Gary Rankin to be Inducted into National High School Hall of Fame

Mar 11, 2024 at 03:21 pm by WGNS Radio News

Gary Rankin joins an elite class as one of the inductees into the National High School Hall of Fame. He was the football coach at Riverdale from 1990 to 2005, winning four state titles and emassing a record of 194-25 there. He went on to Alcoa and won 13 titles there and is the winningest football coach in the state. 

Perhaps the earliest footnote in a career full of milestones and shattered records, Rankin heeded the advice of his father as he first launched his prep coaching career decades ago at his high school alma mater, Smith County High School.


What was Rankin’s Plan B?

“That’s a great question, and my backup plan came from my father,” Rankin said. “When I first took the job at Smith County, that was my home school and I wanted to get around my parents who had gotten a little older. So, I went and took a real estate course in Nashville when I was the head coach at Smith County, just to fall back on.

“Fortunately, I never had to do that; I was blessed.”

With 484 career wins across more than four decades of excellence at the high school level in Tennessee, and a record 17 state championships among those victories, Rankin is being honored with selection to the ultra-prestigious National High School Hall of Fame.

Rankin, who was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame in 2011, will soon become the 15th inductee and eighth coach from the state of Tennessee in the 40-plus years since the Hall’s 1982 founding. Rankin will be inducted as part of the 2024 National High School Hall of Fame class on Monday, July 1, 2024 at a ceremony in Boston. He will be one of 11 inducted in this year's class, which included four athletes, two administrators, one contest official and four coaches.

Previous Tennessee inductees include Barbara Campbell, Rick Insell, Catherine Neely, Lamar Rogers, the late Jim Smiddy, the late Buck Van Huss, and the late Boyce Smith, all coaches. The late Bill Pack was inducted into the Hall of Fame as an official, as well as the late Billy Schrivner of Jackson and the late Ralph Stout from Mountain City. Ronnie Carter, former Executive Director of TSSAA, was inducted as an administrator. Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, Nikki McCray-Penson, and Steve Spurrier have all been inducted as athletes from Tennessee.

As he recalls the ups and down of his long career -- including an inauspicious 0-10 campaign in his first season coaching -- no one is more surprised at this latest accolade as Rankin himself.

“When I first got the call, it was a little bit shocking,” said Rankin, No. 4 nationally in active career wins and No. 7 all-time at the high school level. “When I looked in the Hall of fame to see local guys from Tennessee, Coach (Rick) Insell, Coach (Lamar) Rogers, Steve Spurrier, Ronnie Carter; those are people I’ve looked up to for so long, watched from afar with their respective coaches and the way they handled their teams. And then to see Bart Starr, Keith Jackson, Cheryl Miller, Bill Walton, John Wooden, Herschel Walker, Walter Payton in there, and when people start putting you in some kind of fraternity or list with all those names, I know I’ve been blessed.

“It is the highest honor that an individual in high school sports can receive. I’m just so very appreciative of it, appreciative of all of our coaches along the way; winning state championships at Alcoa with my sons on the team was so important, one won four championships and one won three.”

Consistency is bedrock in Rankin’s pedigree; he is the same, trademark mustache, frequent grimace and omnipresent chewing gum, be it coaching at Alcoa, standard-bearer in all-time Tennessee state championships, as well as a long-running program for top-end collegiate talent, or turning Murfreesboro’s Riverdale into a nationally acclaimed powerhouse throughout the 1990s and early 2000s; now to Chattanooga-area private school Boyd Buchanan.

Courtesy his second year at Boyd Buchanan, Rankin now has another undefeated season under his clipboard – a hallmark of Rankin’s work at each of his prep coaching stops in the Volunteer State.

Rankin doesn’t dwell on perfect seasons or winning streaks; his ability to deliver thousands of players an opportunity to win a state championship across more than 30 consecutive years, however, is an element of pride.

“Since 1991, every kid that’s come through our program till today that has stayed four years has won a state championship,” Rankin said. “Every kid that came and stayed four years won a state champ. And someone told me that for the last 26 or 27 years in a row that our squad, Alcoa or Riverdale, was ranked No. 1 in state at the beginning, in the middle or the end of the season.

“It’s just been the line of consistency I’m probably most proud of. I didn’t know anything about winning state championships, I knew a little bit about consistent programs. Gallatin High School with Coach Short is one of the programs I studied and looked at a little bit when I was getting started. They had a line of consistency winning 10 to 12 games every year, playing in State Championships periodically.

“I just thank the Lord I’ve been able to do that.”

Rankin, who also has served as an athletics director at the high school level and has the longevity to retire should he choose, continues to press forward, assaulting state and national record books each season as certain as an autumn frost.

The inherent difference, now, lies in Rankin’s ongoing introspection.

Competition remains a driving force, has been since Day 1, but along the march to previous inductions into the TSSAA Hall of Fame (2011), the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame (2018) and EA Sports National Coach of the Year honors in 2005, among enough awards to turn all those plaques into real estate signs in a different life, Rankin leans into impacting lives well beyond the field.

“When you start out at age 22, 23, 24, you’re kind of still a kid yourself and want to win,” said Rankin, who praised the lasting support of wife, Sandra, and the opportunity to have coached both John Tucker and Zeke at Alcoa. “Then you realize how much influence you can have on kids, how much you can be a help to the community and helping the kids also grow in life.

“You start winning pretty good and it gets contagious. I’ve always compared it to a real estate person; just because you sold $20 million one year doesn’t mean you will lay back and not work as hard the next year. But the thing that grew more than anything was what we did for the kids and changing lives.”

And, so, 42 seasons running a high school football program in Tennessee is set to become 43 in mere months. Beyond that? Rankin doesn’t have a singular goal in mind; nor does he circle an end date.

“I still enjoy the kids, and so I hope I can do it three or four more years,” said Rankin, the Carthage native and University of Tennessee alum with a master’s from Tennessee Tech. “I still really like watching kids succeed, working with them and helping them change their lives.

“I’m excited, I enjoy it. I don’t fish or hunt, really I have no hobbies. I spend time with family and my grandkids and I coach football. That’s about it.”

Sounds so simple. A National Hall of Fame recognition reveals it’s been anything but.