MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Huntingdon College women's basketball coach Buzz Phillips officially announced his retirement from collegiate coaching on Thursday.
Phillips, who is on medical leave, will retire from Huntingdon at the end of the school year.
"I've enjoyed all of my years at Huntingdon," Phillips said. "There's always good and bad in anything, but I think I've had a lot more good here at Huntingdon than I've had bad. I've met a lot of good people and it's gratifying to know you have people around that care about you like I have here at Huntingdon. Even though I will be gone, I know I can come back and see people and still get a smile.
"I'm going to miss coaching. I'm going to miss it a lot. There are going to be some challenges that I will face, not being able to coach every day, and it's going to be friends and people like I just described who help me get through this."
Huntingdon Director of Athletics Mike Turk said Phillips made a lasting impact on Huntingdon. It's an impact that isn't just judged by wins and losses, but on lives touched.
"I want to personally thank Buzz for all he has done for Huntingdon College, and also for me. Buzz is a large part of the reason I came to Huntingdon 15 years ago," Turk said. "He has touched many lives during his time here as a coach, athletic administrator, mentor and friend to all who came in contact with him. I am thankful for our time together and I know Huntingdon College is a better place because of Buzz Phillips' time here."
Phillips spent 25 of the past 28 years at Huntingdon. During his only time away from Huntingdon during that span, he spent three years at his alma mater, Troy University, as the Director of Operations for football, basketball and baseball and the athletic department's Director of Special Events.
"When I first came to Huntingdon, I was very happy to be in a college environment, but I never thought I would stay in college athletics this long," Phillips said. "I was taken care of very well here and at Troy. Working for good people makes a difference and the years just went by. Huntingdon and Troy are both special places to me.
"The Lord has been good to me. He has put me in the right places. He's allowed me to do something I wanted to do, He's helped me do it and I've been fortunate to do it for a long time. I look back and I have some great memories."
At Huntingdon, Phillips has served in several capacities. He began his time with the Hawks as an assistant baseball coach (1991-96). He helped restart the men's basketball program, served as Director of Athletics (2004-13) and coached the women's basketball program for 12 seasons.
"Coach Phillips has had a significant and positive impact on me during the past 25 years," Huntingdon head baseball coach D.J. Conville said. "He recruited me here from junior college in the spring of 1994 when he was the assistant baseball coach. So, he brought me to Huntingdon College.
"Since then, I have had the pleasure of playing for him, working for him and working alongside of him. He is first class. He is a wonderful friend and he has always been great to me. I truly appreciate the impact he has had on me."
While Phillips has had an impact in every role he has taken on, his success on the basketball court stands apart. After restarting the men's basketball program, Phillips led the Hawks to the 2001 National Small College Athletic Association national championship. He was named the NSCAA Coach of the Year that season. For 10 full seasons and parts of two other seasons, Phillips guided the Huntingdon women's basketball program.
"It was a privilege to play for Buzz," said Tiffany Jordan, a member of the Huntingdon Hall of Fame and the Great South Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 2006. "It didn't matter if you were male or female, or a Division I or a Division III athlete. When you played for him, he was going to treat you the same. He got onto us and loved us just like we were his own."
To put Phillips' success with the women's basketball program in perspective, the Lady Hawks have won 186 games since their first official NCAA season in 2004-05. Phillips was at the helm for 164 of those wins. He finished with a record of 164-129 at Huntingdon and has a record of 590-328 at the collegiate and high school level.
"From the time I entered Huntingdon as a freshman in 2011 until I graduated in 2015, Coach Buzz became more than just my coach. He became my family," said Pat Pickens, the Lady Hawks' all-time leading scorer. "It saddens me that the time has come for his retirement because I know of his love for the game of basketball. We made history together, we laughed, we cried and we overcame obstacles together. As a freshman, my goal was to earn his trust and once I did that, my goal became to always keep his trust. I played my heart out for him every single game. He was a great coach and he is an amazing human being."
Since the program's beginning during the 1998-99 season, the Lady Hawks have won at least 15 games in nine seasons. Phillips coached seven of those teams, including an NCAA Tournament team in 2013 and a 20-win team in 2016-17.
"Winning a conference championship, going to the NCAA Tournament and setting records is only a small portion of what I've experienced with him," said Paige Huff, who played for Phillips for two seasons and joined his staff as an assistant coach before the 2012-13 season. "Coach Phillips has had a positive influence on so many people. He builds genuine relationships with people that will last a lifetime.
"He also blessed me with the opportunity to coach college basketball at this school and that has had a huge impact on my life. It has been very rewarding to work with him and learn from him over the years."
Huff will serve as the interim head coach this season. The Lady Hawks open the season on Friday in Pensacola, Fla., against Florida College.
For Phillips, the relationships and seeing his players succeed in life is just as important as any success on the court has ever been.
"Going to the NCAA Tournament and setting the program record for wins with the women and restarting the men's program and winning the NSCAA national championship, those are some great memories," Phillips said. "But, as much success as we've had on the court, seeing these players go on to success after basketball is what is really satisfying. Getting a kid in here as a freshman and seeing them develop as a player, as a student and as a person so they can be successful in life, that's what really counts."
What they're saying about Buzz Phillips
Senior Huntingdon women's basketball player
"You only get to meet so many people in life that impact you in a positive way. He genuinely cares about each of us as if we were his family. I know that even though he's no longer coaching us and sharing his knowledge of basketball with us, we can still count on him to be there to cheer us on in the stands."
Former All-Region selection and three-time All-Conference selection
"My four years at Huntingdon were filled with highs and lows. The one constant was Coach Buzz and the faith and confidence he had in my playing abilities. Huntingdon will lose a piece of its heart with Coach Buzz's retirement. One thing is for certain, he will be in our hearts forever. Thanks for everything, Coach."
First Lady Hawk inducted into the Huntingdon Hall of Fame
"When I tore my ACL, my family and I discussed transferring. But Buzz, being the family man that he is, told my mom to leave me at Huntingdon because he would take care of me. To this day, he continues to do that. When I see him or talk to him, he encourages me both in my coaching career and my pursuit to be a college coach.
"Thank you Buzz and Mrs. Nancy for taking care of the athletes like your own children. For a person who was not close to home, it meant the world to me to have people who were like family. You were a true blessing and example of what a coach should be like. May God bless you in the next chapter of your life."
Head women's basketball coach at Piedmont College
"I am going to miss seeing Coach Phillips on the sidelines. He has been a mentor to me and is always very encouraging and supportive. I truly value his friendship and guidance over the years and look forward to continuing that relationship."
Head women's basketball coach at Maryville College
"Through the years, we've had some great games, close calls, and real battles. But every time we played each other, Buzz always found a way to greet every player, coach and trainer as soon as we got off of the bus or walked in the gym. His genuine kindness, affinity for kids and love of the game are attributes that all of us should possess.
"One story I wish to share is this one. We opened our home schedule last season with Huntingdon. It was the first chance we had to celebrate the life of Brittany Johnson, a player we tragically lost just as the school year opened. When Buzz and his team walked in the gym, they all wore yellow ribbons, Britt's favorite color, to honor her memory.
"I tried very hard to thank him and I just choked up. But in true Buzz style, he grabbed me, hugged me and said, "I know, my friend." I have thought so many times about how fortunate Buzz's players are to have a mentor like him in their lives."