NOTE: This is the fifth installment in a series introducing the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015. Look for Myra Miles’ profile Saturday. Tickets for the 25th AHSAA HOF Banquet set for March 23 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center are still available to the public by calling 334-263-6994 by March 16. Tickets will not be sold at the door and mail order ticket deadline has passed.
By BILL PLOTT
A native of Atmore, Steve Jefferson graduated from Escambia County Training School in 1958. He received his bachelor’s degree with a major in history and minor in physical education from Alabama State University in 1962.
He began his teaching and coaching career at Conecuh County Training School in Evergreen where he carried his very first team to the Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament.
He moved to Birmingham in 1967, joining the faculty at Ullman High School. In 1969 he was named head coach of the school’s last football team. Integration closed the high school the following year.
In 1970 he moved over to Carver-Birmingham as head basketball coach and assistant football coach, producing a 15-12 record his first year on the job. His 1972-73 team went to the state tournament with a 27-3 record, foreshadowing great teams to come. Two of the best were the 1977-78 and 1978-79 squads. They won 32 and 30 games, respectively, and back-to-back Class 4A state championships. He was the first Birmingham coach to win back-to-back titles since Simpson’s Dick Webb in 1924 and 1925.
His winning percentage in the 1990s dropped when dwindling enrollment moved Carver from the large-school category down to Class 3A. “Our fans have expected us to continue to compete with the 6A schools. We’re expected to compete with Birmingham’s top teams. I had to adjust my goals from being the best in the city to being competitive. (But) we know now that if we’re competitive we have a chance to win the state championship,” he said in 1997 as Carver set its sites on a Final Four appearance. Of Carver’s 12 losses going into regional play, nine had come against the Birmingham’s top city programs.
During his 28 years at Carver, Coach Jefferson had nine teams in the state tournament. In addition to his two championships, he had runner-up clubs in 1983, 1997 and 1998. His state tournament teams produced 14 all-tournament players. He had seven 20-or-more win seasons including his final two which finished 21-13 and 24-11 in their state runner-up roles.
He was Birmingham City Schools Coach of the Year 10 times and Birmingham Tip-Off Club Coach of the Year twice. He was given the Frank Nix Distinguished Basketball award in 1998. His Carver teams won more than 430 games.
He retired from high school coaching in 1998 but returned to the court in 2003 as head coach at Lawson State Community College where he compiled a 102-26 record.
Former player Eddie Cauthen wrote, “Coach Jefferson was my high school coach. Coach Jefferson was successful in developing his players to be productive citizens in Birmingham and abroad. He was a positive role model who taught life lessons off the court as well as on the court. He required each of us to do our best and exemplify high moral standards. Coach Jefferson has maintained an outstanding reputation among his players and peers and has always been praised for his outstanding character. I’m sure that anyone who‘s ever come in contact with him will agree that he an exceptional man.”
Montgomery CPA Eugene Pitts seconded Jefferson’s exceptionality with this story. “As a former player, I remember my first season playing for him on the freshman team because that year was great. We went undefeated. I had to stop playing basketball to help my mother take of her five kids, me being the oldest of the family. Growing up listening to a song called ‘Patches’ by Clarence Carter, I always knew that was going to be the right thing for me to do because that is what Patches did when his father passed. My father had not passed. He was just not around to help my mom raise us. Coach Jeff would always remind me that when I was ready he had a place for me on the team again.
“Finally, the family was doing better and all of my mom’s kids were big and were helping out. I told Coach I was ready to try out as a senior. He kept his promise and gave me a fair chance.
“I did not want to disappoint Coach. I made the team. Coach stated to the team that I was the best conditioned athlete on the team since I had lapped everyone in our conditioning preparation and played hard on both ends of the court. The lesson taught here to me and my teammates was that there is no substitute for hard work. The lesson taught to me was that Coach Steve Jefferson was a man of his word and that he loved highly motivated individuals. We went on to have a successful 23-7 season in 1977 with only two seniors on that team. In the following two seasons, Carver won back-to-back state championships.
“I know from personal experience that Coach Jeff is a man of high integrity and puts the well-being of his players first.”