Cyclone community mourns passing of legendary coach, Dave Rider

Published 8:36 pm Monday, December 21, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It didn’t take long after the word was shared that legendary Elizabethton High School football coach Dave Rider had passed away before social media platform Facebook was being inundated by former players and friends hearing of the devasting news sharing photos and memories of the former head coach who is credited for being instrumental in bringing Cyclone football to where it has come today.

Rider, 82, passed away Sunday evening after an illness. His daughter, Kim, announced her father’s passing on Facebook.

The coaching icon came to Elizabethton High School in 1976 after coaching in Virginia at J.I. Burton and Tazewell.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

At the time Rider took over the Cyclone helm, the Cyclones were playing in a tough Big 10 conference featuring the likes of powerhouses Dobyns-Bennett, Science Hill, and Tennessee High to mention a few.

Under his guidance, the Cyclones had a record of 173-79 even playing against the big boys of the Big 10.

Current Elizabethton Director of Schools Richard VanHuss played for Rider in the 1986-1988 seasons and eventually coached under Rider starting in the 1997 season.

“He was one of the best motivators that I have ever been around,” VanHuss said Sunday evening. “He had the unique ability to be hard but we all knew how much he loved us.

“Sometimes that’s hard to do. He set high standards for his players and those around us. He touched so many people.”

Probably one of the greatest legacies Coach Rider left the Cyclone community was his grandsons – Ryan, Shawn, and Jason Witten who have all left their marks on the lives of young people throughout the United States as a coach or as an NFL superstar.

The Witten boys came to live with their grandfather along with their mother and Coach Rider had the privilege of instilling what it meant to not only be a football player but a man in their lives at a time when they needed it the most.

Today Shawn and Ryan are ultra-successful coaches at Elizabethton and TA Dugger and Jason is a future NFL Hall of Famer.

Rider’s son, Scott, went on to be a successful football coach in his own right.

The same story was told no matter whom one spoke with about Rider in his ability to be tough on his players with high expectations but when someone needed a father figure to step in, Coach Dave Rider was the first to do so.

Eddie Coe said that he had good memories playing for Coach Rider but the best advice he ever gave was when Coe came to his coach and told him that he was joining the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets).

“He said, “Coe, you clear your mind of can’t and you’ll be just fine”,” said Coe upon hearing of Rider’s passing. “Those words stayed with me through my life and career. Clear your mind of “can’t”.”

Eddie Pless, the Elizabethton Board of Education chairman, who played for Rider his senior season and coached under Rider said, “Other than my dad, Coach Rider was one of the most influential men in my life. I am only one of the hundreds that he has affected because he had an impact on so many players.”

Pless remembers the most important part of every contest being the final 15 minutes before kickoff when the locker room filled with people who weren’t just players to hear Rider’s pep speech before kickoff.

“At 7:45, the dressing room was full of people,” Pless reflected. “He never had a bad one – it was a gift. He prepared you all week.

“Then his two to three-minute talk took you to another place. He took us from nervous 17-year-olds to where we were like bring it on – a light clicked and we felt like they should have never got on a bus to come to play us.

“You felt invincible walking out the door.”

Pless went on to add that one felt like Coach Rider would always be around.

“Dave Rider wasn’t just a football coach – he was a farmer,” said David Alan Lacy who played for the Cyclones during the 1985-1988 seasons. “Raising boys and helping to turn them into young men.

“As an educator, he taught those young men how to become productive members of society. He knew very few of us would play in college. He knew we ALL would need to learn how to persevere and be successful men.

“Sports can show and teach you lessons about life. The right coach can make those lessons stick. Thanks for being the right coach.”

Pete Slagle remembers Coach Rider as being the type of guy that you would fight for.

“He treated everybody the same – it didn’t matter who your daddy was you had to earn it,” Slagle said in reflecting back on his head coach. “He was different than coaches are now that’s for sure.

“Coach Rider was emotional. He could give you goosebumps on Friday night and then put the fear of God in you. He was the judge, the jury, and the executioner. He was a good man!”

Slagle remembers that you always had to be clean shaved, no long hair, and no earrings if you were going to play for Coach Rider. He felt like that his coach had learned that you get what you earn when Rider was growing up as a young boy in West Virginia.

VanHuss remembered Rider for being a man that kept up with his players over the years after they left the program and credits Rider with being the reason that he wanted to return to Elizabethton as an educator and a coach.

“Coach Rider embodies everything that is good about Elizabethton,” VanHuss stated. “You can see his fingerprints because everyone had tried to live up to the standards that he set.

“He is really going to be missed.”