Centerville scored big when it hired Bill Hunter as its football coach in 1989. Hunter, who had a reputation for rebuilding struggling programs, inherited a team that had been outscored 458-0 the previous year. A dozen years later Centerville had a record-setting 10-2 district championship season as Hunter retired to Hilltop Lakes. Centerville has kept on winning, including 10 straight playoff trips.
“Coach Hunter was the foundation,” said former Centerville head coach Keith Gardner, who replaced Hunter. “He started the winning tradition here, and all kudos should go to him. I was just proud to be on his staff and witness the things he did with the kids and with the athletics program.”
The 84-year-old Hunter died Friday.
He was an assistant at Whitney and Tidehaven then a head coach for 42 years, going 223-213-4 with stops at Hardin, Coldspring, Alief Hastings, Grand Saline, Colmesneil, Bruceville-Eddy and Maypearl.
“Everywhere he went, he felt it was a calling from God to go into a program that was kind of down and out and build it into a better program than it was when he got there,” Gardner said. “No telling what he could have done if he went into a program that was already semi-established, because he was that quality of coach. He would have gotten his state championship, no doubt in my mind.”
Hunter worked wonders at both Bruceville-Eddy and Centerville.
Bruceville-Eddy had an all-time winning percentage of 37.8% before Hunter arrived. He went 34-23 (59.6%) in five seasons, reaching the playoffs twice. It took Bruceville-Eddy 32 years to reach the playoffs after Hunter left.
He saved his best for last. Centerville hadn’t made the playoffs since 1969. Hunter rebuilt the third 0-10 scoreless team in UIL history into a playoff team by his fourth season.
“Centerville was about as low as a place could get when he got here,” current Tiger head football coach Kyle Hardee said. “This community loved him, supported him, and he fell in love with this community.”
Hunter went 67-57-1 at Centerville.
“He had the ability to make those kids believe in themselves, thus the community started believing it,” Hardee said. “He built confidence in people. He helped them realize how good they could be.”
Centerville and Hunter were made for each other, Gardner said.
“Coach Hunter fit right in,” Gardner said. “He was good with kids. The kids battled for him. The kids appreciated what he did. The coaches appreciated what he did.”
The Texas High School Coaches Association’s motto is “to help and serve our Texas high school coaches as they work to help and serve our student-athletes.” Hunter took that a step further by turning men into boys, Gardner said.
“He was that type of guy,” Gardner said. “A great, great man. I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Gardner was an assistant for eight years under Hunter. Things stayed pretty much the same after Gardner became head coach.
“The entire staff stayed,” Gardner said. “We might have had to replace maybe one coach. When it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
Gardner left Centerville after three seasons for Alto. Hardee, who also was the boys basketball coach, was elevated to head football coach. Hunter came back and served as Hardee’s offensive coordinator for four seasons.
“What a faithful man he was,” Hardee said. “He was my mentor. I worked on his staff for 10 years. Like all of us football coaches, he wanted to win football games, but first and foremost, he wanted to develop fine young people and prepare them for life. I’m just not saying that — that’s the way he believed. He had such high character.”
Hardee’s last long conversation with Hunter happened while Hardee returned from the state track meet where the Centerville boys tied for fifth in Class 2A.
“He loved to hear about the kids’ accomplishments,” Hardee said. “Me and coach talked quite frequently. He was a big supporter of Centerville athletics and our students in general.”
Hunter had the ability to be tough, because players knew how much he cared for them, Hardee said.
“He preached forget about the last play, let’s get this next one and play it like it’s your last play,” Gardner said. “That stuff rubs off on kids. They’re able to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. We were able to hang in those ballgames and pull a lot of those close ones out. That’s Coach Hunter, just keep battling.”
Hardee and Gardner said Hunter wanted students to succeed in everything.
“It wasn’t just football,” Gardner aid. “Bill wanted to be successful in everything he did.”
Hunter thrived on competition.
“He wanted people to say, ‘Uh-oh, we gotta play Bill’s team,’” Gardner said. “Our kids battled. There were years we didn’t have a whole lot of talent, but we were going to battle anybody.”
Hunter also was a good teacher for coaches.
“At one time in my coaching career, I thought it was all about the Xs and Os,” Gardner said. “But Coach Hunter taught me character is what we’re after. You can’t do anything if you don’t have character. He put the finishing touches on me as a head coach.”
Hunter’s confidence permeated in others, which allowed him to turn around struggling programs, Gardner said.
“He knew he could get it going, and he wouldn’t take any credit for himself,” Hardee said. “He knew it was about the kids. He built that belief. Those kids suddenly started believing in themselves and good things started to happen. Thankfully, his legacy lives on here and good things are continuing to happen. We’re going to miss him. We’re going to miss those conversations. We’re going to miss seeing him around the ballparks.”
Hunter epitomized character, Gardner said.
“You’ve never met a man who had more character than Coach Hunter did,” Gardner said. “He was a great example for the kids and for the coaches and for the entire community. When you hear the words ‘world class,’ his name is the first one that pops into my mind. He’s that big and that great of a man. He was a mentor to all of us. He’s going to be sorely missed as a friend and a colleague.”
Visitation for Hunter will be from 5:30-7 p.m. Friday at Walters Funeral Home in Centerville. Services will start at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home with burial at Centerville Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Centerville athletics in honor of Hunter at 813 South Commerce, Centerville, 75833.