Football’s loss was a major gain for the hundreds of softball, baseball and basketball players who got to play for Chip Liner in the last 30-plus years.
The spring of 2011 was the local coach’s fifth as head of the high school softball program at Silverdale Baptist Academy and his last in a career that dates to 1974. That fall Liner was appointed freshman football coach at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “They needed a body there, so I started out doing that.”
In the spring of 1976, when Pat Woolsey succeeded Jack Archer as LFO’s head baseball coach, Liner moved into the assistant’s position Woolsey had left behind. He considers that the true beginning of his coaching career. Eventually Liner became head coach when Woolsey took the Chattanooga State job.
Heritage baseball coach Eric Beagles played for Liner and graduated from LFO in 1984. He said Liner taught not only the game but the games within the game, and he likened Liner’s demeanor to that of Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“Years after high school I read Coach K’s book,” Beagles said. “One of the things in there was how he thought it was important to show the face your team needed to see. That makes me think of Coach Liner. He’s a fiery competitor, but he was always composed. He always did a very good job of maintaining composure in the midst of a battle.
“Like everybody that coaches you, you hope to take one thing from people. He’s such an individual of character, you don’t just want to pick one thing to try and emulate. He taught me a lot of things over the years that were valuable.”
Liner also spent time at LFO coaching boys’ and girls’ basketball, becoming head girls’ coach in the late 1970s. In ’81 he became the school’s first softball coach — albeit of a slowpitch team.
Starting in the fall of 1995, baseball coach Wendell Clowers became overseer of the slowpitch team while it was being phased out over a three-year period. The school had started a fastpitch team and Liner was ready for a new challenge, although he admitted knowing little about the complexities of the game.
“Somebody threw the ball really fast and you didn’t hit it very often,” Liner said. “That’s all I knew.”
What else he knew was to seek help, and he found it in the form of the Frost Falcons select softball organization. Steve Chattin, currently Heritage’s head softball coach, was coaching an 18-under team with the Falcons and recalled that Liner came aboard the summer before his first fall season of fastpitch.
“He had been a very successful coach already in basketball, baseball and slowpitch softball,” Chattin said. “I think what he was wanting to do with us was learn the nuances, like the bunt game, the short game.”
Said Liner: “My thinking was ‘I don’t want the girls to know more than I do.’”
Liner’s ninth and final season in charge of Lady Warriors softball was right before he retired after spending 30 years in Georgia’s education system. The LFO softball field is named for him.
Encouraged by Bobby Hudgens, an LFO coach before getting into the banking business, Liner ended up coaching softball at David Brainerd, where Hudgens’ daughter, Lauren, was a freshman. Liner coached for three years and taught for two at the now-closed Christian school.
The high school head softball and middle school boys’ physical education positions opened at Silverdale in 2006, and Liner got the opportunity to work with his son-in-law, John Allen, who earlier had been hired as the high school football coach. Allen recently accepted the head football coaching position at Central.
Liner spent one additional season coaching after retiring from teaching at the end of the 2009-10 school year. He fulfilled his promise to Silverdale and stayed five years, but then he felt it was time to walk away.
“It was hard,” Liner said. “I really had to pray about it. I had a good situation. I wasn’t teaching. I was just coaching in the afternoons. Some may not, but I realized it was time. I’ve got to give it up. I’ll be 62 in August and there’s still things I want to do with my life.
“I’ve got two grandchildren here and two living in Nashville. It’ll be nice, like being up there some in the spring and not having to get back for practice. There’s just some other things I want to do. Coaching is just a part of me. It’s what I do; it’s not what I am.”
Liner knows how precious time is and how fortunate he is to have any. He was diagnosed with an aortic dissection after becoming ill at a Silverdale football game on Sept. 19, 2008, and had to be rushed to a hospital for emergency surgery.
Chattin said he and Liner had a long talk last Tuesday at Frost Stadium while they watched the Tennessee-Georgia high school all-star game. And watching is now all Liner wants to do.
“I’d like to see him stay involved in the sport,” Chattin said. “It seems like he’s going to have plenty of free time. I told him he could coach one of our school teams in summer ball. His response was that he had enjoyed our conversations, but he was ready to be a grandfather.”
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.