Grady Walter’s name isn’t listed on a wall or in the record books for coaching victories at Russell High School. But you can rest assured, he won games. Lots of them.
He wrote the book on how to be a successful assistant coach – and a best friend – during a long and successful tenure with the Red Devils. Grady was the first assistant coach that Ivan McGlone hired when he took over in 1976 and he stuck with him for decades until retiring in 2003 after 33 years in the Russell school system.
Grady Walter was a friend to anybody who came in his path, the kind of person who would go out of his way to help you. He was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. And he was a competitor of the fiercest kind who loved to win and know how to do it, both on the field and in life.
I loved talking to Grady about football, or life, or anything. He was sometimes blunt, almost matter-of-fact, but in a kind way. Players loved and respected him and played hard for him. The Red Devil football family couldn’t have had two better men leading that program for all those years than Ivan and Grady. I don’t think of one without the other.
Grady died on Friday after a long illness at the age of 75. Ivan, his coaching buddy who was more like a brother, died last year. That’s a lot to take. When I was cutting my sportswriting teeth, those guys were coming onto the scene at Russell. Much of my early assignments was covering Russell football and I sure learned a lot from these two men. How good a coach was Grady Walter? He was inducted into the Russell Hall of Fame in 2010. How many assistant coaches are recognized like that?
They loved to win but they loved family more. Much more. Their wives were the queens and were treated that way.
“He interviewed me for the job and I was in limbo,” Grady told me in an interview in April 2010. “Sue (his wife) had some surgical problems over the summer and I told him I had to take care of her first.”
Turned out, Sue did fine, so Grady accepted the position. The two became fast friends, as did their families. It was as if they each had two families.
McGlone went on to become a coaching icon in northeastern Kentucky, winning state championships in 1978 and 2005 and finishing as a runner-up in 2006. Grady was with him for 29 seasons. It was like having two head coaches on the sidelines.
Grady, whose first job was with the FBI, could have been a head coach at any school in northeastern Kentucky. That’s how much he knew the game. But that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Ivan and Grady were inseparable, the epitome of teamwork in the coaching ranks. Every assistant coach should aspire to be like Grady Walter, who was not only loyal but never afraid to tell Ivan if something needed changing. He was a sounding board for him and whatever method those two devised, it sure did work for a lot of wins.
Ivan and Grady were there for each other’s triumphs and tragedies, in football and life. They laughed together and they cried together. Now we’re all crying because they’re gone.
When Grady was coaching, he lived in Ashland so his boys attended school in Ashland. Dwight, his youngest son, was a member of the Tomcats’ 1990 state championship football team.
The friendly family feud was nothing new for Grady, who was one of four siblings who went to Catlettsburg while three others went to Ashland schools. Two of his brothers, Dick and Jack, actually played against each other. Grady was fast friends with the late Bill Tom Ross in high school. Both went on to become outstanding coaches.
Grady Walter told me his experience with Dwight was a good one.
“We always had Thursday night meal together,” he said. “Sue wanted us home. His senior year, when they were playing Greenup County, I remember him saying to me ‘We’ll beat them 40 points.’ I told him you better watch saying things like that.’’
It turned out the Musketeers stunned the Tomcats in Putnam Stadium, handing the ‘90 team their only loss that season.
But overall, it was a season to remember for the Tomcats and Dwight Walter was going to be part of it.
Ivan “fired” Grady as the coach on Fridays that season, telling him “to scout Ashland.” He didn’t want his friend to miss his son’s senior season.
“He told me to coach through the week and scout Ashland on Friday nights,” Grady said.
But a tragic accident took the life of Russell assistant Jim Tardy in September that year that sent the Red Devil family reeling and Grady returned to the sideline for the rest of the season. Tardy was like a son to McGlone and close to everybody on the staff. It was a difficult time.
“The three of us hit it off real good,” Grady said. “Tardy coached the guards and centers, I coached the backs and Ivan walked around.”
Grady chuckled at himself. “Don’t tell him I said that.”
In the last game of the regular season, Ashland and Russell played on Senior Night in Putnam Stadium. Grady, decked out in Russell coaching attire, went over to be with his son and wife prior to pregame ceremonies for the seniors.
“Somebody from the stands yelled ‘Who’s that SOB in the Russell jacket?’ I was so mad, I couldn’t hardly see straight,” he said.
Ashland won easily, with Dwight snagging an interception on a play near the sideline on a play that was called by his father. It brought an end to a difficult season for the Red Devils, one of the few those coaching giants ever experienced.
However, Grady was able to watch his son’s senior year of playoff games that eventually resulted in a state championship. Bittersweet would be how he would best describe 1990.
“Ivan supported Dwight and Sue and Gloria (Ivan’s wife) are great friends,” Grady said at the time. “Our families are real close. We’re real close.”
You get close from coaching together for 27 years. You’re often in the same foxhole, riding the same buses, dealing with the same player or parent issues.
Most relationships, coaching or otherwise, don’t last nearly that long.
It would be a fitting gesture for football coaches in northeastern Kentucky to name a Grady Walter Award for the area’s top assistant coach. Anybody who received it would surely be honored to be put in the same category as maybe the best assistant coach this area has ever witnessed.