Obituary and Funeral services have been released for Coach Doyle Kelley.
Doyle Devon Kelley
Doyle Devon Kelley, better known to most as “Coach” Kelley, died on September 30, 2016 due to complications related to his diagnosis of AML.
Doyle was born in Frostproof, FL on April 29, 1947 to the late Tolbart and Louise Kelley. Coach Kelley married Barbara “Bo” Humphrey, a native of Savannah, on October 3, 1970. Surviving are his wife and two children Doyle Kelley Jr (Mary) and Danielle Webb (Bill) as well as his grandchildren Joshua, Brian, Jacob, Kelley and Whitaker. He is also survived by his sister Donna Faye Dillard along with many nieces and nephews. In addition to his parents and brother Dale, he was preceded in death by his grandson William E. Webb II.
Coach was raised in a poor, yet hard working family. He helped support the family by working in the citrus groves after school, on weekends, and holidays. These demanding early years were the foundation that established his work ethic that carried him through his life. Only through dedication to his academics and sports was he able to rise above his family background and be the first to attend college.
He attended Brevard Junior College on a basketball scholarship for two years before attending and graduating from Armstrong Atlantic State University in 1969 where he also played baseball and basketball on scholarship. His first job was coaching at Jenkins High School in 1969. In 1973 he began his career at Savannah Christian Preparatory School where he started as head basketball coach as well as coaching football and golf and eventually athletic director. He served as principal of the high school for 14 years until his retirement in 2011. He is most known for his success in coaching, specifically 427 victories in basketball. Combined, he won 18 state championships while at Savannah Christian. Coach was a trusted mentor for the students and a reliable resource for the faculty and administration. In his 38 year teaching and coaching career, he influenced and molded thousands of young adults.
In addition to enjoyment and love of sports and mentoring young people, his greatest passion was his family. He loved his grandchildren and made each of them feel as if they were the only one that existed. His enjoyment for boating and golfing was generously shared with his family and friends. He could always be counted on to help anyone in need and was looked up to for his wisdom and guidance. Though stern and demanding on and off the field, he was loved by many for his leadership qualities and compassion. His large and warm heart was obvious to not only his students and friends, but extended to strangers in need as well.
To all that saw him with his wife Bo, it was obvious he loved her dearly and they were a perfect couple for the past 46 years of their married life.
Visitation and memorial service will be held on Tuesday, October 4th at St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church. Visitation will be from 9:30-11:30am with memorial service following at noon. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests remembrances to Warriors for William Foundation at 21 Crestwood Drive, Savannah, GA 31405 or Savannah Christian School at 1599 Chatham Pkwy, Savannah, GA 31408.
Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Hodgson Chapel
Savannah Morning News Article– Published on Sunday, October 2.
Story by Nathan Deen
Jeff Hart sat on Doyle Kelley’s back porch the night before Kelley was scheduled to leave for Atlanta and undergo a bone marrow transplant, and it was as if Hart was listening to one of his old football coach’s speeches at the Savannah Christian practice field.
In 1982, his first year as the head football coach of the Raiders, Kelley told his players the second week of the season they were going to go undefeated and win a state championship. And they did.
“He laid it all out,” Hart said Saturday. “We’re going to win them all, and here’s how we’re going to do it.”
Thirty-four years later, Kelley was laying out another plan in just the same way — how to beat cancer. He explained it all to Hart and a few other former players whom he had invited to his home that night. It would all start with the transplant. Hart believed Kelley was going to be all right. He was, after all, like a superhero.
He was also a realist.
“But I might die,” Kelley told them. “If it’s my time, it’s my time.”
Kelley’s time came Friday evening. He died at the age of 69, seven months after receiving a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia.
The golden ages of so many schools can be embodied in a single person. Erk Russell at Georgia Southern. John Wooden at UCLA.
Doyle Kelley was that and more at Savannah Christian Prepatory School. Hart, who graduated from Georgia Southern after leaving Savannah Christian, actually once said Kelley looked like Russell after he had lost his hair to chemotherapy.
“Nothing wrong with that,” Kelley replied.
Kelley wore many hats in his 38 years at Savannah Christian. In 1982, he was the school’s head football coach, head basketball coach, head golf coach, assistant principal and athletic director, but that much responsibility didn’t deter him or the Raiders football team from winning its first state championship in the Georgia Independent School Association.
As a coach, he was part of 18 total state championships, and he guided the Raiders football program during its transition from GISA to the tougher Class A level of the Georgia High School Association. He was the head football coach from 1982 to 1991, winning two GISA state titles. He coached basketball from 1973 to 1997, and he coached golf up until his retirement in 2011, a sport in which the Raiders claimed eight state crowns, including five in a row from 1998 to 2002. Kelley spent 14 years as an assistant principal and his final 17 years as principal.
“He was a tremendous member of the Savannah Christian family,” said current Savannah Christian principal and athletic director Ashley Barnwell, who was hired by Kelley in 1996. “He had an impact on the lives of thousands of our graduates.”
The early years
Kelley graduated from Frostproof (Fla.) High in 1965 and attended Brevard Junior College on a scholarship for basketball. He earned his degree at Armstrong State University — then known as Armstrong Atlantic State — where he played basketball and baseball.
Kelley’s son, Doyle Jr., said Saturday that baseball was always his best sport, though he never coached it. Basketball, however, was his passion.
“He always said, ‘I was probably a better baseball player than anything, but I always loved basketball.’”
Kelley got his start as the head basketball coach at Jenkins High in 1969. He was also a football assistant under renowned coach Bubba Atwood at Jenkins.
Shortly after starting at Jenkins, Kelley met his wife, Bo, on a blind date, and the couple married a year later. They were set to celebrate their 45th anniversary on Monday. Their idea of a date was a night at a Savannah Christian game, whatever the sport. While Doyle coached basketball, Bo managed the game clock and barked at the officials if she didn’t agree with a call.
“It was a great life, it really was,” Bo Kelley said Saturday. “We had great times.”
In 1972, Kelley went back to Florida and coached basketball at Auburndale High, where he stayed for one season. During that time, Atwood had moved over to Savannah Christian to help jumpstart the Raiders’ football program. He hired Kelley in 1973 to be his assistant once again and to coach the basketball team. Bo Kelley said her husband always credited Atwood as his most influential coaching mentor.
After a life of moving back and forth, the Kelleys knew they were in the right place at SCPS.
“I think it was the Christian values at Savannah Christian, just the good people he worked with,” Bo Kelley said. “The kids were the main drive. They worked hard, and that’s what Doyle wanted out of kids.”
Tough but fair
Kelley always treated his players with tough love, and he gave everyone a fair shot.
“You didn’t necessarily have to be the most talented person, but he wouldn’t tolerate not giving your maximum effort,” Doyle Jr. said.
And if someone wasn’t giving their best effort, Kelley would let them know it.
Hart said most of his players, including himself, didn’t like Kelley when he was their coach. Hart went home after practice one day and told his parents he was going to quit the team. His mother told him if he wanted to quit, he would have to tell Kelley in person.
“I don’t think that’s the best idea, son,” Hart’s father told him.
It wasn’t until later in life when Hart understood everything Kelley had done for him.
“The older you get, the more you appreciate him,” Hart said. “You have kids of your own, and you start realizing how much he shaped you.”
Even Doyle Jr., who was coached by his dad in three sports, agreed with that.
“I had many people tell me, ‘When I was in school, I hated your dad, but now that I’m a parent, I understand what he was doing and I really appreciate it,’” he said.
Kelley’s impact was felt over more than one generation. The children of many of the players he coached went to Savannah Christian before Kelley retired.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Kelley in my life, I’d be different, my kids would be different,” Hart said. “His legacy has passed down to my kids.”
Away from the field, he lived to serve, and when hard times came, he was there to see people through them. He was there for Savannah Christian baseball coach Carl Carter, who has more than 500 wins in 28 years at the school, when his wife passed away.
“We became close friends,” Carter said. “We both love the water and our boats and he lived right around the corner from me on Wilmington Island, and I keep my boat on his dock. We spent a lot of time on that dock talking about life, and when my wife, Leta, died in 2015, coach Kelley and his family were really there for me,” Carter said. “He was like my brother and my daddy. He was a great friend and we’re all going to miss him.”
“There were so many things that he did for others that no one ever knew about,” Doyle Jr. said.
Kelley shaped the future of Savannah Christian athletics, particularly in football. The Raiders are now a perennial contender in the GHSA under head coach Donald Chumley, who was hired by Kelley in 2005. The Raiders went to three consecutive Class A championship games from 2009 to ’11, bringing home the title in 2011.
“Doyle Kelley was a coach’s coach; a man that believed in respect and honor,” Chumley said. “He gave me my first and only head coaching job. He saw something in me not only as coach but as a leader of young people. He has had a tremendous impact on my life and everyone around Savannah Christian. This is a sad time for the Raider Nation.”
As for golf, Kelley never played the sport until he graduated college. But it’s the sport he won the most championships in, and he groomed players who went on to succeed at the college and the professional level, including PGA Tour player Brian Harman.
“He pretty much taught himself to play,” Doyle Jr. said. “He read books, watched some of the guys on tour. His was probably the mental aspect of it. You’re playing the course and you do the best you can. You control what you do, because you can’t control what other people do.”
The bone marrow transplant didn’t go according to plan. Kelley had been a winner all of his life, but this was a fight that Hart said Kelley knew he wouldn’t win. But death wasn’t his fear.
“If he had any fear, I think his fear was not being there for his family,” Kelley said. “He wasn’t worried about himself.”
When it was clear that the transplant wasn’t making a difference, Kelley resolved to spend as much time with his family as possible. He and Bo came back to Savannah after a visit to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Thursday and visited with their grandchildren. He died less than 24 hours later.
A visitation service will be held from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Saint Peter the Apostle Catholic School and Church, followed by funeral services at noon.
“He really had the opportunity to mold people, and he had a talent for it,” Doyle Jr. said. “I think that’s why the good Lord put him on the earth.”
Savannah Morning News sports reporter Dennis Knight contributed to this report.
Today our Savannah Christian Preparatory School community lost a dear friend and former school leader. Coach Doyle Kelley served in many different roles including principal of our upper school from 1973-2011. More important than his leadership is his investment in the lives of thousands of students who have come through our doors. It is with great fondness that our alumni, teachers and parents remember this wonderful man. Funeral details will be forthcoming. For now, please keep Bo, Doyle Jr., Danielle, Mary, Bill, Joshua, Jacob, Brian, Kelley, and Whitaker in your thoughts and prayers.