Big Game Built on Bond
by Staff Writer
by Cliff Mehrtens
The first-time coaching matchup between Davidson Day’s Chad Grier and Charlotte Latin’s Larry McNulty on Friday, Oct. 21, will go well beyond the football field.
It’s a tale stretching more than 25 years and is a blend of friendship, loyalty, admiration and respect.
And, as with many long-term friendships, there are funny stories to tell.
When McNulty was interviewing for Latin’s head-coaching job in the mid-1980s, Grier was on the student committee that interviewed him.
“After we were done, we went to lunch,” McNulty said. “Chad introduced me to Bojangles’ chicken – burned the (heck) out of my mouth.”
McNulty was hired that spring and in June rang Grier’s phone.
Grier, in a gruff voice, does a McNulty imitation: “This is Coach Mac. I’m you’re new coach. What do you think about coming up to Meadville, Pa., and staying with me for a while?”
So the new Latin coach and his talented quarterback headed north.
“He picked me up at school in an orange (Ford) Fiesta,” Grier said, laughing. “Let’s just say we didn’t go very fast. He drove maybe 30 miles per hour. He’s driving and drawing football plays the whole time.”
The informal tutoring got more intense down the road.
Grier said that during a break at a rest stop, McNulty headed to the back of the Fiesta, where he’d stored a rolled-up firehose.
“He rolls it out, and it’s marked `center, guard, tackle’ for spacing,” Grier said. “He had me working on how to run the option, right there at the rest stop.”
Later, McNulty lived with Grier and his father in Pineville while his own family was preparing for the move from Pennsylvania.
Grier turned into an all-state quarterback on McNulty’s Latin team in 1986.
“I think the world of him,” Grier said. “He is family to me. I’ve never been around a better football coach. He’s the best X-and-O preparation guy I’ve ever been around. There’s not a better motivator, either.
“You want to play for him. You don’t want to disappoint him.”
McNulty built Charlotte Latin into a state private-school power. The Hawks (7-2 this season) have appeared in a state championship game the past eight seasons. They’ve won five of those, and McNulty has taken home 11 titles in his tenure.
McNulty attended Grier’s college games at Richmond and East Carolina. Grier became an assistant coach on Latin’s staff in 2004. He did a stint in the private business sector and was an assistant at Western Guilford High and SouthLake Christian.
Through it all, Grier kept in contact with his former coach. The call-me-anytime rule was in effect and often used. The topic could be football strategy, personal issues, coaching matters or whatever popped up.
Grier would show up at a Latin game and walk the sidelines. McNulty occasionally would turn to him and ask for a play that might work.
“Chad’s not only a great coach, but he’s a great dad and fine family man,” McNulty said. “He’s always had great communication skills with kids, and a great sense of humor.”
Grier’s Davidson Day squad, in its first year competing at the varsity level, is one of the state’s biggest surprises with an 8-0 record and 50-points-per-game scoring average.
The Patriots don’t have a home field, so every game’s been a bus adventure, although they played one home game at Johnson C. Smith University.
But Grier is quick to credit McNulty’s help during Davidson Day’s hectic junior varsity season in 2010. The Patriots were starting fresh, which includes dozens of decisions that established programs such as Latin don’t have to make.
Often, Grier would consult McNulty, who was happy to help.
The hardest part, Grier said, was scheduling since Davidson Day isn’t part of a conference.
“Here’s a guy who is a coaching legend in the state, and he gives us a JV game right away,” Grier said. “(McNulty) says `We’ll come up there. Then, he hooks me up with the Latin middle school people for a game.”
When Davidson Day had a football camp last summer, McNulty trekked up I-77 daily to instruct. Several times, Davidson Day’s coaching staff met with Latin coaches in 2010 for pointers before launching the program.
“It seems he’s taken a really strong interest in us being successful,” Grier said. “And I took that very personal, just another reason I care so much about him and his family. He’s been great to me.”
That will all be set aside for a few hours during the game.
The outcome won’t affect either team’s chances of winning a state championship, since they’re in different divisions of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association. But it won’t lessen the intensity.
“Come Friday night, he’s someone I want to beat,” McNulty said. “For (the Patriots), it’s got to be the biggest stage they’ve been on. It’s going to be exciting.”
Grier this week repeated a theme he mentioned when he was hired nearly two years ago – he’d pattern a lot of Davidson Day’s program after Charlotte Latin.
It’s tough to argue with the Hawks’ success. And Grier is honored that McNulty would extend a game to the fledgling Patriots.
“What he did was gave us an opportunity, and me personally, to bring credibility to our school and our program,” Grier said. “Our school wants to be great in everything we do, and that includes football. And, there’s none better (than Latin).
“That is who we want to be. From a football perspective, if we can some day grow up and be compared to Charlotte Latin, then we’re doing what we want to do. They’re first class on the field, off the field and everything in between.”
Grier eagerly shares stories about McNulty as a coach. He said he was “hard, but it was all about doing things right.”
Many times, Grier and his Hawks teammates would run a play or a drill several times until it was done correctly.
Sometimes, McNulty’s influence will surface without Grier immediately realizing it. For instance, whether it’s raining or 100 degrees outside, Grier said he’ll often yell to his players, “Hey, it’s a great day to be alive.”
Said Grier: “Somebody asked me about it, and as I was pressed on it, then I realized where it had come from.”
He recalled practicing football on Latin’s tennis courts. In the rain, 25 or so years ago. And Coach McNulty yelling to his soaked players, “Hey, it’s a great day to be alive.”