The wait is over for Amarillo High’s Williams

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Dang right those were tears.

It wasn’t a flood of tears by any means running down the cheeks of Jeff Williams last Saturday morning drenching the Scurry County Coliseum basketball court in Snyder.

But those were definitely tears.

Tears of joy. Tears of thankfulness. Tears of a man, a nice and respectful one at that, who saw 20-plus years of waiting suddenly come to a screeching halt when a buzzer went off signalling the end of the Region I-5A girls championship game.

Williams and his Amarillo High Lady Sandies were headed to the UIL state girls basketball tournament. His first trip to state in his 20 years, Amarillo High ending a 22-year drought from appearing on the grandest basketball stage high school hoops offers in Texas.

“When the clock ran out, it was emotional for me,” Williams said. “Very emotional. You get to wondering if you are ever going to get a team out because we’ve had so many good teams with good players. So yes, I did have tears in my eyes.”

The fact AHS had finally vanquished its No. 1 nemesis in four-time defending state champion and district rival Canyon with a 34-27 win in the regional final, was reason enough for deep emotions.

The fact the regional final was the 686th Texas high school girls basketball game Williams had been the head coach in and ended like no other game previously, was reason enough to tear up.

The fact Williams is known as a coach who truly enjoys investing time in the life of his players, building lifelong friendships no matter if that player scores one point or 50 in a game, was reason enough to shed a tear for all those hours his players put in the gym to reach state.

But the fact is when Williams started his life in the real world of holding down a job, even though a career coaching in baseball was on his mind during his high school days attending Amarillo High, he decided to chase a bigger salary than teaching.

That’s why his first two years in the real world were starting out in management for the Wal-Mart in Dumas.

“I knew after two years this wasn’t what I wanted to do and started talking to my wife about a change,” Williams said.

Williams’ wife, Stacy, was already teaching in the Dumas school district. Jeff applied for and was awarded his first ‘coaching job” as the P.E. instructor for Green Acres Elementary in Dumas.

“I loved it,” Williams said. “I had those kids playing all kinds of games.”

What Williams also saw were his students after school playing in alleys, just hanging out and really without anything to do.

“I thought, hey, instead of these kids eventually getting in some kind of trouble why not start an after-school program,” Williams said. “Sharla Wilson was my principal and she loved the idea. Her husband, Jack, was the Dumas volleyball coach, and he would come over and teach the kids. Like I said, I loved it.”

Soon Williams, the ultra-completive kid who loved his baseball and basketball days at AHS, was the middle school volleyball, basketball and track coach at Dumas.

Not long after he was promoted to assistant volleyball coach at Dumas High.

Under the intense coach Wilson, who built Dumas volleyball into a power, Williams learned many things.

One lesson being if you truly build a legit relationship with a player “they’d run through the wall for you. And that’s so true.”

Another lesson learned was the no lines rule.

“Jack hated seeing girls standing in lines with nothing to do during practice,” Williams said. “He wanted them moving, doing something. No standing around.”

If you attend an AHS basketball practice these days, you see very little standing around by players.

Even though Williams had never dreamed as a kid of coaching girls basketball, in the schoolyear of 1996-97 his life changed forever.

Wilson believed Williams would be a terrific basketball coach and when the Dumas job opened, Williams applied and was handed the Demmonettes girls head coaching job in 1996.

In the fall of 1996, Wilson led Dumas a state volleyball championship and the new assistant volleyball coach, in a good natured way, reminded Williams pretty much every day what he was missing.

Williams didn’t flinch.

The coach known for his sense of humor and ability to talk rapidly, loved his seven years at Dumas, never having a losing record.

But when the chance arrived to be an assistant basketball coach and head softball coach at AHS in 2004, he made the move to work under legendary girls basketball coach Dale Blaut.

“Once A Sandies Always a Sandie is a real thing,” Williams said. “This is where I had to be. Now, I owe so much to Jack Wilson. But this was the chance to work for Dale which was something I wanted to do. And then all the coaches I respected when I went to school at Amarillo High were still there like Dick Jones, Larry Dippel and Joe Bain.”

Blaut, who led AHS to two state titles and the last state appearance in 1996, retired the year after Williams arrived back in AHS.

Of course Williams wanted the job.

He thinks when then AHS senior star player Emily Brister was asked by those having a hand in hiring the new coach if Williams could handle being the head coach and she said yes, “I really believe Emily’s endorsement was what got me the job.”

Today the 49-year-old Williams owns an impressive 350-100 record with AHS and 490 career wins. He has taken five of his AHS teams to the regional tournament.

Williams is known to his coaching opposition “as a coach who always has his teams prepared and play with energy,” said Palo Duro 24-year girls basketball coach A.J. Johnson. “And he is a good guy.”

“The thing about Jeff is he has changed over the years,” said legendary Canyon coach Joe Lombard, who has won 19 state girls basketball titles. “His teams used to run a lot of set plays and sort of try and trick you. Now, they are so sound and the run and jump press they run makes it tough to get off good shots. He’s smart, too.”

Trent Lankford is the current AHS JV girls coach and assistant under Williams. Few know Williams as well as Lankford as a person and as a coach.

Williams was the best man in Lankford’s wedding and Williams is constantly bouncing strategy of his assistant, who in 2015 led Gruver to the Class 2A girls state championship game.

“Jeff is a super nice guy. One of the best you will ever meet,” Lankford said. “But he has an intensity about him, a fire about him that a lot of coaches don’t know about. He is as an intense a competitor as there is out there.

“He’s a pleasure to coach with and he gives his assistants a chance to coach.”

Lankford said Williams coaching style is adapting to what he has personnel wise and his players respect and admire him.

“The girls love him because of the way he treats them,” Lankford said. “If there is one thing Coach Williams does is he builds a great rapport with the kids. Ninety-nine percent of the kids are going to run through a brick wall for him.”

Williams would hate for a story to be written about him finally making the state tournament because “this isn’t about me, this whole deal is about the players. They are the ones who worked so hard and play.”

Sure enough, any good coach knows it takes good players to win.

But when AHS takes the court in the Alamodome in San Antonio tonight for the Class 5A state semifinals against Temple, most of those those in attendance won’t know it but there on the AHS sideline standing and coaching away is arguably the happiest man on planet Earth.

That’s a man who in 20 years of coaching has not had a losing season (seven in Dumas, 13 at AHS). That’s a man who started his real-world career out at Wal-Mart. That’s a man who saw first paid coaching job as an elementary PE teacher. That’s man who now coaches at the alma mater he loves at the state tournament.

That’s a story, too.

One worth shedding a tear, or four, over.

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