Obituary: Former South coach Larry Deal dies suddenly
LANDIS — Larry Deal, who spent decades wearing black South Rowan High shorts and gray Raider T-shirts, passed away suddenly on Monday.
He was a legendary tough guy — physically and mentally — and he was one of the coaching rocks who formed the foundation for years of athletic success at South.
“He was someone kids had unbelievable respect for,” said Ernie Faw, who spent 20 years working with Deal at South. “He was a really good leader, someone everyone wanted to follow.”
There are a lot of stories about Deal.
In 1988, he tumbled off the roof of his house while cleaning out the gutters. He twisted his spine and broke his back. It was a terrible, devastating injury. Doctors told him he’d be out of work for eight months.
Deal offered his own second opinion. He was back on the job 42 days later.
Deal played at South in their early days as Rebels. He made the All-Rowan County football teams in 1964 and 1965 when there were only 11 men on the squad. He also was good in track and basketball, and when he graduated with the Class of 1966, he’d earned nine varsity letters.
Before he graduated high school, Deal knew he wanted to be a coach because his role models included South football coach Lope Linder and South basketball coach Jack Snyder.
But he didn’t coach right away.
Next came college football at East Carolina and then military service. He was gone from southern Rowan for five years, but he married a South girl (basketball and tennis star Diane Horton), and he returned home in 1971.
He was South’s track coach for 30-plus years and head basketball coach for five seasons. His 1979-80 basketball team, led by Scott Wise and Charles Kirkland, was one of the most successful in school history, winning 20 games and taking the South Piedmont Conference championship with a 14-2 record.
Track and basketball added to Deal’s legacy with the Raiders, but it was his work as a football coach and athletics director that made him an iconic figure.
He was an assistant football coach, serving under head coach Reid Bradshaw, for more than a decade. Bradshaw gave him a shot, right out military service, and Deal always was grateful for it. He would prove to be a loyal soldier, building tenacious offensive lines for a string of tough South teams.
Deal spent years in the U.S. Army reserves, where he was, to no one’s surprise, a drill instructor. Some of those drill-instruction lessons were applied to his football players. He brought a physical, hard-nosed style to the job every day, but he could motivate players and they were willing to run through those proverbial brick walls for him.
Deal set the bar high. He demanded attention to detail. He wore his emotions on his sleeves, but there always was a plan.
Bradshaw compiled a Hall of Fame coaching record for the Raiders. He was 78-48-3 in football, coaching his last season in 1982. Deal was the guy he wanted to succeed him.
And Deal kept things rolling. South was 70-58 during his 12-season watch.
“He was totally organized as far as using the time we had and getting things done,” Faw said. “His organizational skills were just exceptional, and that’s why his teams were always so well-prepared. When Reid stepped down, South didn’t miss a beat because of Larry, and that hasn’t happened very often in high school football.”
Deal’s first game as head coach in 1983 was a 14-0 loss to North Rowan. But South finished that season, 11-2. That’s still the school record for victories.
South moved up to 4A for the 1985 season, playing against more speed and more size and larger schools, but Deal wasn’t intimidated and accepted no excuses. He said the Raiders would “play the cards they were dealt,” and South went 7-4, 7-4, 7-3 and 7-3 in its first four 4A seasons.
South slipped in the early 1990s, but Deal’s response was to work even harder.
His last year as head coach was in 1994 when the Raiders were 8-4 and made the state playoffs for the first time since 1986. That’s when he stepped aside, with the program back on solid ground.
In Deal’s first and last years at the helm, the Raiders won against rival A.L. Brown. Those two wins probably meant the most to him.
Deal was a man without an ego, and even after he stepped down as head football coach, with Rick Vanhoy taking over, he spent many more years in the trenches, coaching up those offensive linemen. He used to say he loved “wallowing with his hogs.”
Deal became South’s athletics director in 1983 when that position was still considered a part-time duty to be handled in his spare time when he wasn’t coaching football and track.
When he began AD duties in 1983, his most complicated tool was a No. 2 pencil. By the time he finally retired from AD duties in 2005, he was making schedule adjustments for 32 different teams by punching a computer keyboard. He took computer classes and adapted well to changing times and different challenges.
Deal’s cozy AD office at South was a storage closet that had gotten a makeover. He asked for two things to furnish it — an air conditioner and a telephone — and he kept things running smoothly.
It’s probably underestimating the time he put in, but Deal basically worked 14-hour days for 35 years at South. He poured his blood and sweat into the school and its athletic programs.
Vanhoy called Deal “Mr. South Rowan” and said “no one ever had a bad day with Larry Deal” in a story the Post did when Deal retired.
Also in that story was a quote from Travis Billings, now a teacher and coach at A.L. Brown. Billings played for Deal and later worked with him.
“He’s just a matter-of-fact type of person,” Billings said. “He runs a tight ship, but he’s fair. He says what he means. He means what he says.”
Deal had a chance to coach his son (Andrew) in football, and he had a chance to coach his daughter (Angie Deal Chrismon) in track.
He had a heart attack in 1996, 20 years ago, but he bounced back from it in record time.
So he got to see his daughter become South’s athletic director, following in his footsteps.
He got to see his son-in-law, Thad Chrismon, coach good South baseball teams, and he got to see his grandson, Austin Chrismon, play second base and quarterback for the Raiders.
Another heart attack stopped Deal on Monday, but he won’t be forgotten. He was the rock South leaned on for a long time.
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