In the dictionary under “head football coach”, there should be a picture of him. Cap on, school shirt, polyester pants, black coaching shoes, always yelling at someone. Not only did he look the part, but for three decades no one in the state of Alabama defined success on the high school and college gridiron better than Coach Bill Burgess.
A 2nd team All State player at Jones Valley, Bill Burgess played fullback for the Auburn Tigers, lettering in 1962. He started his coaching career at Banks High School as an assistant, but by 1966 he accepted the head job at Woodlawn High School at the age of 25. He spent five seasons there before taking the head coaching position at Oxford High School. Coach Burgess would stay for 14 seasons. In the days when there were only four classes and it was difficult to even make the playoffs, his Yellow Jacket squads went to the post season 8 times. The 1982 squad went all the way to the finals before losing to Thompson and ending with a record of 12-2.
In 1985, Coach Burgess got the opportunity to become the head coach at Jacksonville State University. A true old school fundamentalist, he once said that “no matter the technique, training tools or program, football will always be a fundamental game. Make the blocks on offense, tackle on defense. It never changes.” His teams were known for their toughness and hard nosed approach to the game.
His first 3 years brought just 13 wins in the tough Gulf South Conference, but by 1988 the fundamentals were solid. The Gamecocks ran the greatest streak in Jax State history-winning 56 games in five seasons. Coach Burgess’s team made the Division II playoffs all five years and made it to the finals three times. The Gamecocks’ first two championship appearances resulted in disappointing losses. “Number two is a heck of a lot better than number three on down,” he was quoted as saying. He was the Gulf South Coach of the Year three times.
But on December 12, 1992, Jacksonville State went to Florence to face Pittsburgh State in the Division II National Title game. Pittsburgh was the defending champion having defeated the Gamecocks the year before and were riding a 25 game win streak. Using an option running attack and controlling the clock, Jacksonville State rushed for 390 yards to defeat the Gorillas 17-13 to win the Division II National Championship. In typical fashion, Coach Burgess praised his players and coaches and was selected as the National Division II Coach of the Year.
Coach Burgess and his wife Gaynell would retire from football after the 1996 season to spend more time with family. As time went by the accolades piled up. Former players spoke proudly of playing for Coach Burgess. He has been selected to the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame, the NCAA Division II Hall of Fame, the Jacksonville State Hall of Fame and the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. When the Jacksonville State field was renamed Burgess Snow Field in 2010 he said, “It should have been called ‘Burgess-Snow – And a Whole Bunch of Assistant Coaches Who Made All of This Happen Field.”
The definition of “old school” is a group of people who favor fundamentalist or traditional ideas. And when “old school “gets them a team, we all know who the head coach will be.
The Alabama Football Coaches Association is proud to present its Lifetime Achievement Award to Coach Bill Burgess.