in coaching."

It's a different game, played by different players.

And while it isn't what it used to be, Turner isn't ready to leave it yet.

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