He played on first Spartans team, was
head coach at alma mater for 10-plus years
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By CHRIS HOBBS
GRANITE FALLS – Dan Hardee — an offensive lineman on South Caldwell High’s first varsity football team whose 10-plus years as Spartans head football coach is second-longest in school history — died on Tuesday.
Hardee, 62, was head coach at his alma mater for 10-plus seasons – from the last eight games of the 1990 season through 2000 – and that trails only Butch Carter in years as head coach (15) and wins (104).
Hardee also served as athletic director at South Caldwell during his tenure there.
After graduating from South Caldwell in 1978 and from Lenoir-Rhyne University (where he played football) in 1982, Hardee spent one season as an assistant coach at South Caldwell before going to Ashe Central at head coach.
He left Ashe Central after three years (5-25 record) to become head coach at West Lincoln, where his three teams were 5-25.
Hardee returned to South Caldwell for the 1990 season and became head coach for the final eight games when John Mackey resigned. The Spartans were 1-7 under Hardee.
The next three South Caldwell teams struggled, going 1-9, 1-9, 5-6 before becoming a championship team (9-3, 4-0 Western Piedmont 3A) in 1994.
With a team led by three players who each accounted for more than 62 points each – Scott Auton (89), Kevin Davis (88) and Gary Crouch (62) – the Spartans started 4-1 before losing at West Caldwell. They then won five straight games – over East Burke, Fred T. Foard, Hickory, St. Stephens and East Lincoln – to win a league title before falling in a first-round state 3A playoff game to North Iredell.
Hardee also coached South Caldwell (5-7) to a state playoff bid in 1997, and the Spartans tied Fred T. Foard for third place in the Western Foothills 3A.
Led by quarterback Preston Austin (62-of-170 passing for 945 yards and nine touchdown passes), the Spartans snapped a three-game losing streak with victories over East Lincoln and Fred T. Foard to get into the postseason. East Rowan then knocked visiting South Caldwell out of the state 3A playoffs in the opening round.
South Caldwell’s record under Hardee was 35-82 and his career coaching record was 45-132.
A burly teen when Hudson High and Granite Falls High merged to form South Caldwell, Hardee was a major force for the Spartans when they went 11-3 under late head coach Don (Red) Kirkpatrick in the school’s first year. That team won a Northwestern 3A title and played for the state 3A championship.
Hardee helped protect an offense highlighted by quarterback Donnie Kirkpatrick (currently East Carolina’s offensive coordinator) and one of the Greater Hickory area’s most sure-handed receivers, Joe Davis.
Davis’ size and athleticism – he was about 6-foot-4, 180 pounds – made him a difficult challenge for any secondary. He caught more than 80 passes that season for a team that did not have its win total (11) matched by a Spartans team for 28 years (11-3 in 2005).
South Caldwell’s 2011 team went 11-2 and its 2015 team went 11-3. The school record for single-season wins is held by the 2012 team (12-1).
Chris Hobbs, editor and content coordinator of HobbsDailyReport.com, is preparing for his 47th season of covering prep football in the Greater Hickory area. He has covered Spartans football every year since the school opened and before that sports teams at since-closed Hudson and Granite Falls high schools.