Over the course of his 23-year tenure as the head coach at Richlands, Greg Mance never failed to leave his team with a simple message before they took the field on a Friday night.
“What is the last thing I tell you every Friday night?”
The teenage clad of blue and white immediately shouted back. “HAVE FUN!”
Mance echoed his team’s exclamation. “To have fun.”
It goes without saying that over the past 23 football seasons in Richlands, the entire town, school, team and coaching staff has had fun.
Fortunately, for Blue Tornado fans, Mance has been the creator of a lot of that fun.
However, like the old country and western songs claim, all good things must come to an end.
On February 17, the news that leaked a week prior was confirmed. Mance had been named the head football coach at Loris High School in South Carolina.
Loris is located 31 miles from Myrtle Beach—not a bad place for a man to retire, begin his second stint as a coach and satisfy his golfing habit.
Myrtle Beach is a place that Mance has vacationed to numerous times in his life. It is a place that has always been special to him.
“I thought Myrtle Beach would be a great place to work and eventually retire to. Now I have that opportunity,” Mance told the Bristol Herald Courier earlier this week. “To have this new job there is like a dream come true.”
Mance plans to get to work right away with plans of longevity.
“I want to go another 15 years,” Mance told myhorrynews.com. “I don’t feel 56 years old. I love coaching. I love the beach. It gives me an opportunity to do two things I love.”
The 56-year-old Giles County native’s retirement from Richlands will take effect in early May.
There will be no farewell tour as there was for Powell Valley’s Phil Robbins in 2010 or as you have seen in college football with Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Bud Foster.
Not many thought the Blue Tornado’s loss to Wise-Central back on November 15 would be the last time Mance graced the Richlands sideline as the headman.
However, it was the final time Mance coached up the Blues in an illustrious career that spanned over the course of three decades.
There are mixed feelings. Mance would be the first to tell you that. The excitement of a new chapter and the sadness of closing the book on a very successful one—it is a mixed bag.
The history Mance has written in Richlands is one to be celebrated. It is a career that will certainly etch his name into the Virginia High School League Hall of Fame one day. It is a career that former players, coaches, fans and everyone involved have reflected on over the last few days.
205 wins. 12 Southwest District championships. Eight Region championships. The 2006 State Championship. Four state runner-ups. Numerous Coach of the Year awards from the SWD, Region IV, VHSL, VHSCA—the list is endless. Richlands had been to the playoffs six times in its history before Mance took the helm. Mance led the Blues to 20 playoff berths, including a current streak that dates back to 2001. Mance also led the Blues to nine wins in 13 consecutive seasons.
Mance was the center of a lot of success for Richlands. However, I doubt he ever pictured this.
Mance played for VHSL Hall of Fame coach Steve Ragsdale at Giles High School, where he was a member of the 1980 version of the Spartans—the first Giles football squad to win a state championship. Following his career at Giles, Mance continued his athletic career 24 miles up 460 East in Blacksburg where he played second base for Chuck Hartman and the Virginia Tech Hokies baseball squad. Mance played for the Hokies from 1982-1987 in the Metro Conference, which was laden with talent at the time. The Giles County native was a captain for Hartman’s Hokies during his senior campaign in 1987.
“It was a dream of mine to go to Virginia Tech,” Mance said in a 2017 interview. “It was just a great experience.”
Mance majored in physical education while at VPI and came out looking to begin his career back home in Pearisburg. Things looked like they would work out until a last minute change of circumstances.
“I had a job in Giles County as an elementary PE teacher and it fell through. Here it is July and I get a phone call. They were going to give me in-school suspension at Giles. A girl by the name of India Haun, dated my cousin all the way through school, she was from Narrows. She had married Billy Haun, who was the head football coach at Richlands,” Mance recalled in 2017. “They needed a PE teacher at Richlands Elementary, a middle school football coach and a varsity baseball assistant.”
Mance was intrigued. He went through the interview process and got the job.
“Woodrow Mullins hired me the next day and I talked to my dad and it was a big decision. I thought well, I can do it for one year. It’ll make me a better person. I’ll see how they do football in Richlands because Giles was a single wing under Coach Ragsdale,” Mance said. “It’ll give me a little broader perspective on how other people do things. I was going to coach varsity baseball and middle school football. I came down with the intent of only staying one year.”
Mance was the head junior varsity football coach and a member of Dennis Vaught’s varsity staff in 1992 when the Blue Tornado won its first state championship.
“I learned how to break film down under Dennis Vaught. That was my first class—Brannon Breeding and those guys—my first year teaching, they were eighth graders,” Mance said in a 2018 interview. “When Dennis Vaught came, it changed the culture—this place (Richlands) went mad with football.”
However, after the Blue Tornado’s state championship in 1992. Controversy surrounded the Richlands program after Vaught and the Blues got caught up in “Cleatgate.”
“We wore the long cleats in the state semifinal game against Salem. When we lied about it that is what upset a lot of people,” Mance said in 2017. “We got a black eye across the state of Virginia.”
Vaught was relieved as the head coach after the 1992 season. Terry Wess took over in 1993 before George Brown took the reigns in 1994 before Vaught took back over in 1995 and 1996. Tensions were high during these years at Richlands.
At one point, Mance decided to get out of football.
“In (1995), I got out of football. They gave it back to Coach Vaught. There was just too many things going on and it took the fun out of it,” Mance said. “I coached golf for two years as the head coach. I helped with baseball also.”
Following the 1996 season, the Richlands job came open again. This time, it was a little tougher for the Blues to find its head coach. It ended up that there guy had been hanging out on the green at the Tazewell County Country Club and the diamond beside Ernie Hicks Stadium.
“When Coach Vaught resigned, they brought about 15 guys in here and nobody wanted it. I was in a meeting in May and a guy told me I needed to throw my name in the hat,” Mance recalled. “They were going to hire within. Nobody would take the job. He told me if I was interested, I ought to apply. I ended up getting the job.”
Mance took the job in 1997 and the rest is a storybook. Such a story book that the once negative thoughts associated with Richlands football from the early 90s have since been set to the wayside.
During Mance’s tenure, the Blues posted a 205-78 record while outscoring opponents 8,797-4,637.
In that same span, the aforementioned 12 Southwest District championships, eight region championships, the 2006 State Championship and four state runner-up finishes were the prime jewels.
The Blues won 32 straight regular season games from 2009-2012 and a school record 33 straight regular season games from 2004-2007.
Mance’s Blues finished with double digit wins 10 times. (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016). The cherry on top came in 2006 when the Blues defeated Rockbridge County in the state title game, 29-28.
“That year was special. You can’t go 14-0. It is nearly impossible. What a great football team,” Mance remembered. “To come back in ‘06 to win that thing—I saw what it did for our town. To see the pride that people in Richlands—we needed something positive because of the black eye with the long cleats. It was so nice to get that black cloud out of the way and see how proud our town was.”
That win gave Mance the trifecta, having won a state title as a player, assistant coach and a head coach.
Mance broke Ernie Hicks’ school record (167) for wins with a victory over Tazewell in 2015 and since set his own mark at 205.
The head Blue Tornado had some other milestone victories.
Win number one came back against Tazewell in 1997, while his 100th victory came in 2008 in the Region championship against Tazewell. Victory #200 came this past season against Abingdon. The 205th and final win came against Virginia High this past November.
Numerous stars shined during the Mance tenure.
Adam Davis, Matt McGlothlin, Timmy Brown, Cain Ringstaff, Justin McCracken, Caleb Jennings, Austin Fuller, Devon Johnson, John-Luke Asbury and many others helped steer the Blues with Mance at the helm.
McGlothlin and Johnson were the only two Mance pupils to reach the National Football League. McGlothlin, a University of Tennessee product, spent time with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2007 while Johnson, a record setting tailback at Marshall, had a stint with the Carolina Panthers in 2016.
Unfortunately, Johnson and McGlothlin both recently passed away within five months of each other. Johnson in November 2018 and McGlothlin in April 2019.
In addition to those two, 14 more Mance pupils found themselves on Division I rosters at one point. Levi Forrest is the most recent D-I commit under Mance. The class of 2020 punter recently inked a letter of intent to Penn State.
The most special to Mance was when his stepson, Austin Fuller, signed with Virginia Tech in 2008.
“I met Ann when she was doing her student teaching. Her son Austin was probably three or four at the time. We got married when I think he was eight,” Mance stated. “When he got the offer from Virginia Tech, it’s one of the happiest days of my life. When he signed with Virginia Tech, it was just a special day.”
Fuller spent three years in Blacksburg under Frank Beamer before finishing his college career in Texas at SMU under June Jones.
Aside from on the field accolades and successes of his players, Mance’s mark at Richlands High School doesn’t take long to notice. Under his watch, the surface at Ernie Hicks Stadium has went from a natural surface that was once a muddy mess during September to a beautiful artificial turf surface. Neighboring the green and blue carpet is the James H. McVey Fieldhouse, which houses the Blues locker room.
If you asked Mance if he thought such a transformation would happen during his tenure, he might have been hesitant. This is a guy who thought he would be at Richlands for a year. Not the 32 years that ensued, and 23 years as the head coach.
Mance told the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in 2015 of an interaction with former Richlands principal Barry Yost shortly after getting the job.
“When I first got the job, he asked me how long I wanted to be the head coach and I said ‘I would like to keep it for nine years to coach my step son,’” Mance recalled. “He had a belly laugh at my expense, he said ‘Two years is a long time here at Richlands.’”
Boy, was Yost wrong on that one?
Mance even got to coach his son Landon and watch him be an all-state lineman. Landon was an infant when Mance assumed the position.
Mance’s longevity is a testament to the hard work that he and his staff have put in over the years. After some subpar years in the early going, Mance felt his seat getting a little hot. However, after implementing the spread, things changed in Richlands and the success began to roll in.
Ernie Hicks Stadium was at capacity most nights during Mance’s tenure. The fan base is one that is constantly praised by Mance.
However, as thousands of kids came out from under Mance’s thumb, he remained the constant.
I was fortunate to play for Mance from 2010-13, right in the heart of some of his best years in Richlands. I did not come to fully appreciate how fortunate I was to have played for him until I experienced football elsewhere. I joined the radio crew in Christiansburg in 2015 and later Blacksburg in 2016 and 2017. While the Bruins won a state championship under another Mance pupil, Thad Wells, I still came to appreciate what Mance built in Richlands. Things I took for granted coming through the Blue Tornado program—going to the playoffs, winning district titles and working out year round—were not the custom in other places. It made me realize how spoiled I was to have been raised as a part of the Richlands Football program.
As a kid, you wanted to play for the Blues. When you played for the Blues, it was a dream come true. You were the talk of the town. All this due to the success of the program that Mance established.
Some of my best memories with my best friends in the world came at Ernie Hicks Stadium and in that field house. All because we wanted to be a part of the success the program found under Mance.
I am forever indebted to him. I had him as a teacher in sixth and seventh grade and a football coach. He treated me fair as a journalist—always. He is even a friend to me.
Not only am I grateful for his impact on my hometown, there are many others.
His leadership of a religion in Richlands has been a true joy to sit back and watch for 23 years.
While the Richlands program will embark on its latest chapter and Mance will embark on his, they will forever be synonymous with each other.
A bronze bust of Mance will take its place beside Hicks outside the mecca of Richlands football.
He definitely deserves it.
While there are some sad feelings on Mance’s departure, be sure to look back at the past and smile.
There is a lot of fun that was had.
I am a graduate of Richlands High School—class of 2014. In May 2018, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism and History with a minor in war and Society from Virginia Tech.
My passions in life are numerous. We don’t have all day. This is not the place to divulge into Hokie Football, so I will shed some light on one of my other favorites.
I was born and raised in the coalfields of southwest Virginia—Richlands to be exact. I remember the first time I ever went to a high school football game (Richlands-Tazewell ’02). Since then, a passion has grown that is stronger than the current in the Clinch River. As a football player in this region, I was able to witness the passion oozing out of the hills firsthand. It was something that when I began college, people had a hard time believing the spectacle that is high school football in the coalfields. Luckily, I was able to go 42-8 in between the white lines on Fridays and Saturdays from 2010-2013. I look forward to having another platform to tell you my stories, your stories and their stories. Here’s to the good times and hoping I don’t leave you like I did Coach Greg Mance numerous times—by saying, “Gosh Durn It!”
Let’s talk, SWVA sports, Hokies, history or maybe even barbecue.