By TONY STINNETT, Courier Sports Editor
Oakland High School needed a math teacher and stumbled upon a future Hall of Fame basketball coach.
Who knows, had Randy King not been a math teacher then one of Tennessee's best high school coaching jobs may have never been realized.
Instead, King molded Oakland's boys basketball team into a model of consistency and class during a 23-year head coaching career that culminated with a sterling 552-168 won-loss record and five trips to the TSSAA Class AAA State Tournament.
King, a native of Auburntown, will be inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame during a luncheon at Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro, April 5.
"I was honored when I was informed that I was going into the Hall of Fame," says a humble King, the son of Jim Grady and Glennette King. "It is a special honor. I've received a lot of praise and accolades. I just hope I am deserving of it."
Not only did Oakland win, and win big, under King's leadership from 1985-2008, but it did so with tremendous consistency and downright domination at times. King's Patriots reeled off 20 consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins in the final two decades of his career. They were consistently ranked in the Top 5 of The Associated Press Class AAA Top 10 poll.
His teams were feared, and respected.
King also was respected. The basketball court at Oakland High School is named "Randy King Court," an honor that occurred while he was the Patriots' active coach.
His career was a winning formula but it had to add up. After all, he was a math teacher first.
"I never really told Randy this, but I didn't hire him as my assistant because he knew a lot of basketball. I needed a math teacher," says a grinning Dickie Thomas, who had been elevated to head coach at Oakland when he hired King as an assistant in 1976.
King was in his third season coaching Auburn School when the Knights faced Hartsville in a Saturday afternoon game. Thomas happened to be officiating that game.
"I remember driving out there by myself and I'm thinking, 'Who am I going to get to assist me that can teach math?' I got to the gym and there was Randy," Thomas recollects. "I knew him and knew he was athletic, liked sports and was smart."
King was valedictorian of Auburn's Class of 1969, where he was a standout basketball player, and he attended MTSU on an academic scholarship. Upon graduation from MTSU, King returned to Auburntown and began teaching math and coaching boys and girls basketball at his alma mater in 1973.
Auburntown Mayor and former Auburn School Principal Roger Turney knew King was destined for greatness.
"It was just obvious," Turney suggests. "He had a great rapport with the kids and he was an awesome player. He was a very knowledgeable basketball player. He was destined to do great things. I was not shocked when he made the move to Oakland and eventually became the head coach and had great results."
King spent three years leading his alma mater before he was presented with the opportunity to assist Thomas at Oakland in 1976.
Thomas and King joke about the necessity of needing a math teacher more than a basketball assistant back in the day; however, both agree King's background in the subject aided his coaching career.
"Randy was very analytical about stuff and that was a strong point," Thomas recalls. "That probably is consistent with being a math teacher and doing formulas. There were times we were together and going over scouting. I tended to be one of those that would go scouting and end up watching the game. He was well prepared and always right on it."
King agrees that his love of math and problem solving was evident in his coaching career.
"I always enjoyed sports and playing sports," King shares. "I liked to watch basketball and figure out what guys were doing and what kind of offense they were running and things like that. I really liked it because it was like teaching math, teaching proper models and how you do things, and then practicing and going over it again and again. The test for basketball would be the game. The test in the classroom would be whatever you give the kids as far as objectives covered."
King's teams not only gained statewide respect but they also earned invitations into prestigious out-of-state holiday tournaments because of their reputation as an annual championship contender.
He also earned the respect of his coaching peers.
King is the third Cannon County native to be inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame, joining former Cannon County girls basketball coach Robert A. Harris and Woodbury native Rick Insell, the current head coach of the nationally-ranked MTSU Lady Raiders.
Insell said his wife, Deb, considered moving to Murfreesboro so their youngest son, Matt (the current head women's head coach at Ole Miss), could play for King.
"We had a series of three boys basketball coaches in four years at Shelbyville and my son, Matt, was coming up at that time, and he was a good player," Insell shares. "Because of the uncertainty of the boys program at Shelbyville my wife entertained the idea of moving to Murfreesboro to play for Randy King, even though I was the girls coach at Shelbyville. We wanted someone who cared about the sport. As it turned out Shelbyville hired Kevin Thomas and things worked out but that's how much respect we have for Randy King."
Insell said King's consistency and ability to compete at the state's highest level were great attributes.
"In boys high school basketball for years and years it was that a team out of Memphis was going to win it and that's the bottom line," Insell says. "About the only rural team that competed year-in, year-out was Oakland boys basketball. They were in the Top 10 in the state year-in, year-out and Randy King was the leader of the program. I always admired how hard his kids played. He is just a winner."
King's teams generally always had a chance to be successful because they were always well prepared. The respect he showed all opponents is arguably a key ingredient to his winning formula.
"We worked really hard to make sure our teams were prepared each night," King says. "I never took anything for granted. There were teams we played that I felt we had a pretty good chance of winning, but I always respected the other teams and the other coaches. I didn't have a monopoly on coaching, and I knew it. My assistants were good. Kevin Woodson and Gary Johnson, and others, were great. I get a lot of credit but those guys were tremendous."
King understood the importance of assistant coaches having served as one for a decade under a great mentor in Thomas. That time to learn was a key for King.
"Working as an assistant under (Thomas) was very beneficial," King admits. "I learned so much over the years."
King's first Oakland team won just nine games.
"After being elevated to head coach I remember Randy admitting real quick, 'You know sitting in this seat is much different than the one I'm used to,'" Thomas remembers. "Randy is deserving of everything he is getting. He was a tremendous coach and a tremendous person. I am not the easiest person to get along with, and I don't recall Randy and I ever having a cross word or disagreement."
Tough times did not last long for King and the Patriots.
Oakland won its first of 13 District 7-AAA championships under King in 1990. The Patriots won seven consecutive district titles from 1990-97. They also won seven Region 4-AAA titles.
"In about my third year as head coach we got some really good players in and I guess I became a really good coach," King says, laughing. "I didn't change my philosophy and we were doing the same things, but we had good players. I was just blessed to have good players, good assistants, a good school and a good situation with administrators that were supportive. The fan support was tremendous and the kids really got into basketball. It was a lot of work but it was a lot of fun."
King had the opportunity to coach both of his sons, Kevin and Brennan, during his Oakland coaching career. Kevin played as a sophomore. Brennan was a three-year starter at point guard.
"That was a highlight for me," Randy King says. "To be able to see your sons develop and have the opportunity to work with them in athletics was special."
Behind every good man is a good woman and King also was smart enough to land a Hall of Fame wife in Auburntown native Tyanne (Pitts) King. The couple will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June.
"She has been very, very good," King says. "I have probably been involved in more than 1,200 games and she's probably been there for 80 to 90 percent of those games. She's just very supportive. Coaching can take time from the family and she always understood. She did a great job with the boys. She's just a great person."
King gave up coaching in 2008, but he continues to educate.
King is working at Providence Christian Academy in Murfreesboro, where he teaches math and serves as athletics director.
The veteran mentor is in his 41st year teaching the subject he loves.
And the subject matter that catapulted his Hall of Fame career at Oakland.