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Twenty-nine years at Milligan with Tony Wallingford

Kassi Butcher • May 21, 2020 at 10:00 AM

Tony Wallingford has experienced more success than most during his years at the helm of both the Milligan College golf and men’s basketball programs.

Wallingford began his tenure at Milligan in 1992 and is the all-time winningest men’s basketball coach in Milligan history. His Milligan teams won an impressive nine conference and regional championships and made three national tournament appearances.

He was an Appalachian Athletic Conference coach of the year four times. He left the basketball coaching profession in 2009 ranked 14th nationally among NAIA active coaches in wins with 560 wins in 26 years as a collegiate head coach (21.5 wins per season).

Wallingford resurrected the men’s golf program in 1992 and established the women’s team in 2010. Wallingford’s men’s teams have captured seven AAC championships, two NAIA Regional titles and made two NAIA National Championship appearances. The Buffs have finished in the top two spots in the AAC 12 times. Wallingford led his 2013 Buffs team to conference and regional titles and placed 14th at the NAIA National Championship in Salem, Oregon.

In the 10 seasons of the women’s golf program, the Buffs have made five NAIA National Championship appearances, won a total of 26 tournaments, captured four NAIA Direct Qualifiers, won four regular-season conference titles, and have had a streak of 34 straight months in the NAIA Women’s Golf Coaches Top 25 Poll. In nine of the program’s 10 years, the women’s team has been ranked in Golfstat’s top 50.

Wallingford has been named AAC men’s coach of the year four times and was twice tabbed the NAIA Regional Coach of the Year. Wallingford has been named the AAC Women’s Coach of the Year four times.

Below, Wallingford discusses his time at Milligan between his years on the court and on the green:

Q: What was it like bringing back the men’s golf program, and starting up the women’s program?

A: All the credit for resurrecting the men’s golf program goes to Mr. John Derry, who was our dean of students at that time in the early ’90s. Mr. Derry had started a club team, then handed it over to me with the opportunity to move the program to an intercollegiate sport. At that particular time, all of our coaches had two duties and it was not uncommon to be a multi-sport head coach. I was excited and truly considered it a blessing to be able to coach the men’s basketball team and the men’s golf team. My golf team guys always joked that I was much nicer to them and never yelled at them like I did the basketball team! In 2009, I stepped away from men’s basketball and President Jeanes gave me the opportunity to start the women’s golf program. Honestly, I loved the challenge of starting and developing both the men’s and women’s golf programs. Because of my passion for coaching and my love for Milligan, it was a fun and very satisfying experience.

Q: What are some of your favorite memories from coaching?

A: I have been a college coach since 1979, so I have 41 years of fun memories! My favorite memories seem to be in categories and in different stages of my coaching career. I have so many great memories of players, fun memories of certain teams, great memories of specific moments, or specific wins, or championships. But, when you reach my age and experience, you boil it all down to one thing — the special relationships you have and have had with your players. Nothing makes my day more than to get a call, an email, a note, or a visit from one of my former players. I have a folder that I keep in my desk with lots of notes, letters and cards from my former players. When I find myself in a moment of discouragement, I pull that folder out and read some of those notes that quickly remind me of my real purpose and calling in coaching.

Q: While coaching basketball at Milligan you had multiple teams that saw a lot of success. How does it feel to see the program, to which you dedicated so much time, continuing with the tradition of success?

A: My heart will always have a special spot for Milligan men’s basketball. Early in my career I read a book by a football coach named Frosty Westering titled, “Make the Big Time Where You Are.” While many of my coaching friends were on a mission to coach at NCAA Division I and II colleges, for me, Milligan was where I wanted to be — it was our big time! I am happy for all the success Coach Robinson’s teams have had. My hope for them is that they exceed the success of the past. 

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a coach?

A: There are many rewarding aspects to coaching. I love to pour everything I have into a group of young men and young women, climb with them over all the bumps and obstacles of a season, and watch them grow individually and as a team. Grow not only technically (skill), but mentally, emotionally and spiritually as well. When that comes together, you have a sense of accomplishment. 

Q: What coaching philosophy have you held onto over the years?

A: My philosophy continues to evolve and hopefully improve with experience. I want to be a better coach each year. Some of the items that I have embraced throughout the years are that I want to be a caring, mentor/role model to my players. I have always strived to be the best I can be technically in my sport. I have always been a disciplinarian with a hope and a goal that my players would become self-disciplined. Also, while we live in an era of “everyone gets a trophy,” I have always imparted and emphasized a strong desire to win with my teams. I have embraced, emphasized, and demanded a team attitude. This can be a bit of a challenge in a so-called individual sport like golf. And finally, my ultimate goal is that by providing intentional exposure to God’s word and the principles of Christian living, each player would grow and mature spiritually.

Q: What are you looking forward to next season with your team?

A: I am excited about next year’s teams! On the men’s side, we have every player returning from a team that showed flashes of outstanding potential. Add to that three quality recruits and we should climb the ladder in the AAC. On the women’s side, again, lots of experience returning from a team that finished the season ranked No. 24 nationally. Two outstanding recruits will add competitiveness to our squad.

Q: What is your biggest piece of advice for your athletes, and athletes at Milligan in general?

A: Go for it! Immerse yourself in your sport and your team. Enjoy the process of striving to be the best you can be! Have no regrets. Play without fear of failure! While working toward perfection is necessary, demanding perfection of yourself is deadly! Love your teammates and get that satisfaction of being part of something bigger than yourself. Finally, have fun! It’s a game! Enjoy one of the greatest experiences of your life!

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