I don’t think it is a coincidence that God compared himself to a father. As you in the United States celebrated Father’s Day yesterday, hopefully you realized how much an earthly father can point to our Heavenly one. Why do I bring this up? Because to me a good coach is like a good father. I have no memory of my father, as he died before I was two years old. My mother did her best and with four older sisters, my life was heavily influenced by women. However, the first male influence I had that I considered to be fatherly was that of my high school Bible Quiz coach. Similarly, it is no secret that I have said Randy Thaxton was the best coach ever. So, I like the fact that I write about him shortly after Father’s Day.
One of the beautiful things about the Hall of Fame is that it allows us to recognize each range of years. While you may quibble with the people that the committee selected, the fact is that we are learning about many people that have done great things at many different times. My knowledge has grown in the past couple years and I realize that I left two top 5 coaches (Craig Scott and David Douglas) out of my initial coaching article. Nevertheless, the conclusion remains the same.
While the early dynasties of Tennessee and Colorado were solid, the later runs of South Carolina and Florida were excellent, noone can match five AACS titles in a seven year period. In the early years, Illinois was seen as a good team that would hurt themselves with errors. Illinois got 2nd place at AACS in 1985, 1986, 1990, and 1991. Never before and never since has a ministry ever won that many second palces. When they finally broke through and won their first title, the greatness of the program would only seem to grow.
While Florida was winning back-to-back titles in both SCQANIT and AACS in 1994 and 1995, Illinois neglected to attend SCQANIT. After that, a five-year period of teams that did not go to SCQANIT winning AACS occurred. While we could argue the implications of that forever, we really need to talk about Coach Thaxton. He won five times from 1996-2002. The only times he lost were to undefeated teams from MI (in 1999) and CO (in 2001) who were clearly dominant teams.
While some coaches have brought seemingly more dominant teams and other have brought deeper teams, noone has put the entire package together as many times as he has. He was able to take teams in 1996 and 1997 that were dominant and make sure they did not have a letdown. He was able to take a teams in 1998 and 2000 that were surviving, middle-win based teams. This kind of versatility proves his coaching greatness. For a while, it appeared that he would continue to dominate AACS. This mastery of in-game strategy only hit a snag when Illinois decided to withdraw from AACS.
While Randy Thaxton did attend SCQANIT in 2004, it is tough to keep students motivated for just one real big tournament over three years. His performance there was less than you would expect from possibly the greatest coach ever. Nonetheless, we are confident that when Illinois settles into a regular schedule (either attending AACS again or SCQANIT every year) that Thaxton will once again lead Illinois to perennial dominance.
As we talk about the great coaching and impact on his students he makes, I fear that some may lose sight of who Randy Thaxton really is. Here is a man who has dedicated the better part of twenty years to helping students memorize Scripture. He is a principled man who believes in foundational issues, which he fights to keep important at the state association level. He is a humble winner, and someone who never allowed his students to be deterred despite their many near misses. I believe that is someone who reflects God very well.
Continue to reflect God’s Light, Randy. You’re on the list!!