Former Hickory High School football coach Larry Wittenberg, who died Saturday at 79, is remembered by former players and colleagues as a tough coach who did a good job of encouraging and relating to his players.
Wittenberg taught and coached both football and track and field at Hickory High from 1970 to the early 1990s. He was head football coach from 1985 to 1991, Hickory High Athletic Director David Craft said.
Former Hickory High football coach David Elder got to know Wittenberg from the perspective of both a player and a colleague.
Elder worked with Wittenberg and succeeded him as head football coach. He also said he played for Wittenberg at Taylorsville High School in 1962, the first year of Wittenberg’s football coaching career.
“He was a pretty tough offensive line coach,” Elder said. “He really demanded a lot out of the players and we responded real well to him because of his motivation.”
Elder said Wittenberg was also influential in his decision to play football at Lenoir-Rhyne University.
“He told me that I could be either a big fish at a small school or a small fish at a big school,” Elder said. “It worked out well for me and I took his advice on that, too.”
Craft also played for and worked with Wittenberg.
Craft played football in the early 1980s when Wittenberg was an assistant coach and also served as an assistant coach when Wittenberg was head coach.
“I think everyone that remembers coach Wittenberg will remember that he was a tough, hard-nosed football coach, but he was also your friend,” Craft said. “He was very demanding, but at the end of the day, he was someone you could talk to and (who) understood kids.”
Craft also said he was able to observe Wittenberg’s work ethic and the way he immersed himself in the program during Craft’s time as an assistant coach.
Wittenberg was inducted into the Catawba County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
His online Hall of Fame page lists some of his accomplishments.
Wittenberg’s track teams had 20 conference championships and three sectional titles, according to the Hall of Fame website.
Wittenberg’s record as football coach was 41-36 and included three conference titles.
He was recognized as conference coach of the year 12 times — nine in track and three in football, according to the Hall of Fame website.
The Hall of Fame also noted that he contributed to Hickory High athletics following his retirement.
As a coach of Hickory Recreation Department and College Park Middle School football teams, he helped develop some of the players who would win a state championship for Hickory in 1996, according to the Hall of Fame website.