2 longtime Birmingham-area high school football coaches die

Alabama lost a pair of successful former high school coaches this week.

Former Tarrant coach Charlie Richards died Wednesday after a battle with COVID-19, according to his son Chuck Richards. He was 91. Longtime Parker coach and former New York Jet Cecil Leonard also died Wednesday in Statesboro, Ga., according to HBCU GameDay. He was 74. His cause of death was not immediately known.

Richards coached Tarrant from 1955-1965. He finished with a 63-36-11 record. His best season came in 1964 when his team went 10-0, scoring 267 points and allowing just 21. He also was head coach at Huffman from 1975-1978.

“We had a surprise 90th birthday for him last year,” Chuck Richards said. “I was amazed that some of his friends flew in from as far as California. These guys talked about the 1950s and 1960s and how their lives were changed by my Dad like it was yesterday. Most of them said they would never have gone to college had it not been for my dad. Some went on to be All-Americans.”

Chuck also said Charlie Richards coached under Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama in the 1960s, working with players such as Kenny Stabler.

“The whole time he was at Alabama he was getting his doctorate in education,” Chuck Richards said. “He said he left because my mother told him he should get a job where he could make more money and see his family a little more on the weekend.”

Richards was a two-sport star in football and baseball at Tarrant and later played at Howard College (now Samford) and Livingston (now West Alabama). In addition to coaching, he later served as principal at Tarrant and also had a long career as a baseball umpire and basketball official, which included stints in the SEC.

He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011. Chuck said his father still lived in the Birmingham area and had been hospitalized for a month with COVID-19.

“He seemed to be doing a little better with his breathing, but his heart gave out yesterday,” he said.

Until contracting the coronavirus, Charlie Richards still went dancing three nights a week.

“He was definitely my idol,” Chuck said. “He had a better social life than I have.”

A native of Sylacauga, Leonard was a Tuskegee legend and former player with the New York Jets and the Birmingham Americans of the World Football League. He also served as the head coach at Miles College from 1994-2000.

He was perhaps best known for his work in 20 years as a high school coach.

Leonard started his career at Parker in 1973. After two years there, he spent five years at Hayes (1975-1979) and then went back to Parker for 13 years. He finished his high school career with a 128-83 record.

He led the Thundering Herd deep into the state playoffs twice. In 1980, his first team back at Parker went 12-2 and lost to Vestavia Hills 15-13 in the 4A state championship game. In 1989, Parker went 9-4, losing to Anniston 19-0 in the Class 6A semifinals.

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