All great football coaches seem to have one skill that sets them apart, It could be offense, defense, organization, motivating players or a dozen other things. In the case of R.L. Watson, he was a builder. He could take a down trodden program, one that few people wanted to be a part of, and build it into a winner -one step at a time.
A graduate of Vigor High School, Coach Watson was a three year letterman at Livingston State University in the mid 1960’s. He started his coaching career in the private school ranks in 1972 at Patrician Academy. His 1973 team went 10-1. In 1979 he was hired as the head coach at Alba High School in Bayou La Batre in south Mobile County. The seafood industry was big in the Bayou, not football. Many of the high school boys worked on the boats until school began. To say that Alba was a building job would be a huge understatement-The Sharks had seen one winning season in 14 years. R.L.’s new team had won 7 games in the previous 6 years. He would have to build this one from the ground up.
There was no fan base in Bayou La Batre, very little parental support and only a small community league from which to build. To make matters worse that first season, Hurricane Frederick hit Bayou la Batre in early September, destroying many family businesses. Coach Watson was instrumental in helping pull the community together. He worked it out so that young men who had to work in the family seafood businesses in the summer could still play football. He met with business leaders and gathered community support for building a better community football league and financially supporting the high school. As support grew, Coach Watson was able to raise money for a football field house. He helped create a booster club called the Coaches Club which became famous all over Mobile County for their support. When the Coaches Club started frying seafood and feeding the officials before the games, the Sharks could go weeks without having a flag thrown on them.
By 1982 Alba was a different team. They went 12-1 behind a suffocating defense that gave up only 64 points in 13 games. They lost a close game to Dadeville in the 2A semi finals. In 1985 Coach Watson’s Alba team wheeled off victory after victory behind solid defense and a ground game led by runner Boe Strange. On October 25th, 1985, Alba went to Brewton and defeated the defending 4A champion T.R. Miller Tigers 18-6. Alba had gone from one of the worse teams in the state to the number one ranked 4A team in Alabama.
In 1988 R.L. Watson left Bayou la Batre to take on another building project. The Baldwin County Tigers had been a 1970’s powerhouse but had suffered 8 straight losing seasons. He turned the Tigers around immediately with four straight losing seasons. His 1989 team went 11-1, setting a school record for victories. He spent two seasons at Andalusia before going into administration. He returned to the Bayou to become principal at Alma Bryant High School and later went to Mississippi and served at East Central Middle School.
He still lives in the Bayou la Batre area. Coach Watson’s works produced several present day high school football coaches, including his son Todd who just completed a successful 10 year run at Foley. Theodore coach Eric Collier says,” Coach Watson had a huge impact on my life when I played for him. He taught us values that stretched beyond the football field, and he is a big reason why I am in coaching today.” R.L. Watson was a builder who represented every school and every community in which he worked with class and professionalism. The ALFCA is proud today to bestow its lifetime achievement award upon Coach R.L. Watson.