OUR STATE was rocked last week by the sudden passing of former WVU football coach Bill Stewart, who died of an apparent heart attack Monday.
It's a sad reminder of a story that broke the hearts of many football fans in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland in December of 1972.
Ron Rice played football at DuPont High School and graduated in 1955. He went on to play football and baseball at West Virginia Tech, then began to pursue a coaching career.
He started coaching in 1960 at Harpers Ferry High School, where in two short years he had an undefeated season. Among the players in the program was Mickey Jackson, who would go on to star at Marshall and be an assistant coach at Ohio State for Woody Hayes.
From Harpers Ferry, Rice moved to Vincent, Ohio, where he posted an 18-2 record in two seasons. He then took the job at Handley High School in Winchester, Va., and built the Judges into a powerhouse. In five seasons under Rice, Handley posted a record of 43-5-2.
Rice then moved into college football and served as a graduate assistant at the University of Virginia. He joined Jim Lester's staff in 1971 as an assistant at the University of Maryland and was retained when Jerry Claiborne took over before the 1972 season. At age 34, Rice was building a reputation as an outstanding college assistant coach with head coaching potential.
Then tragedy struck.
On Dec. 19, 1972, Rice was back in his home state recruiting in Logan County. He was at Man High School when he had a mild heart attack and was taken to Appalachian Regional Hospital. While there, he suffered a massive coronary and passed away, leaving behind a wife and a 13-year-old son.
His passing sent shockwaves through the Maryland campus and Winchester, Va. Claiborne had this to say about Rice: