Drive, determination fuel Amber Deline’s coaching career
Photos by Mariann Parker and Jim Meadows
Basketball has been a way of life for Hartselle girls basketball coach Amber Deline. She grew up in the small community of Hackleburg, playing against her older brother, Rod.
“He never took it easy on me,” Deline said. “I would spend hours practicing on a dirt court at our house trying to figure out how to score on him.”
That drive and determination have helped make Deline the coach she is today.
She started varsity basketball at Hackleburg High School in the seventh grade. She played six seasons and was named to the 1A All-State team four times. She is the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,637 points.
She was inducted into the Marion County Hall of Fame in 2007, only eight years after graduating high school.
“Individual accolades were never a goal for me as a player,” she said. “My goal as a high school player was to win a state championship and help my team be the best it could be.”
After graduating from Hackleburg, she chose the University of North Alabama to continue her basketball career. She had offers to play Division I but chose UNA for the chance to play from the time she stepped on campus.
“Coach Jeri Porter sold me on the fact that I could come to UNA and play all four years and have an opportunity to help get UNA back to competing for Gulf South Conference Championships,” Deline said. “Another selling point was that it was close to home, and my parents could come to my games.”
While at UNA, she was a four-time All-Gulf South Conference selection, earning first-team honors in 2000, 2001 and 2003 and second-team honors in 2002. She was named the Gulf South Conference Freshman of the Year in 2000 after averaging 17.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game and leading the Lady Lions to a 21-7 record. She left UNA as their all-time leading scorer with 1,688 points (currently third) and all-time leading rebounder with 756. She was inducted into the UNA Hall of Fame in 2014.
While in high school, the idea of coaching was the furthest thing from her mind. Although she enjoyed the game of basketball, she did not want to make a career out of it.
That all changed while she was at UNA, where her coach changed her view on the profession.
“While I was at UNA, I played for a female coach for the first time in my life,” she said. “She had a huge impact on my life, and I could see through her how coaching could be about basketball and relationships. The impact she had on my life is what stirred me into coaching.”
After graduating from UNA in 2003, she joined the women’s basketball program at the University of Montevallo as an assistant coach. She was on the Lady Falcons staff from 2003 to 2006. She joined Samford University’s staff in 2006 and stayed until 2008.
While at Samford, she worked alongside Mike Morris. Morris is the Lady Bulldogs’ winningest coach with 279 career wins.
“Coach Morris made the most influential impact on my coaching career,” Deline said. “I learned so much from him. Most of my coaching philosophies regarding team culture, x’s and o’s, and how to run a program stem from him. I am grateful for the time I got to grow and learn from him.”
She took her first head coaching job in 2008 at Oneonta High School. While at there, she built the Lady Redskins basketball into a state powerhouse. She won a school-record 155 games in six seasons, including a three-year run where her teams were 99-11 from 2011-2014. In addition, her teams won back-to-back 4A state championships in 2013 and 2014.
After winning the 2014 state championship, she left Oneonta to take the head coaching position at James Clemens in Madison. She was the second coach in the Lady Jets program history.
“I thought taking a 7A job was a better opportunity for me as a coach,” she said. “James Clemens is a great school, and I am very thankful for the time I had there, but I found that I tend to fit where there is more of a small town feel and an opportunity to get to know the kids in your youth and middle school programs.”
She compiled a 45-65 record in four years, including the school’s first winning season in her final season.
She left James Clemens following the 2017-18 season to move on from coaching. Instead, she took a job with Marion County Schools as a parent community liaison and assistant principal.
In 2020, she left Marion County to become an assistant principal and athletic director for Winfield City Schools.
In those three years of school administration, I missed coaching and basketball more and more each year. I started looking for the right opportunity to get back into coaching,” Deline said.
In the summer of 2021, she left Winfield to move to Hartselle, where she was hired as an assistant under head coach Gary Orr.
She spent the 2021-22 season coaching at Hartselle Junior High and helping with the high school program. She was beginning to place her stamp on the Hartselle girls’ basketball program.
In February 2022, she was named the new head coach of the Hartselle Lady Tigers basketball program following the resignation of coach Orr. She becomes the Lady Tigers’ fifth coach since 1980 and the first female coach since 1977-78 (Mary Rogers.)
There were a lot of reasons she chose to come to Hartselle, including academics, community support and the kids.
“Whenever I came through Hartselle, I always thought it was a great small town that seemed to have high expectations for its community and school system,” said Deline. She said. “I thought it would be a great place to teach and coach.”
She wants to continue to grow the Hartselle program on and off the court.
“Every coach loves and wants to win, but more importantly, I want these girls that come through our program to feel like they not only became a better basketball player, but that they became a better human being as well,” said Deline. “We want to help them become strong females ready to take on the real world.”
For a kid who thought that coaching was not a career choice she wanted, she has become one of the best in North Alabama. Her competitiveness drives her to succeed on the court, but her relationships with her players drive her career.
“To me, coaching is a calling. I feel like this is where God has called me to serve,” she said. “I truly believe I am to use my past experiences and abilities to pour into these young females through the sport of basketball. Coaching is one of the hardest jobs there is, but if you ever reach just one kid and impact their life, it is also the most meaningful and rewarding job.”