There are not many football coaches who have the enthusiasm and courage to coach high school football for 49 years. There are even fewer that can coach with great success over their entire career. And the number that can coach football with the integrity and class reserved for only our most beloved leaders is extremely small. If you can do all three of those, you could only be Fred Yancey of Briarwood Christian School.
A native of Memphis, Coach Yancey knew he wanted to be a high school coach when he was in junior high. “I never wanted to do anything else,” he once said. By 1978, he was a head coach at Gatewood School in Georgia where he learned to coach by making his own mistakes. “That’s when I first learned how to be a coach,” he said.
Coach Yancey returned to Memphis to coach at Evangelical Christian School from 1981-1989. But In 1990 he arrived at Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham. The 3A school had been in the Alabama High School Athletic Association only 6 years and had never won more than five games. In his first season with the Lions, Coach Yancey led his squad to an 11-2 record, a #3 state ranking, the school’s first playoff victory and a quarterfinal playoff appearance. It was a pretty good start. But the best was yet to come.
Coach Yancey believed in defense, often putting his best players on the defensive side of the ball. He two platooned, and putting much of his athletic talent on defense allowed his Lion squads to stay in games and win in 5A football. For 23 of his 29 years at the school, his teams averaged giving up less than 20 points per game.
The Briarwood Christian program grew and in 1996 and 1997, the Lions completed undefeated regular seasons only to lose in the playoffs. But 1998 was to be different. With a third consecutive undefeated regular season, the Lions stormed through the playoffs. A close 36-33 overtime win over Aliceville in the semi finals put Briarwood in their first championship game. On Friday, December 4th, 1998, the Briarwood Lions faced Randolph County for the 3A State Championship at Legion Field. It was a rout. The Lions blew open a 28-14 game at halftime with 3 third quarter touchdowns. Robert Gant ran for 194 yards on 10 carries, 8th grader Tim Castille scored on a 61 yard pass and a 68 yard punt return and a guy named Matthew Forester who would one day succeed the top Lion as head coach, scored on a 62 yard fumble return.
The following season the Lions would repeat, going 13-2 and beating Lincoln 55-19 in the final game. Briarwood also won a 5A title in 2003, beating Russellville 31-7. Coach Yancey’s teams finished as state runners up in 2007, 2010 and 2017. His overall record in Alabama was 278-95, and he won 319 games over his entire 3 state career. His teams won 16 region championships, while boasting a 59-24 playoff record. He also led his team to 32 consecutive regular-season victories from 1996-1999.
But his impressive victory stats will only tell a part of the story. His mission was to grow boys into young men by leading with a Christian example daily. His mission statement was Proverbs 3: verses 5 and 6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
“That’s become my life verse and my life advice for my players,” Yancey said. “We use that verse every week and it’s the best advice I’ve ever known. If there is one message I want to leave with everyone, it’s that one.”
He retired following the 2018 season. He was honored this past fall at a Briarwood game when several hundred of his former players returned to celebrate his career. This spring Coach Yancey will be inducted into the AHSAA Coaches Hall of Fame.
He and his wife Sharon of 51 years have enjoyed his retirement, doing a little traveling, watching some football, keeping up with the grandchildren. His football legacy in the state will always be a coach who was a winner, a Christian who did it with class and whose players who have truly lived better lives because of his work.
The ALFCA is proud to bestow its Lifetime Achievement Award upon Coach Fred Yancey.