Vic Grider career highlights
• Averaged more than 10 wins per season in compiling a 162-43 overall record, winning three state championships (1999, 2007, 2010) as head coach, one other as defensive coordinator (1994). • Won 10 district or region titles. • Coached 14 Mr. Football finalists, 46 all-state players. • The 354 combined wins for him and his dad are the most for any father-son coaching tandem in state history. • While Grider called the offensive plays in 1998, the Pirates led the nation with 51.1 points per game, and since the TSSAA implemented a mercy rule in 2006, Grider's teams beat 53 of the 83 teams they played in that six-year span by the 35-point mercy rule.
SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. -- It was two weeks ago, as South Pittsburg High School administrators began discussing potential football coaching candidates shortly after Tim Moore resigned, that longtime assistant David Hale finally said what many were thinking.
Hale went to athletic director Vic Grider's office, closed the door and spoke from his heart.
"I told him that this program is his family's legacy," said the emotional Hale, who played for the late Don Grider, Vic's father, in the 1970s and later worked as an assistant for both the elder Grider and his son. "His daddy helped build this program and Vic carried it on for years after that. I told him the program was hurting right now and he's the only one who can fix it.
"I just told him what he already knew and what I think everybody in the community wanted."
After brushing away tears, Grider, who had vowed not to coach again at his alma mater when he resigned two years ago, knew he would have to break that promise to himself.
He made it official Tuesday morning in a meeting with the team at the school.
"My feelings for this program are what brought me back," Grider said. "We're hurt right now, but we're not dead. We will get it fixed."
Grider was the Pirates' head coach for 16 years before resigning after the 2012 season. During that time his teams won at least eight games 14 times in compiling a 162-43 overall record, claiming three Class 1A state championships and finishing state runner-up twice. He coached 46 all-state players and 14 Mr. Football finalists.
Before Grider's decision to return, the Pirates roster had dropped to 17 players. Shortly after speaking to that collection of returning players he met individually with nearly 20 other students who were not on the team but who had played previously. By the end of the day, each of those underclassmen had committed to return as well, giving the team nearly 40 players for offseason workouts.
"Some of us were pretty worried whether we were even going to be able to have a team," said lineman Ethan Moss, one of only two returning 2015-16 seniors. "That sounds crazy since football is so big here, but it's true. Once some of the guys walking the halls found out Coach Grider is back, it didn't take long for there to be a lot more interest.
"This will bring stability back to the program. Everybody respects Coach Grider, and people in town will get behind us more with him being back. It's going to be a lot different because he'll demand a lot from us. But this is what needed to happen."
At the time of his resignation the Pirates had had only three head coaches in 50 years, starting with Grider's father, who won 192 games from 1969 to 1992, including a state final. Danny Wilson took over the program from 1993 to 1996, also winning a state title with Vic Grider as his defensive coordinator.
But after decades of consistency, Grider's return marks the third head coach for the program in less than three years. Current Marion County coach Ricky Ross took over for Grider in January 2013 but resigned just two months later. Moore, also an SPHS alum, was hired shortly after Ross's resignation and turned a tough situation into a state-runner-up finish in 2013. The Pirates finished 6-6 this past season, losing in the second round of the playoffs, and Moore resigned two weeks after the season.
South Pittsburg is the only school in the state to have played for a championship in all six decades since the TSSAA began its playoff format. The Pirates have won more state championships (5) and appeared in more title games (12) than any other program in the area, and their 72 playoff wins are 20 more than Dalton, which is the next closest area program.
The 354 combined wins for Don and Vic Grider are the most for any father-son coaching tandem in state history.
"Obviously I'm excited, and I think a lot of other people in our community are too," said Wilson, now the school principal. "There are no words to express how big this is, not just for our football team and our school but for our whole town. When you talk about the excitement around small-town football, that energy feeds the whole community, and that's what we're getting back with Vic."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.