Joe Compton is hard-nosed, no-nonsense, and straight-forward. Those words, told to me by his former assistant at Fitzgerald and Thomson, Jimmy Kilpatrick describe Compton perfectly. He led the Thomson Bulldogs to the state championship in 1968 after succeeding Paul Leroy.
Compton, a native of Syacauga, Ala., played fullback at Alabama and lettered for Coach Red Drew from 1949-51. Joe spent two years in the Army as a transportation officer before making the first of three stops in Fitzgerald, Ga., the first as an assistant for Bill Screws in 1957. He then moved to his first head coaching job in Fairhope, Ala., where his two-year record was 18-2. His 1959 team, which finished undefeated, was recognized by the Birmingham News as the state champion before Alabama established a playoff system. He succeeded Screws at Fitzgerald in 1960. In eight seasons, his record was 55-23-5, which included a runner-up finish to state champion Carrolton in 1964.
His 1968 Thomson team, led by Ray Guy, would finish a perfect 12-0, giving Thomson back to back Class A titles, winning the championship, in a nail-biter, 7-6 over Carrolton.
The 1969 edition of the Bulldogs would finish the regular season 10-0, stretching Thomson’s winning streak to 36 games. The streak came to a heart-breaking end, ironically to Fitzgerald, by a score of 14-0 in the South Georgia Championship game.
Compton moved on, leaving Thomson with a two-year record of 22-1. He spent three years in Canton, N.C., as head coach of Pisgah High School. There, from 1970-72, he would amass an impressive 37-3 record, including another state championship in 1971.
Compton returned to Fitzgerald in 1973 and 74 before taking a hiatus from coaching for 8 seasons, choosing to spend time on his farm. In 1983, he returned to coaching in neighboring Irwin County, where in six seasons he amassed a 44-23 record, which included four region runner-up finishes. His 44 wins remain more than any coach in the history of that school.
Compton’s teams were, like their mentor, hard-nosed and disciplined. They were well-conditioned and lifted weights long before most high school coaches adopted regular strength training as part of their regimen.
Another secret to his success was his use of what many considered to be an outdated offensive system, known as the Notre Dame Box. It works best with a versatilequarterback, taking a shotgun snap from center with the ability to run or pass equally.
There’s really very little new in today’s spread offenses. Its success, like in Compton and Rockne’s system, comes down to the ability of the athletes operating it and the degree of perfection which its coaches demand. As an 11-year-old boy, I once attended one of Compton’s first Thomson practices, and I saw them run the same play for what seemed like an hour before he was satisfied.
The cries of “run it over,” were strangely like those of a man I toiled for during his 19 seasons in Thomson, Luther Welsh. In the 1968 State Championship game in Thomson, both the Bulldogs and the Trojans of Carrolton ran this offense. Compton’s 23-year record as a head coach is an impressive 189-61-5. In his retirement, he has continued to live on his farm and has served on the local Board of Education. You see, it wasn’t just about football.
Compton was also a respected educator who was recognized as STAR Teacher three times.
He is a winner in everything he has undertaken. It’s too bad his stay in Thomson was so brief.