March 1990: Locals recall Wimp Sanderson's first season

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I don't often touch on sports in the column, but it seems appropriate now that all sports are shut down.

In 1990, Winfrey "Wimp" Sanderson was making his fifth trip to the Sweet 16 as head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Eagle Sports Editor Paul South took the opportunity to reach out to the guys who knew Sanderson as a first-year head coach of the Carbon Hill Bulldogs.

Sanderson kept a picture of the 1959-'60 Bulldogs, which made history with a 25-4 record as well as district and county titles, on the wall of his office in the Coleman Coliseum.

"Long before 'Wimp,' long before 'Parquet and Plaid, was a glimmer in the mind's eye of a college sports information director, long before the plaid jackets and scowl became the stuff of legend, back when thoughts of NCAA Tournament Sweet 16s were not even a consideration, Winfrey Sanderson took a group of boys from the working-class town of Carbon Hill and its satellite communities, Townley, Eldridge, Kansas and Nauvoo, and made them into winners," South wrote.

Frank Nix, a forward on the team, recalled that Sanderson wasn't much older than his players. He had just graduated from Florence State Teachers College, now the University of North Alabama. He served not only as head basketball coach but also as assistant football coach.

At 19, center Herman Cook was the oldest person on the team; Sanderson was three years older.

Sanderson had strict rules about smoking, drinking and hanging around drugstores as "a drugstore cowboy." One day, Cook lit a cigarette while he was getting gas and the bus carrying the football team rolled by. 

"The guys on the team said Coach Sanderson asked, 'Was that Herman?' They said his eyes followed me all the way past the gas station," Cook said.

At the end of the first day of basketball practice, Sanderson approached Cook as all the other players were heading to the locker room after a hard workout.

"Coach said, 'Cook, don't you and I have a score to settle?' I told him, 'I guess so,' and I started running laps up and down the floor. I ran until everyone else was gone. I can still see Coach Sanderson sitting in the dark, watching me run,'" Cook said. 

Doug Key, a co-captain of the team, said Sanderson's competitiveness was unmatched.

He recalled a game against a good Russellville team in the first round of the West Alabama Conference tournament. The Bulldogs were up 20 points at halftime, but that wasn't enough for their coach.

"Coach came in and chewed us out. Dwight Norris turned to me and said, 'Little Key, you better get going or we're going to have to go through heck on Monday,'" Key said.

At the beginning of his career, Sanderson was known for the towel he kept on his knee rather than his plaid jackets.

"Coach would go through a couple of towels a game. He was something to watch. He'd brought me up from the B-team. One of my big disappointments was that I didn't get to play any more for him after that year," said Ray Hinds, a sophomore on the team.

Sanderson and his wife hosted pregame meals in their basement apartment. The spread consisted of bacon, scrambled eggs and milk. 

"You need to know the man. The fans who watch the game on TV and in the stands only see one side of him and think he's a mean person. But we knew the other side of him. He's a really warm, caring person," Cook said.

All of the players had nothing but glowing remarks about Sanderson in 1990.

"The rest of the world can call him 'Wimp,' but I'll never call him that. We were really fortunate to have him as our coach in his only year of high school ball. To me, he'll always be Coach Sanderson," Cook said.

In 2015, Sanderson attended the inaugural induction ceremony of the Walker County Sports Hall of Fame. He was there to show support for Carbon Hill native and and UA trainer Bill McDonald, one of the inductees. 

“When I saw coach Sanderson here tonight, I thought he was here because I was getting inducted, because he tells me that I’m on the only Auburn friend he’s got,” joked Lloyd Nix, a standout football player at Carbon Hill High School before quarterbacking Auburn to the 1957 national championship.


Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle's features editor.