The first of Gary Rankin’s 399 career victories came in 1983 in his second year at Smith County High School against rival Gordonsville.
Thirty-four years later, Tennessee high school football’s winningest coach gets his first crack at becoming the first coach to reach the 400-win plateau against another rival when Alcoa faces Maryville this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“It’s pretty weird, and it’s weirder that the very first game I ever won was against a bitter rival,” the 12th-year Alcoa head coach told 865 Preps. “I haven’t really thought a whole lot about it because it’s Maryville week and nothing really matters — what you’re going for or what is going on — besides that game.
“It’ll be tough chose because we know that they’re the best team on our schedule, they are every year. It’s a fun game. Our kids enjoy it, I enjoy it and win or lose, it’s always made us better.”
The road to 400’s threshold began with 58 victories over eight seasons, including a pair of undefeated regular seasons in 1988-89. Sixteen seasons at Riverdale followed, with Rankin racking up 194 wins and four state championships.
At Alcoa, Rankin has won 147 games and eight state championships, including each of the last two Class 3A titles.
“I don’t want to downplay it and say it isn’t important because it’s important to a lot of people and coaches who worked with us,” Rankin said. “A lot of people have a piece of these 399 wins and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of some great football communities that have earned a piece of that too.”
Prior to this season, this rivalry consisted of two of the best high school football coaches in the country with Rankin at Alcoa and George Quarles, the fastest coach to in the history of United States high school football history to 200 wins, at Maryville.
This year, however, Rankin will face off against first-year head coach Derek Hunt, who has gotten the Rebels off to a 2-1 start, knocking off Catholic and McMinn County while falling to Oakland, albeit without their starting quarterback Dylan Hopkins.
Having grown up in Blount County and watching Rankin compete for state championships year in and year out, Hunt understands the impact that Rankin has had on the state.
“He sets the standard for high school football coaches in Tennessee,” Maryville head coach Derek Hunt said. “I got to play and coach for one of the greatest football coaches of all-time (in George Quarles), and I think Gary falls into that list as well, not only because of his success, but also the longevity.
“Coach Rankin has his style and he has been super successful with that style at one than one spot, so I think that says a lot.”
Rankin, though, has not spent much time thinking about his impact or the potential of his 400th win. On the other side, Hunt is not concerned with his first experience as the head coach in this rivalry. Both are concerned with putting their teams in a position to win the marquee matchup.
In 88 games between the two programs, Maryville owns a 62-23-3 record all-time.
“I think some people try to downplay it, especially over the last 10 years,” Hunt said. “To me, this is as important a game as we’ll play all year. It means a lot. I had so many friends at Alcoa when I was growing up, so you wanted to beat them. When I was at Maryville College, there were four or five guys that played for Alcoa on our team and that was all we talked about.
“It’s special and it means a little bit more and I think it’s great for the community because of how rare it is to have two football programs that successful right next to each other.”