PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry High School bid farewell to a Hall of Fame coach on Friday.
After 31 seasons as the head coach of the Cardinals, with a five-year stint directing arch-rival Mount Airy in between, David Diamont announced his retirement from the school’s football program on Friday morning.
“I’m going to miss mowing the grass in the summer, sitting in the front of the bus, talking to coaches and to the kids,” said Diamont. “It’s amazing how sharp our young people are. Working with young people has helped keep me young.”
The 72 year-old Diamont posted a 252-131 record in his two stints at East Surry, directing the Cardinals to seven conference championships, the 2001 West Regional finals, and a 13-1 season in 2015 in which his team reached the third round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs. He was head coach at East Surry from 1977 until 1989, took over Mount Airy in 1991 and coached them for five seasons with a 39-22 record, then returned to the Cardinals in 1999, the same year that longtime friend and rival Kelly Holder took over the Granite Bears’ program.
“Coach Diamont is 100 percent a class act,” said Holder, whose Mount Airy teams have faced East Surry with a conference title on the line in each of the past five seasons. “It’s kind of a sad day in the coaching profession. He’s got 291 wins, multiple conference championships, and he’s been a great friend, so it’s kind of sad for me as well.”
Diamont’s counterparts at Surry County’s other two high schools had words of praise for him as well.
“I spoke with Coach a couple of hours ago,” said Surry Central head coach Monty Southern. “I told him we’re going to miss him. A lot of people don’t realize this, but he’s been a great advocate for (North Surry head coach) Danny (Lyons) and I. We’ve had two legends in this county in him and Coach Holder, and Danny and I are young guys compared to Coach Diamont.
“We haven’t beaten East Surry very often with Coach Diamont in charge. But anytime we did, we always knew that if we beat a Dave Diamont-coached team, we had done a good job.”
Very few teams have in recent years. In the past five seasons, Diamont’s Cardinals have won 52 games, winning or sharing the Northwest 1A Conference crown three straight seasons between 2014 and 2016. East Surry settled for runner-up status last year, but still reached the state quarterfinals and won nine games against one of the toughest schedules faced by any 1A team in the state.
“Every school has years where the talent is down a little bit,” said Holder. “But Coach Diamont’s teams always played extremely hard and were competitive. People talk about how he just wants to run the football. but he’s won a lot of games doing that.”
It should also be noted that the accusation really isn’t true. Diamont always built his offenses around what he perceived the strength of his personnel to be. When the Cardinals had senior quarterback Tyler Smith and receivers Blake Marion and Shawn Creed during the 2015 season, East Surry threw for 2,736 yards and ran for “just” 2,145. In the two seasons that followed, with a team built around star running back Joey Ray and a strong offensive line, Diamont returned to “ground and pound” football and won another conference title while reaching the second round of the 1A state playoffs in 2016 and the third round in 2017.
“Sometimes your talent tells you what you should do,” Diamont said. “Sometimes you have a really good offensive line and really good linebackers, and you go with that, and some years you don’t. What I’d do is try to take what I knew and adapt it to the players I had. I tried to keep up with what other teams were doing and learn new things, but there were also a lot of teams still running veer, wing-T, power-I and double wing and having a lot of success.”
Perhaps even more important than all of the on-field success is the influence he has had on many lives, not only those of fellow coaches, but also the many young men who have played football for Diamont.
“His record, and what he did as a mentor of young men, speaks for itself,” said Lyons. “He was coaching when I was playing at North Surry. Like I was telling my wife earlier today, in our leaner years, it was always Coach Diamont who called to offer words of encouragement. I consider him a friend and something of a mentor.”
As do many of his former players and students, dozens of whom flooded social media on Friday when the news broke. Former Cardinal player Josh Draughn commented on Facebook “…one of best coaches I ever played for in any sport..and one of the best men I have ever known.” Chris Hughes, webmaster of CarolinaPreps.com, stated “He’s a first class coach, first class teacher, first class educator, and first class public servant…I’d want my son to play for him.” Former player Bronson Cline said “When I think of my high school career, Coach Diamont is the first person that comes to mind.”
In the fall of 2016, Diamont was chosen for the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame, and served as the presenter for a few of the other inductees. At some point, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he were chosen for the NCHSAA’s Hall of Fame as well.
“Dave Diamont is a legend,” said Lyons. “We are going to miss him on the sideline.”
Diamont’s career apparently will end with him just nine wins short of the 300-win milestone. However, he didn’t rule out coaching again, if someone wanted him to return to the sideline.
“You never say never,” he said, “but who wants an over-70 football coach?”
That might be true of some people, but not ever coach is David Diamont, who has devoted much of his life to learning the game and guiding young men.
“I’ll admit I’ve even taken my church bulletin on Sunday and wrote down plays,” he said. “I don’t reckon I’ll be doing that anymore.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.