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Turner stepping down at Chamberlain, 'too tired to do it anymore'

TAMPA

His family tried to talk him out of it. His son, Chamberlain offensive coordinator Brian Turner, said he didn't have to do it. His wife, Lucille, made a last-ditch morning phone call as he drove to school. But longtime Chamberlain coach Billy Turner made his retirement official Friday morning with a six-paragraph letter announcing his departure.

"It's the most difficult decision I've made in my life," Turner, 71, said in his office, surrounded by 38 years of trophies, plaques and memories. "There are a lot of reasons, but mainly I'm too tired to do it anymore.

"You can't coach from a golf cart. You've got to be on the sideline."

Health problems the past two seasons — he was hospitalized for a game in 2007 and had a pacemaker installed last summer — have forced Turner to take it slow. Turner often joked that he hated the words "resign" and "quit," so instead he preferred to say he's retiring.

"It's a new life for me," he said. "I want to see if there is life after football."

It was the way Turner would want to go out, with little hoopla.

But Hillsborough County's winningest football coach was more than simply a coach. We take a look at the other sides of Billy Turner with the help of a few of those who know him best.

The family man

Coaching sometimes meant long days and late arrivals at home, but Turner still managed to have a deep connection to his family. He often talks about the weekly Sunday dinner tradition, which now means nearly 40 guests, including his eight children and 20 grandchildren. His wife of 48 years, Lucille, often takes the reins of the meal, which frequently features Spanish food such as black beans and rice and boliche.

The father figure

Turner didn't get into coaching for the money — his first teaching job was for about $13,000, Brian says — and he didn't do it for the glory, because there's little of that in the high school ranks. He did it to touch kids. And he made an impact on many, helping more than 150 players earn college scholarships preaching the value of hard work and humility. "He always told us to be humble," said Chamberlain senior quarterback Dontae Aycock, who will play football at Auburn. "He always reminded us not to have a big head. He was the main reason why I wanted to play, because of how kind he was and how he carries himself."

The X's and O's guy

Few people can talk football like Turner. Engage him in a conversation on Monday in the fall and he has plenty to talk about. He probably watched the Bucs on Sunday and took in a full slate of college football on Saturday. He can go on about the intricacies of Georgia Tech's triple-option offense — the one he perfected at Chamberlain the past two seasons. But there is no limit to how well he knows the game. "He will talk football with anyone," Brian Turner said. "Guys like Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer have come in here and he's right on par with them." Oftentimes, he will get so enraptured in conversation that, no matter who you are, he will address you as "Coach."

The coaching icon

When Turner was the head coach at Hills­borough, he hired an assistant named Earl Garcia Jr. Now Garcia, the longtime Hills­borough coach, is the county's second-winningest coach behind Turner. "He is an inspiration to us all," Garcia said. "Just the mental toughness and love for the game you have to have to be a coach and help raise other people's kids for all those years. People just aren't as unselfish as Coach Turner is. So many days, I sit around after everyone's gone and ask if I can keep doing it and I tell myself as long as he can do it, I can do it."

The legend

Given the shorter tenures for high school coaches, Turner's win mark might stand. Garcia is 70 wins behind. The award annually given to Hillsborough County's best football coach is named after Turner. This past season, Chamberlain wanted to honor Turner by naming the school's football field after him, but the school district wouldn't allow that until Turner retired. Now, it will try to dedicate the field during a home game this fall. That would be more than enough for Turner, but some believe he should receive a higher honor. "He's the greatest legend we have," Garcia said, "not just in high schools, in all of sports," Garcia said. "I honestly think they should name a school after him."

The future

Turner's departure means more opportunities to play golf, one of his hobbies away from football. In fact, on the day he announced his retirement, he had a noon tee time at Babe Zaharias Golf Course in Forest Hills. He will spend more time with family. The field at Chamberlain will undoubtedly bear his name. Meanwhile, Chamberlain athletic director Richard Scionti said there will be an open search for Turner's successor with hopes of having a coach in place by spring ball in May. Brian Turner said he's "99 percent" sure he wants to apply.

Turner by the numbers

254 Career high school wins

49 Years in coaching and athletics, starting as a track coach in Auburndale to UT where he coached football and was the athletic director in between two stints at Hillsborough and then onto Chamberlain

14 Pick with which former Chamberlain defensive lineman Brodrick Bunkley was taken in the 2006 draft

12 Wins, a season- high, when Turner took the Chiefs to the Class 5A state title game in 2001

Turner stepping down at Chamberlain, 'too tired to do it anymore' 03/06/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 6, 2009 10:28pm]

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