Former Montevallo, Calera coach Richard Gilliam dies in car accident

Published 11:28 am Monday, April 5, 2010

Former Montevallo High School and Calera High School athletic coach Richard Gilliam passed away following a two-vehicle accident April 3, said Montevallo girls’ basketball coach Tena Niven.

Gilliam, 71, was responsible for the successful integration of the Bulldogs’ football team in 1973 and the school renamed its football field Richard Gilliam Field in 2006. During his time at Montevallo, Gilliam also coached baseball and basketball.

Gilliam was killed in a head-on collision Saturday afternoon in Chilton County. Another person was injured in the accident.

“He’s just so loved,” said Niven, who played under Gilliam at Montevallo. “He had a tremendous influence on me. He influenced tons of kids. He meant a lot to both the Montevallo and Calera communities.”

Montevallo High School softball coach Ronnie Holsombeck, who played football for Gilliam at the school, said Gilliam had a tremendous influence on all of his former players.

“I think I speak for just about every athlete who ever played for Coach Gilliam when I say that next to my father, he has been without question the most influential man in my life,” Holsombeck said. “I would not be a coach, a teacher, or even a decent human being without the lessons in courage, hard work, and Christian love that he taught me.”

Gilliam’s visitation will be held Tuesday from 5-8 p.m. at West End Baptist Church in Clanton. Gilliam’s funeral will be held at the church Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Gilliam, who retired from coaching in 1988, began his career as a coach and educator at Verbena. Gilliam coached at Verbena for five years, then left the school for a 7-year stint at Calera High School.

Gilliam joined Montevallo as an assistant football coach in 1972 before taking over the head coaching position from Paul Woolley in 1973. Between 1973-1988, Gilliam compiled an overall record of 84-75-1, with his best overall seasons coming in 1976 and 1983 with overall records of 10-2.

Gilliam retired from coaching in 1988, but stayed at Montevallo through 1993 as a teacher before retiring as an educator. From 1996-2006, he served as a volunteer middle school basketball and football coach at Briarwood Christian School.

On Friday, September 15, 2006, Montevallo High School honored the former coach by renaming the field Richard Gilliam Field at Theron Fisher Stadium prior to Montevallo defeating Marbury 27-12.

Montevallo High School was in turmoil as racial tensions escalated because of recent integration when Gilliam came to the school in 1972, Niven said. In a time when no one wanted the job and the athletic program as a whole seemed to be in ruins, Niven said Gilliam took the challenge.

“I felt I needed to step forward, and work with God in bringing the athletes closer,” Gilliam said before the ceremony to rename the Bulldogs’ field in his honor.