TAMPA — These are the days that make longtime Chamberlain football coach Billy Turner feel young.
On the first day of fall practice Monday, Turner began his 49th season as a coach and his 30th as the Chiefs head coach. He is Hillsborough County's career wins leader with 243 victories in 37 seasons, including 193 at Chamberlain. Sometime this season, the Chiefs' home field will likely be named for Turner.
Turner will turn 71 in November, and he admits his health — a heart problem forced him to miss a game last year and he said Monday that he has been kept off his feet this summer and had surgery to install a pacemaker — has slowed him down. But after advancing to the region finals last season, Turner believes this year's team is his best since 2001, when the Chiefs went to the Class 5A championship game.
Turner talked with the Times' Eduardo A. Encina on Monday about tempering expectations, staying young, what keeps him in the game and, yes, retirement.
After nearly a half-century of coaching, how does the first day of practice still hold a special place for you every year?
I'm excited about it but I'm nervous. You get butterflies because you want things to look right in practice. You don't want to look like a Chinese fire drill. … The kids are excited. The coaches are excited. We have such high expectations. Not only do we think that, but other people are saying it and putting a little pressure on us, but I don't mind that. You've got to have more than good players to win. That's the No. 1 ingredient. If you've got good players, you have the chance to win if you coach them up.
What about those expectations? A lot of people think this team could go deep into the playoffs. What are your goals this year?
We're past the point where we've set a goal to just be competitive. Our goal used to be to get into the state playoffs. That's not our goal anymore. Our goal is to win the state. When our kids end practice every day, they say "One, two, three, Orlando (site of this season's finals)." That's what they're thinking. … A lot of high school coaches are pointing the finger at us. A lot of times they point the finger because it takes pressure off their team. It's easy to say, "They should win everything."
How does that put more pressure on the coaches?
We've got to do everything right. We can't get at the end of the season and say, "We should have done this." We owe it to the kids. Me and (son and offensive coordinator Brian Turner) sat here (Sunday) watching Gaither and Middleton because that's who we open up with. Good high school coaches don't ever stop what they're doing. When I was in college at the University of Tampa, my head coach was (College Hall of Famer) Marcelino Huerta, and when he took me out to functions we'd be sitting there eating and he'd be drawing plays on a napkin.
People have been talking for years about when you will retire. We could probably go back 20 years and find stories asking if this was going to be your last year. But now you really have an opportunity to go out on top, right?
If we win the state championship, I would announce it right there on the field — "I quit!" No seriously, I wouldn't quit, or resign. I'd retire. I always say after 49 years you shouldn't have to have a reason. … I don't care how long I've been coaching. I don't care what kind of record I've got. But you've got a good football team and the whole season is about the head coach. I don't want that to happen. I'm not letting that happen. … The thing is, we're going to have a good football team and it's not about the head coach. It's about the football team. Now, if we win the state championship, it might be in the paper the next day (laughs). But we're not going to talk about that.
After all these years, how does coaching stay new to you?
It's starting over every year. The kids came up here four days a week during the offseason. It's fun being out here with the guys. Another thing that motivates you is when a guy like (senior quarterback Dontae Aycock) comes along. Honestly, I was thinking last year that that would be a pretty good year to go out on. Brian told me, "Dad, you've had Dontae and (running back) Kenny (Allen) for three years. What if they hire a coach here who doesn't do the things that you know they do well?" It does influence you, but you're always going to have kids coming back that you love. Last year's team was one of the best I've coached in terms of camaraderie. I don't know about that for this team. We'll see. We haven't played any games yet.