One of the enduring images of Tanner boys basketball games is of head coach Chris Whitt squatting down in front of the bench, hand on his chin watching his players.
It is an image fans of North Alabama basketball will no longer see after Whitt announced his retirement from coaching Tuesday following a period of success that includes 586 wins, 13 state tournament appearances and two state championships in 26 seasons.
Whitt coached at Tanner for 30 years, spending the last 26 as boys head basketball coach and becoming a legendary coaching figure across North Alabama.
“You do something for 30 years, and it feels different,” Whitt said. “I can kind of take a deep breath right now. Thirty years is a long time to do something, and I am kind of worn down a little bit. I just think it's time for somebody fresh to come in.”
In addition to the state tournament appearances and state titles in 2011 and 2013, Whitt guided Tanner to 12 Limestone County championships and a staggering 21 consecutive trips to the Northwest Regional tournament in Hanceville. The streak continued this past year, with the Rattlers bowing out in the regional semifinals in a 52-41 loss to Vincent, which turned out to be Whitt's final game as coach.
Whitt retired from his teaching position at Tanner last year and said he considered retiring as basketball coach as well. But he said he wanted to coach this year's senior class one final season.
“J.J. (Jones), Malik (Atkins), DaShaun (McNabb), those guys have been with me quite a while,” Whitt said. “They have done so much for the program. I had considered retiring last year but thought I would stick with those guys, and I'm glad I did.”
While Whitt enjoyed his final season as coach, he said he has no regrets leaving it behind.
“Somebody said you would know (when it was time),” Whitt said. “Toward the end of the season, I thought this has been a whole lot of fun, but it was time to relax a little bit.”
Whitt said his top coaching memory will always be the 2011 state championship game, when the Rattlers came from behind to beat Barbour County.
“You can't put that 2011 state championship game below anything,” Whitt said. “I had waited 17 years, had both my sons on the team and my nephew on the team. We weren't supposed to win that game at all. Barbour County was like a small college team. We were down 13 to start the fourth quarter, but somehow, some way, those guys willed us to a win.”
Whitt said he is at peace with his decision, but that doesn't mean he won't miss the sport when the 2020-2021 season comes around.
“I told somebody I'm not sure I can go to a basketball game early on,” Whitt said. “December was not a lot of fun because the basketball usually wasn't that good, but when February rolls around, it's going to be tough. Something would just always click for us in February, and that's when I'm really going to miss it.”