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Terry Curtis never wavered when it came to making a career choice. He’d known for some time, even before it became a reality, what he wanted to do in life, and in some respects, what he was called to do. The fact he does it really well is but a byproduct.
The UMS-Wright head football coach and athletics director is doing exactly what he has always wanted to do.
“It’s kind of like the old cliche, but being around the kids, I know that’s what I was put on this Earth to do,” Curtis, who picks up the 2021 Nappie Award as the Best High School Football Coach, Mobile or Baldwin, said. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve never wanted to do anything else but coach. I guess you could say that’s why I’m still doing it at my age, because I don’t have a whole lot of hobbies. I love being around the kids, I love the scheming, I love the weekend work, I love the practices, I love hanging out with my coaches, and all the things that go along with it.”
He has coached for 48 years, 32 as a head coach at Shaw, Murphy and, for the past 22 seasons, at UMS. He said he still gets a thrill on Friday nights in the fall.
“That’s probably why I know I’m doing what I need to be doing — Friday nights still excite me,” he said. “I still get the same nervous feelings, I still get the butterflies, all those things. Have we done all the things we need to do? Are we prepared? Are we ready? All that stuff, even after 32 years of being a head coach, every week, every game, those feelings and those thoughts still come about. Then you get there, you get in front [of the team] and get ready to go on that field, and here it goes again — that same excitement is still there and it lets me know I’m still doing what I should be doing.”
He was an assistant coach at B.C. Rain (1973-80) after graduating from Auburn, then spent the next eight seasons as an assistant coach at his alma mater, Murphy. Curtis’s first head coaching job came in 1993 when he was hired at the former Shaw High School.
“Those guys at Shaw High School back in the day, I look back at some of those things that we were doing and how we were doing them and how we were going about doing them … Now it’s embarrassing really that those guys had to go through some of that stuff that I put them through. That wasn’t right and wasn’t the way it was supposed to be.
“In my first game, you always want everything to be just right, and I had always told the team, it was my first team, I said, ‘Look, guys, we don’t want to take a timeout on special teams. If you have to take a timeout on special teams, it shows that you’re not prepared, the coach hasn’t done a good job, you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing and so forth.’
“So we get out there and we’re kicking a field goal in my first game against Williamson and we line up and lo and behold, our center is not in the game. Everybody has heard me say so much that we don’t want to take a timeout, so everybody moved over one position and we had a left guard snapping the ball. Needless to say, it didn’t end very pretty. That’s my biggest memory of my first game.”
Curtis would lead Shaw to a 3-7 record that first year but finished with a 31-15 record in four seasons, including a 12-2 mark in 1991 when the team advanced to the state semifinals. He returned to Murphy as head coach from 1993-98, posting a 46-21 record that included a 10-4 mark in 1995 when the team made the state semifinals.
“It all started at Shaw High School and I had great athletes there, probably the best athletes I’ve had any place as far as athletic ability,” Curtis said. “I give all those guys the credit because they bought in and got it all started. Then there was Murphy, and what a great place Murphy was. That was like going home. And now UMS and the things we’ve been able to do here.”
Curtis’s first season at UMS was 1999. In his third season, 2001, he led the Bulldogs to the state championships. Seven more state titles followed — 2002, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2017, 2018 and 2019 — and he has amassed a record of 248-54 at the school, placing his career mark as a head coach at 325-90. In 22 years as UMS, his teams have lost only 13 region games.
“It is really kind of mind boggling how it all worked out,” Curtis said of his career, which continues this fall.
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