Austin has a big fan in Stuart Allen
The night before Austin High's boys basketball team played in the Northwest Regional finals last week, former head coach Stuart Allen took the current head coach, Demond Garth, and the lead assistant, Jake Miles, to dinner.
Allen had coached them both at Austin and later hired them as assistant coaches. He watched both grow from a pair of students to a pair of co-workers and friends.
That night, he joked with them that he knew the secret to their successful season.
"I said that it was evident that without me there to screw them up, they've got it going just fine," Allen laughed.
Allen retired into private business at the end of last season after spending 25 years in the city school system, including the previous seven as Austin's boys basketball coach and 10 before that as the program's lead assistant. As a head coach, he won 151 games, and his 2002 team made the Final Four.
As an assistant to Bob Harpe, he helped Austin win a state title in 1993 and make the Final Four in 1996 when Garth and Miles played as seniors.
Even though Allen no longer coaches the program, he has attended "about 75 percent" of Austin's games as the Black Bears have compiled 24 victories, won the Northwest Regionals and advanced to the Final Four.
And he said he couldn't be more pleased to see Garth succeed and with Miles playing a large role.
"I don't think anybody could've done the job with this team that they've done," Allen said.
Garth, 28, took over for Allen despite never having served as a varsity head coach, although he had coached Austin's freshman team for three seasons.
Allen said that even so, he never doubted Garth.
"People talk about 'it,' and as a coach, he's got 'it,' " Allen said. "Watching him not only this year but in three years of coaching the freshman team, he's got a knack for doing the right thing at the right time.
"A lot of coaching is having a feel for things — making a key substitution at the right time, calling a key play at the right time. It's not something you can teach. It's like a player who keeps his head up, sees the floor and passes the ball to the right place. That's not something you can teach a lot of players."
Allen said he didn't need to see Garth coach a single varsity game to know he could handle a major position at one of the top basketball powers in North Alabama.
"You could see it in him as a coach early on," he said.
Allen said he's impressed at the working relationship Garth and Miles have developed.
"They've been real close friends for a long time," Allen said. "But now as head coach, Demond is Jake's boss. That's not an easy thing for Jake, but he's done well in that role. And Jake's role has been a big part of what Austin has done this season."
Allen said he has noticed some similarities from this year's Austin team to the great ones of the recent past.
"Probably the best thing they've done is play hard and play real good defense," Allen said. "All those past teams played that way at the end of the season. But this isn't something that's just happened in the past couple of weeks."
He added that Austin rebounds exceptionally well and pointed out the Black Bears' 11-rebound margin in its Northwest Regional finals win over Sparkman.
"That might be the main stat that jumps out at me," Allen said.
As for Garth and Miles, Allen said he hopes they keep the program rolling like he has been.
And Austin wins and the phone rings, it's probably Allen. He said he enjoys staying updated about his former students, including Garth and Miles.
"We talk probably a good bit more than Demond wants to," Allen laughed. "I probably bug him a lot."