This past week, the Yazoo High basketball Indians painted Mississippi Coliseum bright red, knocking off defending state champion Raymond 53-43 for the State 4A Boys State championship. This week, Coach Anthony Carlyle’s team finished ranked No. 1 among all high school teams in the state.
Nevertheless, today’s story begins 34 years ago when Archie Carlyle, Anthony’s daddy, coached at Northwest Rankin. Archie’s team was playing for the district championship. I was reporting the game from a folding chair on the stage right behind the Northwest Rankin bench. Beside me was a little, bright-eyed four-year old who dribbled a basketball for nearly the entire game. The boy’s name was Anthony, Anthony Carlyle, Archie’s son.
During the game, which Northwest Rankin won big, Anthony would catch his daddy’s glance and Anthony’s eyes would light up in pure joy as if he were riding a bicycle for the first time. Archie would smile back before getting back to coaching. And, boy, is there a story behind the story…
At the time, Archie Carlyle was coaching not only the Northwest Rankin varsity, but the seventh, eighth and ninth grade teams as well. He was commuting from his home in Yazoo City. He was also teaching classes. And he was raising Anthony while his wife, Amanda, was living, barely, at University of Mississippi Medical Center, where she would never recover from multiple sclerosis, an evil, crippling disease of the spinal cord and brain. She died two years later.
After the game, as I was interviewing Archie, little Anthony picked up his dad’s office phone, handed it to him. “Daddy, call Mama,” the little boy said.
By then, Amanda’s illness had advanced to the stage she couldn’t speak on the phone. More to the point, she couldn’t even recognize her husband or her son. But how was Archie going to tell his little boy that?
But Archie Carlyle kept on coaching and kept on raising Anthony. Archie won hundreds and hundreds of games and seven state championships in all. His teams played man-to-man defense as if their lives depended on the outcome. They played a patient, motion offense, but could run when the situation called for it. They just won and won and won. Archie Carlyle was one hell of a basketball coach.
Anthony Carlyle practically grew up in a gym. He watched his dad’s team practice and play for years and then played for his dad, too, by then at Yazoo. The day after Anthony graduated from college he began coaching as his daddy’s assistant at Yazoo City. After several years helping his dad, Anthony moved on to take his first head coaching job at Velma Jackson where he won four state championships, and then on to Columbus where he won another in his only year there.
Then, Yazoo City called and Anthony Carlyle wasn’t sure he wanted to go back home until his dad convinced him. “You can do it here,” his dad told him. “They need you here.”
Yazoo had won eight games the year before Anthony took the job. They won nine his first year and have gotten better every season since. Now, in his fifth season back home, he won the big one. So make that six state championships for Anthony, just one short of the seven his dad won.
But then Anthony Carlyle is just 38. No telling how many he will win. He just wishes his daddy could have been there for this one. But Archie is in poor health, recovering from a stroke and some heart trouble. He couldn’t make it to the Big House last week, so Anthony took him the big gold ball trophy when he got back to Yazoo City.
“Oh man, he was happy,” Anthony said. “He had a big smile. He said, ‘Y’all did it, son. I knew you could.'”
What has the younger Carlyle, who is one hell of a basketball coach, taken from the older?
“A lot,” he answered. “Mostly his defensive principles and his game management.”
I asked Anthony if he and his dad are keeping the father-son score. I mean, his dad still has the lead in state championships seven to six.
Anthony smiled. “Nah, I told him I give him credit for all 13,” the son said. “He gave me the blueprint for how to be successful at this. He gets all 13.”