For Buddy Anderson, Alabama’s winningest high school football coach, it has always been more than a game

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Vestavia Hills High School Coach Buddy Anderson. (Photo courtesy of AHSAA)

When I was interviewing people for this story about Vestavia Hills Head Football Coach Buddy Anderson, the winningest football coach in Alabama High School history, I noticed something. Not one person mentioned the score of a game or the wins that added up to that record. Not a word.

Instead, they talked about his character, his faith, and the impact he has had on their lives as an educator.  

A Calling

For Anderson, coaching football was always a spiritual calling. In 2020 he is retiring from coaching, but for him this journey started long before. 

“For me it’s a calling, not a profession,” he said in a recent interview.

“January 12th, 1968, I was 17 years old, almost 18 when I knew that God called me to be a high school coach. It wasn’t a bolt of lightning out of the sky, He spoke to my heart. So I knew what I was going to do.  I didn’t know what that looked like or what it was going to be, but that’s where it ended up. When I went to Vestavia, I never dreamed I would be here 49 years later.”

In the last  five decades, Anderson has won 343 football games and counting, including two state championships. He didn’t just coach football. As the school’s athletic director for 38 years, he helped other coaches notch dozens of state titles. 

Even with all these accomplishments, people want to talk about the man, not his record. 

Education-based athletics

A little bit about Coach Anderson. His family background speaks to how it’s not surprising he has landed where he did, teaching math in the classroom and football (and life lessons) on the field.

“My dad (Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame charter member Dovey Anderson) was a head football coach for 31 years and taught math, while Mom taught English and history. I grew up in a home of educators. This gave me a different perspective about why somebody taught or why they coached. I’ve always felt like I was an educator first, whether in the classroom or on the field. In high school, you are educating kids. Everything we do is education-based.”

The Trifecta

Coach Anderson and Athletic Director Jeff Segars. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Segars)

Coach Anderson and Athletic Director Jeff Segars. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Segars)

Jeff Segars  Vestavia’s Athletic Director says he hit the trifecta, playing for Coach Anderson, working with him as a coach and then as AD.  “I couldn’t ask for a better mentor,” smiled Segars.

“Coach Anderson, set the stage for what we are in Vestavia – the idea of education-based athletics.  That is what we are supposed to be. That is high school athletics.”

Barry Graffeo, George Shunnarah, Buddy Anderson, Rocco Panaia, Jeff Segars, Ronald Dennis, Gary Stignani. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Segars)

“We are an extension of the school and that is important to Coach Anderson. Long after we ask somebody to block or sack a quarterback, the lessons that they are going to learn out there are those about teamwork or sacrifice and being a part of something bigger than themselves. He set the tone for that as our athletic director and head football coach.

“It is about winning kids, and he set that direction for us. That’s Coach Anderson’s legacy. It is something they are going to draw on for the rest of their lives.”

Respect From His Fiercest Opponents

On left, Mountain Brook Head Coach Chris Yeager talking to Coach Buddy Anderson. (Photo courtesy of Chris Yeage)r

Between the lines on the football field, Coach Anderson’s fiercest high school opponents have the utmost respect for him as a coach.

“The one thing that impressed me, is he says he was called to coach,” said longtime Mountain Brook High School Head Coach Chris Yeager. “That has always resonated with me because you have your ups and downs, your good days, bad days, but at the end of the day you are coaching for a purpose that is higher than wins and losses.”

 According to Yeager, as a coach, he learned something new every time he played Anderson’s Vestavia teams.

“I’ve been on the opposite sidelines of Coach Anderson 26-27 times. Everytime we play them, I walk away learning something whether it’s their preparation or the adjustments he makes at the end of the game. From an Xs and Os standpoint he has been an incredible teacher to me. He is a giant to me. We stand on the shoulders of Coach Anderson.”

A Ministry

Hoover Head Football Coach Josh Niblett. (Photo courtesy of AHSAA)

Likewise, Hoover High School Head Coach Josh Niblett described Coach Anderson’s coaching as a ministry.  

“The way he has a lasting impact on his players is what I respect the most. Sometimes people don’t get to see the other side. When they see how many wins a coach has had they just see him as a football coach.

He (Coach Anderson) probably doesn’t know this, but in 2000  I got my first head coaching job at Oneonta High School. I found out that Buddy did volunteer Bible studies at his house with his wife (Linda). That was intriguing to me. So, I started doing it in 2000. For the last 20 years I’ve held Bible studies at  my house, and all that is attributed to Coach Anderson for what he was doing at Vestavia. What I’ve admired and respected about Coach Anderson is that it is not just about football.

He is an unbelievable football coach. He has made me a better coach. I think the world of him.”

Building a Community

Left to right: Michelle Weaver, Major Weaver, Coach Anderson, Michael Weaver, Rusty Weaver. (Photo courtesy of Rusty Weaver)

Rusty Weaver, a Vestavia Hills City Councilman and attorney played for Coach Anderson between 1985-1987. His son Michael just finished playing for the coach in 2019. 

Two generations.

“It is very emotional to think about how important football was to me in my life and how it affected my life choices far after high school. It was always a dream of mine for my son to play for him, I was fortunate to have that happen.”

Because of Coach Anderson and his coaches, Weaver always wanted to come back to Vestavia and raise his family and be a part of the community.

“I can still remember as a 15-16 year old kid and his talking about our families and how important it was going to be one day to be a great family leader, community leader, leader in your church and great father. I remember those things as well as I do the Xs and Os.”

Blueprint

Gatorade bath after his 300th win. (Photo courtesy of al.com via AHSAA)

Perhaps Brian Selman, a 2005 graduate of Vestavia Hills who played under Nick Saban on the University of Alabama’s 2009 National Championship team and now works with the Pittsburgh Pirates in player development best described Anderson’s legacy   

“Coach was a teacher in everything he did. All of it reflected his values and high standards. He gave that to all of us. That’s his legacy. It’s his reputation. That is his blueprint. And that is the hole he is going to leave in Alabama High School Athletics.  If Vestavia Hills as a community today looked in a mirror, somewhere back behind it you’d see Coach Anderson.”

Dean of Students and Plans

Vestavia Hills High School head coach Buddy Anderson. (Photo courtesy of AHSAA)

This may be Coach Buddy Anderson’s last football season, but he is not leaving VHHS. 

“We need to celebrate but Coach is not going anywhere. He is going to continue to impact the young lives  in our community for a long time to come,” Rusty Weaver reminded us.

On January 1st, he becomes Dean of Students where he will be mentoring students, young coaches and teachers. 

“I’m at peace with retiring from football,” said Coach Anderson. “I know when it comes down to that last game it is going to be emotional. But I feel the timing is right, God still has plans for me.”

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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