By David Elwell
The Decatur Daily

Billy Miles says that when it came to coaching he enjoyed the practices more than the games.

“There’s just something about being at practice and working with an athlete,” Miles said. “When they understand what you are trying to show them and that light bulb turns on, it doesn’t get much better than that.”

Miles saw a lot of light bulbs turn on in his coaching career at Austin High School. He is being inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame on May 5.

In 25 years at Austin, Miles was a part of three teams in three different sports that played for state championships.

Miles was the defensive coordinator for the 1983 Black Bears, who played Murphy for the Class 4A state championship. Austin recorded five shutouts that season and almost had one in the championship game, but Murphy won 7-0 on a rainy night at Birmingham’s Legion Field.

“Murphy got inside our 20 three times and we kept them out of the end zone twice,” Miles said.

That next spring, Miles coached the Austin baseball team to the state championship finals vs. Fairhope. The Black Bears won the first game of the three-game series that was played at Fairhope. They lost 8-7 in the series finale.

“That was a great hitting team, but our pitching wasn’t real deep,” Miles said. “We had the lead in Game 3 and couldn’t hold on to it. We had the winning run on base at the end of the game. The third out was a hard hit line drive that one of their outfielders ran down.”

In 1994, Miles coached the Austin girls basketball team to the 6A state championship game, where they ran into powerhouse LeFlore.

“We had a great team and had a great season,” Miles said. “LeFlore was like playing a college team. They were really good.”

The three near misses of state championships don’t tell the whole story of Miles’ athletic career. After growing up in Columbia, Tennessee, he played football and baseball at North Alabama. While at UNA, he met and married Amy Jones, daughter of Austin basketball coaching legend Joe Jones. After coaching five years at Deshler, the family moved to Decatur in 1980 to join the Black Bears.

Greg Stewart was an All-State nose guard for Miles. He also played baseball. Stewart later played on a national championship football team at Troy. He’s now the defensive coordinator at South Alabama.

“Coach Miles was a great motivator,” Stewart said. “Some of the methods he used, I use today. He always had the defense come to his house to eat one night a week and watch film. It helped prepare us for Friday night, but it also brought us closer together as a unit. I do that with my players each week during the season.

“The key to coaching is building a bond with your players and getting them to buy in to what you want them to do. Spending time with your coach away from the field can build a bond. I feel like that’s what made Coach Miles so successful.”

Greg Gilbert, who now works for the athletic department at the University of Southern California, said the two-hour film sessions with Miles were important to Austin’s success on defense, but also later to his career when the All-State player was a linebacker at Alabama.

“We ran some sophisticated defenses at Austin,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t realize how sophisticated until I got to Alabama. Turned out Coach Miles was way ahead of the game.

“The coaches at Alabama were impressed with how I understood defensive coverages. That was one reason I was second-team as a freshman and got a lot of snaps with the first team that season. Every player in college is a great athlete. It’s the players who understand the mental game, who get to play the quickest.”

Deron Huerkamp, who now lives in Arkansas, was an All-State tackle on offense and defense for the Black Bears in 1983. He was the starting first baseman in the spring of 1984.

“Coach Miles had a saying ‘Swing hard and see what happens.’ That worked pretty good for us,” Huerkamp said. “We could hit the ball.”

That Austin team set what was then a national record for home runs in a single season with 65.

Leigh Anna (McDaniel) Trimble was a freshman basketball player when Miles took over the girls program.

“Austin girls hadn’t won a lot right before Coach Miles took over,” Trimble said. “He put me and Bam Watkins in the starting lineup as freshman. I guess you could say he threw us into the fire.”

The plan worked with the win total going up each season all the way to the Class 6A championship game in the fourth season in 1994.

“That was an amazing season to see us go from our freshman season to playing for a state championship,” Trimble said. “We beat Decatur four out of five times that season. That was quite an accomplishment. I have a lot of respect for Coach Miles and the positive influence he had on his players.”

Miles retired in 2005. He’s still a fixture at Austin sporting events, especially with his son Jake coaching the boys basketball team.

“Once a Black Bear, always a Black Bear,” Miles said.

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