The world Gilbert Adams left behind is nowhere near the same as it was when he took his final breath 48 years ago.
Man has walked on the moon, the NFL has played 48 super bowls and nine Presidents and five Popes have served since that time.
But one thing that hasn’t changed is the love and respect the former Oxford High coach earned in his lifetime. Memories of him have stood the test of time without fading, and on Saturday, they will become immortal. He will be inducted into the Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame class of 2014.
“It’s the love and respect that’s put him in,” said Saundra Smith, Adams’ daughter. “To me, that’s what the night will be all about — love and respect for my dad. … I feel that he would be so honored to be so love and respected after 48 years.”
It is typical for a coach to downplay any praise and redirect all the praise to their players. His former player and assistant coach Jack Grizzard does not mind returning the favor after all these years. Grizzard has the unique opportunity to join his coach in the Hall of Fame as he will also be inducted with the 2014 class. It’s an honor Grizzard called great.
“I feel so honored to go in with Coach Adams,” Grizzard said, “especially since I nominated him. It’s quite an honor to go in with your high school coach. I was able to work with him for five years as an assistant coach. It’s just an honor beyond words. He meant more to me than any man except my father.”
Adams, a native of Wadley, spent two years at Southern Union junior college before entering World War II as an airman in 1942. He was discharged in 1945 and enrolled at Jacksonville State Teachers College. He graduated in December 1947.
Oxford coach Bill Finch resigned at the end of the fall semester and Adams was hired as the replacement and took over the basketball program immediately. He bested Alexandria 36-32 on the road in his first game as coach.
He led unseeded Oxford to the quarterfinals of the big school Sixth District tournament that year. No. 4 Gadsden eliminated the Yellow Jackets, but the next year, they were Sixth District runner-up and earned their first of four trips to the state tournament in Adams’ 13 seasons as head basketball coach. Oxford won the Sixth District tournament and advanced to the state tournament in 1951, 1952 and 1955.
In 1952, Oxford won the inaugural Calhoun County basketball tournament. The Yellow Jackets won three straight games, the third a 58-54 victory over Alexandria, to claim the championship. The Yellow Jackets won the county tournament again in 1955 and 1956.
Adams coached his final season in 1960, leading Oxford to runner-up to Alexandria in the county tournament. That same year, Oxford was the No. 3 seed in the Sixth District tournament and lost to No. 2 Alexandria in the semifinal round before winning the consolation game and finishing 23-5.
“He had some fine basketball players,” Grizzard said. “I nominated him on his basketball record. … He had a great basketball record. He was one of the most outstanding district coaches in the county.”
It took Adams a little longer to find traction as Oxford’s football coach. His best seasons came in 1955 and 1956.
In 1955, Jacksonville gave Oxford its only loss 13-12. The powerful Anniston Bulldogs could manage only a tie. Oxford was 7-1-1 in the regular season. In the Turkey Bowl charity game that year, the Yellow Jackets avenged their lone defeat with a 33-7 win over Jacksonville.
In 1956, Anniston managed to hand Oxford a loss, but it was the only team to do so. Oxford finished 8-1-0 in the regular season. The Yellow Jackets ended their regular-season schedule with a 21-6 win over Alexandria to earn the school’s first Calhoun County football championship. Six days later, Oxford defeated Alexandria 13-0 for its second straight Turkey Bowl crown.
In 1959, Adams led Oxford to a 6-3-0 record after a winless season in 1958. He was named Calhoun County football coach of the year by his peers in his final season as head football coach.
Adams left Oxford after the 1959-60 school year and never coached again. He became the diversified occupations teacher at Anniston High, a position he still held when he died unexpectedly in June 1966 at age 45.
By that time, Adams had cemented a legacy of a great coach and an even better person. It is a legacy that has stood the test of time.
“He was just a great person,” Grizzard said. “I remember him buying sweaters for kids who didn’t have money to buy them. He was just an outstanding person.”