After nearly 30 years of figuring out the toughest basketball defenses, the most perplexing opponents, and the most sublime strategies, Fred Dyles will finally get a chance to unlock the one remaining secret in his life.
The key to good fishing.
"Right now, I've got a fishing trip planned for this week," said the now-former Gibbs teacher and basketball coach, who was honored with a retirement party at Howard Johnson's in St. Petersburg on Friday night. "Me and my fishing buddies are thinking about buying a trailer up in Kissimmee. And . . ." he pauses, "I've made a commitment to volunteer time during basketball season to work with the team.
"I've been in basketball so long _ playing in school, in college and then coaching _ you just can't walk away from all that," he said. "It will be a task, being without it."
Many who attended the party don't know how they will go on without him. "He is a role model for our kids," said Lew Williams, assistant superintendent in charge of placement for Pinellas County, and one of the more than 100 friends, family, teachers and administrators in attendance. "Not just as a coach, but as a man and as a humanitarian."
Said Donald Odom, chief assistant Hillsborough County attorney: "Gibbs is synonymous with basketball in the black community. And all of that was created under coach Dyles. It's hard to imagine how important some of the games were."
Dyles' stature has held up over the decades, since the first time he stepped through Gibbs High School's doors. Tradition is one reason. The Gibbs Gladiators have been among Pinellas County's most successful teams. Under Dyles, the team went to the state playoffs eight times, winning state titles in 1966, 1967 and 1969, and finishing third in the national tournament in 1966.
This past season, Dyles was the state's winningest active coach, with a lifetime record of 674-236.
Whoever will replace Dyles at Gibbs (the school is in the middle of its hiring process) will be coaching not just a team, but a symbol. And, in some ways will become a symbol. Dyles was more than a coach whose teams were capable of drawing up to 10,000 fans to games. Likewise, his replacement would be someone, in the words of Lakewood coach and former player Dan Wright, "who understands tradition, values and morals, and continues on with it."
That, in as many words, was said by the speakers who paid tribute to Dyles on Friday. Thomas Daly, a former player, recalled how Dyles took him in for a year between eighth and ninth grades. Wright remembered the support Dyles gave him after the death of his mother.
Some of the Dyles influence is being transmitted through former players who coach or teach in the county, such as Osceola basketball coach Elbert Crumb and 16th Street Middle School's Louis Rowe. Some went on to success in college, like Nate Drayton, the master of ceremonies at the party, who played at the University of Arizona and Robert Williams who was an All-America player at Georgia College.
"I'm happy (about Dyles retiring) on one hand because I'm tired of taking a whupping," Crumb said. "I'm sad because someone who has been close and good to me will no longer be there."
Dyles also was noted for his outspokenness. Eckerd coach Jim Harley dedicated a tongue-in-cheek poem, I Think That I Will Never See a Satisfactory Referee, to Dyles and joked that the Florida High School Athletic Association was expecting a shortfall of income without a steady flow of Dyles' fine money.
"It doesn't matter one way or another," Dyles said in an earlier interview. "I'm just being a man and being myself. This whole thing about grin and bear it, I'm not programed for grin and bear it."
Dyles' tenure has not been without controversy. The state Department of Education in May said that he could not renew his teaching certificate for four years. Dyles can keep his certificate, which expires June 30. But he cannot renew it, should he want to return from his retirement, for four years.
Dyles himself graduated from Gibbs in 1951. He was in the service from 1954 to 1957, and went on to earn All-America honors at Florida A&M University. After he graduated from FAMU, he started teaching at 16th Street Junior High School in St. Petersburg. As head basketball coach, Dyles won 96 consecutive games, capturing the junior high school state title three straight years.
His first two years at Gibbs, the school competed in the then all-black Florida Interscholastic Athletic Association. The school became the first all-black school to compete in the FHSAA in 1966, a few months after it won the FIAA state title. It went on to win the FHSAA title the next year.
Even Gibbs students who rarely had contact with Dyles felt his influence, said Odom, who graduated in 1968.
"Back in the '60s they integrated the athletic association before they integrated the schools," Odom said. (Pinellas County Schools were desegregated in 1972.) "For students at Gibbs, the message was always, "You aren't as good as the white students.' And the success that coach Dyles had in taking us to championships in those days really did a lot to elevate the self-concept of the students. We started thinking that if we could do it on the basketball court, we could do it in other areas."