Hard-nosed, tough disciplinarian, stickler for sound fundamentals, producer of quality men of society -- all are ways of describing Auburn High boys head basketball coach Frank Tolbert.
Today though, Tolbert
could possibly add another title to his
list of descriptions -- 500 game-winner.
When Auburn hosts No. 4 Central today, a Tiger win would give Tolbert his
500th career victory, a career that has spanned 25 seasons and seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.Tolbert
, who prefers to remain low-profile and focus more attention on his
players, wasn't even aware of how close he
was to the 500 mark until reading a news story the day after collecting win No. 498 against LaFayette Jan. 6.
"I really wasn't aware how close I was," Tolbert
said."I saw it in the paper and that was the first time I saw it.It hadn't really crossed my mind.It's a big thing in a sense, but right now I'm more focused on winning some ball games."His
emphasis on the present and a disregard for personal accolades is perhaps why Tolbert
has become one of the most successful coaches in Alabama high school basketball. Tolbert
began coaching at Auburn's Drake High School
in 1968 -- before the school was consolidated to Auburn High -- where he
team to a 21-3 record.From 1978 to 1980, he
coached Auburn's girls for two seasons, leading them to a 30-8 record over that time.
"I was very fortunate to be here because Auburn High had good kids and very smart kids," Tolbert
said."The program was already in good shape and established.I just came into a good situation."
first season as Auburn
's boys coach, Tolbert
led the Tigers to a 20-7 record, and two years later had Auburn playing in the state playoffs.Since that time, Tolbert has helped lead Auburn to nine Area titles, 15 berths in the state playoffs, six spots in the state Final Four and three state runner-up finishes.
"I was a very discipline-oriented coach and I set the standard very high," Tolbert
said."We had the opportunity to have some of the biggest teams in Alabama.We went to Las Vegas and went to the state tournament, but that was because we had good kids.
"I was pretty tough and hard-nosed -- and still am, but once we got the program established where I wanted it, it was easy because the expectations were so high that kids wanted to play for us."
has had a highly successful run as Auburn's head coach, just 10 years ago it looked very possible that his
coaching career, and nearly his
life, were over.
In the summer of 1994, Tolbert
took a group of players to Atlanta for a basketball camp.While there Tolbert
became ill with what, at first, seemed like your everyday run-of-the-mill illness.
health went downhill quickly and the tingling and numbness in his
limbs forced him to seek treatment.
The diagnosis was horrific -- Tolbert
had Guillain-Barré (ghee-YAN bah-RAY) syndrome, an inflammatory disorder of the peripheral nerves -- those outside the brain and spinal cord.
The disorder, effecting just one in every 100,000 people, is the most common cause of rapidly acquired paralysis in the United States.While some Guillain-Barré patients recover quickly, others suffer effects of the syndrome for indefinite periods.
"The first year, it was in my mind that I wasn't going to coach anymore," Tolbert
said."But after sitting down and watching TV every day, I made up my mind that I couldn't just sit here.I had to go back and do what I love to do, and that's coach."
According to Tolbert
, the rallying of support from the Auburn community, friends and school administration helped him become stronger despite the debilitating disorder that has forced him to rely on a wheel chair for the past 10 years.Tolbert
still becomes emotional when reflecting back on those times and how people rallied around him.
"When I was in the hospital," a tearful Tolbert said, "it meant so much for someone like the superintendent (former superintendent of Auburn City Schools
Dr. Ed Richardson) to come in and just sit down and talk to you."
Another one of those showing strong support for Tolbert
was his coaching predecessor, DeVenny, who at the time held the position of assistant superintendent of schools.
DeVenny's prediction that Tolbert
would bounce back has certainly come true.
After missing the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, Tolbert
return in the 1996-97 season, coaching from his
wheelchair and seemingly never missing a beat.
But even with his
remarkable accomplishments as a coach and ability to overcome physical obstacles, Tolbert
still wants little attention placed on himself.
"None of this would have been possible without help from my assistants and from the community," Tolbert
said."I have great help with coach (David) Ogle and coach (Chris) Brandt.I don't take credit for the program's success.My assistants, the community and the administration are who deserve most of that."
has been at his
job for 36 years, eight of those after his
isn't close to being ready to leave.
"I still have a lot left -- unless they run me away from here," Tolbert
numerous runs through the state playoffs, one accolade has eluded Tolbert
, a Class 6A state title.
But just as he
had paid little attention to his
number of wins, no state titles weigh very little on his
"I've never been fortunate enough to win a state title," Tolbert