During a break in the Tri-County media day at Wedowee Marine earlier this month, Handley head coach Larry Strain was shown a list of the county’s all-time winningest high school football coaches.
Several of the names – Ron Watters, Randy Sparks, Max Yarbrough, Pat Prestridge – were obvious to anyone who knows high school football in Randolph County.
Editor's note: All historical information courtesy of AHSFHS.org.
But for Strain, one name on the list was a surprise – his own.
“I had no clue how many victories that I had before you told me,” Strain said when he was asked about it during his team’s media day session.
Strain’s next victory will be career win number 150, tying him with Prestridge for overall career wins (Prestridge reached the 150 mark in last year’s win over Vincent). And Strain can get it tonight if he can guide his second-ranked Handley Tigers over the fifth-ranked Guntersville Wildcats at the Cramton Bowl in Montgomery in the 2021 season opener for both teams.
That kind of round number is a milestone unto itself and worthy of celebration. But a win tonight would also give Strain another feather in his coaching cap.
He would become the all-time winningest coach in the history of Randolph County.
He is currently tied with Watters at 147 wins while coaching a team in Randolph County. All of Watters’s victories came during his legendary run at RCHS from 1979-2000.
Strain won exactly 100 games in his 15 years at Woodland and has added 47 in six years at Handley (he had two wins in his one season at White Plains in between his Randolph County stops).
Here’s the list of the coaches who have won the most games while coaching teams in Randolph County:
Larry Strain (Woodland, Handley) 147
Ron Watters (RCHS) 147
Randy Sparks (Wadley, RCHS) 136
Pat Prestridge (RCHS) 133
(Prestridge had 17 victories in four years at Oakman at the start of his career)
Max Yarbrough (Wadley, Woodland) 115
“That’s a great list,” Strain said. “It’s not just a Wadley thing or a Woodland thing or a Randolph County thing or a Handley thing, and I think that’s what makes it so interesting. Because if you go back and talk about each one of those guys that’s on the list, at some point I can remember in my life that he was the man that everybody recognized, especially from that community. It’s especially nice to be listed in that group of people.”
Strain is already the only coach in the county who has won multiple state championships, and one of only three coaches who have led their teams to a title at all.
Watters went 0-3 in state championship games before winning one as an assistant with Mike Battles at Handley in 2011.
Yarbrough led Woodland to the 1986 title game and lost.
Sparks took Wadley to the state semifinals four times in but was never able to reach the championship game.
And Prestridge is 1-1 when playing for the state championship, having won in 2003 and lost in 2017.
Strain is 2-2 when playing for it all. He took Woodland to the finals twice and lost both times before breaking through with Handley in 2016 and again last year.
Expectations are high for the Handley Tigers this year after winning their second state championship under Strain a year ago and returning a large core of players from that team.
Handley showed flashes of its potential in jamboree wins over RCHS and Chilton County last week, and Guntersville – a 5A team that went 10-1 a year ago and is led by a coach in Lance Reese who is no stranger to success – will put that Handley potential to the test.
The game is on the state’s biggest stage as it is one of two games that will be broadcast statewide by the AHSAA as part of its annual Kickoff Classic.
(Or listen live on ISchoolSportsNetwork.com)
And a win for Handley would not only start their state title defense off on a promising note. It would put the Tigers’ coach in a class all by himself when it comes to coaching success in Randolph County.