Football is about relationships and no coach in the history of high school football in Alabama mastered that as well as Tom Calvin. The influence he has had on young people through his coaching has extended far past his storied career in football.
A native of Athens, al, Tom Calvin grew up on a farm and had a stellar high school career. After serving in World War II, he played football for the University of Alabama and was a hard running fullback from 1948-1950. He also developed a close relationship with the captain of the cheerleaders for the Crimson Tide, whom he married in 1949. Lenette was quite an athlete in her own right. She won the 1948 Southern Olympic Diving Championship and qualified for the Olympic trials. Athletics would always be a part of their lives.
Coach Calvin was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1951. When the Steelers refused to give him a guaranteed contract, he opted to start his coaching career and took the head coaching job at Baldwin County High School in Bay Minette, He led the Tigers to a 7-2-1 record. The following year, Steelers owner Art Rooney offered him an $8,000 contract and he played fullback and returned kicks for Pittsburgh for four NFL seasons.
In 1956, Coach Calvin headed south for warmer weather and accepted the head coaching job at Sylacauga High School. He would stay for 21 seasons. In an era before the playoff system, His teams won 8 games or more on 7 occasions. His 1957 team went 8-0-1 with the only blemish being a tie with Alexandria. The Birmingham News awarded the Aggies the State Championship for Class 2A District 3. The 1960 and 1961 teams won back to back state titles. Sylacauga had 15 straight winning seasons. By 1969, a 2 week playoff system was in place. Sylacauga was led by QB Ken McLain, tackles Steve Sprayberry and Frank Lister and RB Randy Billingsley. The aggies finished the season 9-1 , ranked #4 and made the playoffs. After a win over Russellville, the Aggies were in the state championship game in Sylacauga vs Robertsdale. Coach Calvins crew rushed for 364 yards and behind Billinsley’s 3 TDs, dominated the Golden Bears 36-14. The following season Sylacauga again made the playoffs and defeated Citronelle and Walter Wellborn before losing to Valley 23-16 in the state championship game. While Tom was busy coaching football, Lenette Calvin established the state’s first prep gymnastics program and coached cheerleading, track, tennis and volleyball. The Calvins were a part of the Sylacauga School system for 21 years. The relationships and the influence felt in the Sylacauga community were everlasting. Coach Doug Goodwin said that when growing up in Sylacauga , Coach Calvin was THE coach in town. “The respect everyone had for him was amazing, said Doug. “I knew early that I wanted to be a coach and watching how he treated others had a tremendous influence on me.” Former player Steve Sprayberry said “Every person that came in contact with the Calvins were better because of it.”
Tom Calvin accepted a new challenge in 1978 and quickly transformed Decatur’s Austin High School from under achievers into winners. His 1983 squad had the only undefeated regular season in school history. In the playoffs the Black Bears defeated Grissom, Hewitt Trussville and Woodlawn to reach their first and only state championship game. In a defensive slugfest, Austin lost to an undefeated Murphy Panther squad 7-0 at Legion Field. From 1982-1984, Austin won 31 games, by far the greatest 3 year period in school history.
Following the 1988 season, Coach Calvin would retire from day to day duties as a head coach. His overall record was 201-130-11 in 33 years. He was named state coach of the year 3 times and inducted into the Alabama High School athletic Association Hall of fame in 1991. He and Lenette are the only husband and wife team in the hall of fame.
His legacy lives on today. At least 25 of his former players from Sylacauga and Austin became coaches and several have also been elected to the hall of fame. A lifetime of relationships has planted many of the right seeds in the hearts of young men. His coaching tree guarantees that this influence will go on for many more years.
Therefore on this 30th day of January, 2016, the ALFCA is proud to bestow its lifetime achievement award upon Coach Tom Calvin.
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