David Pierce will have a new role in his 31st year with Northwestern football.
The longtime assistant coach was unveiled as the Trojans’ new head football coach during a Tuesday morning press conference at the school.
“I was the guy that when I was 9 years old, I mailed Don Shula plays,” said Pierce, smiling. “So being a coach was something I’ve always wanted to do my whole life.”
Pierce has paid his dues at Northwestern, coaching linebackers, and both lines, most recently on the defensive side. Jimmy Wallace brought him to the school from Lewisville in 1987 as a 24-year old and Pierce has stuck around ever since, helping coach the Trojans to five state titles during 30-year span.
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“Was it my dream to some day be a head coach? Yes,” said Pierce. “Why did I stay here and not go anywhere else? Because I never wanted to leave.”
Pierce fits the bill for what Northwestern sought in its seventh (sixth different) football coach: steady, experienced, familiar with the program and a winner.
“We wanted someone that understood our culture,” said athletics director Lauren West. “What it took to prepare to play the schedule we play, to compete at the level we compete at. We really looked at our internal candidates, which after going through the interview process made me feel even better about the staff that we’ve got.
“Coach Pierce is the one we felt could best lead our program.”
Rock Hill Schools personnel officer Rebecca Partlow said her department had eight to 10 inquiries for the vacant position. One potential reason for the low number of actual applicants was the lack of room on staff for an outside candidate to bring in their own assistant coaches. Northwestern didn’t plan to blow up its coaching staff, many of whom have worked at the school for long stretches, like Pierce.
“We had one position open,” said West, “and that was the head coaching position.”
Four candidates were interviewed, three of which were assistants under former head man, Kyle Richardson. Defensive coordinator James Martin - who had six years of head coaching experience at South Mecklenburg - and offensive line coach Robert Hellams also applied. But all three agreed to move forward together regardless of what happened.
“We spent three weeks with three different contingency plans,” said Pierce. “As soon as Kyle made his announcement public, me and coach Martin and coach Hellams collaborated. We were on board with the loyalty and the direction the team needs to go. I’ve got an incredible amount of confidence in them.”
Pierce has done almost every job in the Northwestern football program, except, he pointed out, drive the bus. York coach Bobby Carroll - who worked alongside Pierce from 1987 to 2004 at Northwestern - called the Trojans’ new head coach “one of the most intelligent people I know.”
Pierce plans to marry the old school ways of his mentor, Wallace, who coached Pierce at Rock Hill High, with the more modern style of running a program that was so successful under Richardson, blasting loud music during practice for example.
“Let’s be honest,” Pierce said. “Am I gonna be as good a DJ as Kyle? No. But I think I can find somebody that can help me out with that.”
There; a quick flash of the dry wit that’s helped endear Pierce to players and fellow coaches over the years.
“He’s a comedian,” said Wallace. “He carries on with something but that’s who is he. You’ve got to be you; you can’t be somebody else.”
Both the old and new school approaches prize hard work, something Wallace saw in Pierce as the lynchpin of the 1979 Rock Hill Bearcats offensive line, and as a football coach.
“He is here when the school opens and he is here when the players go out of the building,” said West. “You never have to worry about Pierce leading by example.”
Northwestern is replacing a highly successful coach in Richardson, who took a job on the Clemson staff last month. He was 58-13 in five seasons at the school, winning two state titles and playing for a third. Like Pierce, Richardson was promoted from assistant to head coach of a defending state championship squad after Jimmy Wallace stepped down in 2010.
Spring football practice begins Monday, May 2. Pierce - whose salary has yet to be determined, according to Partlow - will get a first look at his 2016 team, which returns a number of contributors from last year’s state title team.
“I’m chomping at the bit,” he said. “We’re ready to roll and I’m excited to get started.”