In the span of just three months, two of the Chattanooga area's most revered prep football programs have undergone major changes.
It began in November with Wayne Turner's exit from Tyner after 30-plus years, and on Monday South Pittsburg's Vic Grider — one of the most successful coaches in state history — announced his retirement from his alma mater.
The area's prep football landscape will have a different look this fall with those two veteran coaches patrolling the sideline for new programs. Turner has already been hired as an assistant at East Hamilton, and Grider, who was recently one of two finalists for the head coaching job at Dalton High, acknowledged that he also intends to look at other coaching opportunities.
"You get to a point in your career, and at my age, where you have to look at what's best for your future and the time was just right for me to go ahead and retire," said Grider, who is also the school's assistant principal and athletic director. "This is the only place I've ever known so even though I knew the time was coming, it was still a hard decision for me.
"I've been blessed to spend the last 30 years of my life at a place I love, getting to make more great memories than I can ever name in a community that I love and that has always supported us."
While Turner was in charge of Tyner since 1991, the Chattanooga area's 38 other Tennessee teams combined to make 227 coaching changes during that span. During that time the Rams qualified for the playoffs in 27 of Turner's 30 seasons, reaching the state championship game three times, including in 1997 when they became Hamilton County's first public school to claim a title.
South Pittsburg's success — reaching at least the semifinals in 15 of the 30 years Grider was on staff — has been built on similar stability.
A member of the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, Grider compiled a 232-54 overall record (81-percent winning clip), with his teams claiming three Class 1A state championships (1999, 2007, 2010). Twice the Pirates finished championship seasons with 15-0 records and he was also the defensive coordinator for the program's 1994 title team.
Grider's teams also finished state runners-up three times — 2009, 2011 and 2020, with the Pirates finishing 13-2 last season.
Last week Tyner named Tyrus Ward as its head coach and South Pittsburg is expected to move quickly in finding Grider's replacement.
"It feels weird now that he's actually made the decision, and for a lot of us who grew up here, not having a Grider at the helm will leave a big hole to fill," South Pittsburg principal Tim Bible said. "We will put together a committee to find our new coach because that's a decision that doesn't need to fall on just one person."
Under Grider, the Pirates were 93-10 against region opponents with 14 region titles. His teams won 10 or more games 16 times in his 22 seasons as head coach, failing to win at least 9 games only three times and missing the playoffs just once.
Grider also served as the offensive play-caller throughout his time as head coach, with the Pirates averaging 39 points per game in that time. Since the TSSAA implemented a 35-point mercy rule in 2007 — in which the clock runs non-stop in the second half once one team takes a lead of at least 35 points — 99 of South Pittsburg's 139 wins during that time under Grider have come by the mercy rule.
His 1998 team led the nation by averaging 51.1 points over 14 games.
During Grider's two-plus decades as head coach, South Pittsburg suffered through just two losing seasons — by far the fewest among the Chattanooga area's TSSAA teams. That model of consistency is even more impressive considering it was accomplished at a 1A school with fewer than 150 male students enrolled annually, and in a rural area where the other two county schools combined to have 21 seasons with a losing record — Marion County 6, Whitwell 15.
His career record against cross-county rival Marion County is 16-6, including five straight victories and wins in 12 of the last 13 meetings.
"That's the thing I'm most proud of, our consistency," Grider said. "We found a way to be in the hunt year after year and that's pretty rare. There's something very special about this place and I'm smart enough to know it's not like this everywhere."
Grider coached 18 Mr. Football finalists, 66 all-state players and he and his father, the late Don Grider, are the winningest father-son tandem in state history with 424 combined wins.
Grider stepped away from coaching for two years in 2012 but returned after the roster dropped to just 17 players at one point. Since his return the roster size more than tripled and South Pittsburg has gone 72-12, with nine of those losses coming to an eventual state champion or runner-up. In the six years since he returned, the Pirates have reached the semifinals three times, quarterfinals twice and lost in the state title game last season.
"When I came back, I made it a point to have a different relationship with our players," Grider said. "I had a health scare with having to go through heart surgery and I think after that I was a more level-headed coach. It wasn't just all about winning. I wanted to talk to the kids about other things outside of football and I tried to put a loss in perspective that in the bigger picture it wasn't the most important thing.
"South Pittsburg will always be my home, regardless of where I go from here. And nobody wants this program to be successful more than me so I will always be its biggest supporter."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis
Vic Grider coaching highlights at South Pittsburg
* In 22 seasons as head coach, he compiled a 232-54 overall record.
* The Pirates made six Class 1A state championship game appearances, winning three titles.
* His teams were 93-10 against region opponents with 14 region championships.
* Since the TSSAA implemented a 35-point mercy rule in 2007 the Pirates invoked it in 99 of 139 wins.
* His 1998 Pirates led the nation in scoring, averaging 51.1 points per game.
* Compiled a 16-6 record against rival Marion County, winning the last five and 12 of the last 13 meetings.
* Coached 18 Mr. Football finalists and 66 all-state players.
* He and his dad, the late Don Grider, are the winningest father-son tandem in state history with 424 wins.