Legendary Tampa football coach Billy Turner feted by hundreds

Hundreds gather to fete the legendary Billy Turner.
Published November 16 2016
Updated November 17 2016

TAMPA — It was Labor Day in the early 1970s and coach Billy Turner told his players and coaches at Hillsborough High that they were going to hold practice at 6 p.m. If they were late, they wouldn't be allowed to play or coach Friday night.

At 5:50 p.m. all the players and coaches were on the field, ready to go.

Everyone but Billy Turner.

Then-Hillsborough assistant Earl Garcia said, " 'Well, I guess we won't have a head coach on the sideline for Friday night's game.' But as soon as I said that here comes Billy whirling up in a tan Chevrolet station wagon with his eight kids and wife Lucy packed in there with floats and coolers stacked on top of the car. He had taken his family to the beach!

"Billy jumps out sunburned without any shoes on and shouts, 'It's close, but I'm not late!' "

Then Turner did what he did for most of his life: He coached young men in the game of football.

"That story is Billy," Garcia said. "He did it all. He was a great father and husband and a great coach. He is the real deal. He cares so much about everybody all the time."

Garcia told this story and many others — "I have a million Billy Turner stories, and all of them are good," Garcia said — after an honorary ceremony for Turner held Tuesday night at Chamberlain High, where Turner coached 30 years.

Hundreds came to share such stories and say hello to Turner, who at 78 has battled skin cancer for four years.

As the hundreds of well-wishers came up to hug Turner, who had to sit through the proceedings, Turner asked every guest, "How are you doing? Are you okay?"

"That's Coach," said former Chamberlain running back Kenny Allen, who played for Turner through the 2008 season. "Even now when he isn't feeling the best, he's still asking everyone how they are."

For Turner, the reception, which included heartfelt stories and sentiments from ceremony host and former Chief lineman Brian Adcock, was "Overwhelming. I was expecting just maybe a few players might show up. To see all these people here, it makes me feel so wonderful."

Moments after the speeches, Garcia sat with Turner, the two winningest football coaches in Hillsborough County history. Turner leads with 254 victories and Garcia follows with 244.

"Billy told me that he hopes he's around to see me get those 10 more victories so he could congratulate me," Garcia said. "What a great thing that is. That's Billy."

Garcia then relayed the story last year when Turner, who was weakened by his cancer treatments, came to visit Garcia after Garcia struggled through his first losing season in 23 years at Hillsborough.

"Here Billy is going through what he's going through and he's coming to cheer me up," Garcia said. "Billy told me to hang in there because he said at point he was about to quit and then a few seasons later he took his team to the state championship game (2001).

"That meant a lot to me. It means a lot."

Former Chamberlain defensive coordinator Norm Soash, who coached with Turner for 37 years, added: "That's Billy. He cared about everybody. He drove kids home all the time. He did everything he could for everybody around him."