By Tom Nader
Publisher and Editor
Ralph “Ruf” Pierce fell in love with football when he was just shy of 2 years old, chasing every minute he could find to spend time with his dad.
“I just always wanted to be with him,” Pierce said.
So by the time he was 2 years old, “Ruf” was already potty trained so that he could race out the door with his dad to practice.
“Yeah, dad never changed a diaper in his life,” Pierce laughs.
What his dad did do, was become a Mogadore coaching legend.
Ralph “Rufus” Pierce Sr., who died in 2022, is remembered as one of the pillars of Mogadore football.
His son, Ralph “Ruf” Jr. coached his final game on Sunday, Oct. 8, after spending 38 years coaching football and despite his own attempts to deflect the praise, also walks away from the game as a Mogadore football coaching legend.
A bar that Pierce said he felt like he was always chasing.
Not because he sought the glorification and praise from others.
Far from it.
Instead, he coached every game as if he was still trying to be like his father.
“I remember when my dad was coaching the 1987 Summit All-Star team,” recalls Pierce, who graduated from Mogadore in 1982 and played under Norm Lingle as an offensive lineman (center). “My dad asked me to come over to help him. It was one of the first times I remember him ever really praising me publicly. He told me that I might know more about football than him, which was not even close to being true, but I will never forget that moment and I am still chasing that bar he set for me. I could never catch it, at least I don’t think I could ever catch him. He was something special.”
Pierce Jr. began his coaching career in 1984.
He got a call from then-youth director Bob White, who was looking for a youth head coach.
“I was excited, but I told him that I wasn’t ready to be a head coach, but that I would be happy to assist,” Pierce said of his 19-year-old self.
His youngest brother Randy (there are three Pierce boys, with Ralph Jr. being the oldest, then Ron and then Randy) was on the team and so was current high school head coach Matt Adorni.
The assistant-coaching opportunity began a career that weaved Pierce throughout Northeast Ohio, but always returning to his hometown Wildcats.
Pierce put coaching on hold in the late 1980’s when he received a job at the post office, where he still works, but he was lured back in by his father to help at the high-school level in 1990 and 1991 before becoming the Mogadore youth JV head coach in 1992. Pierce then became the youth varsity head coach for three seasons (1996-98), then left to coach at Coventry High School for four years, when his brother Rich was named the head coach. Ralph Sr. became a Comet coach for those years as well.
Ralph Jr. then spent two years at Lake, a partial season at St. Vincent-St. Mary and then back to Mogadore youth in 2006.
By 2016, he was the youth varsity head coach once again.
All the while, without a kid playing in the Wildcats’ program.
True football passion.
Like only Mogadore can produce.
And Ruf was always a part of keeping that special tradition alive.
Passing all of the knowledge of the game that he learned from his father, as well as his well-known uncle Paul Murphy and his grandfather John Murphy, who was Mogadore’s youth-football pioneer and legendary figure, to the youth players of today.
Decades of unprecedented teachings, where Ruf was able to adopt his own philosophy on things, but the core fundamentals make it as if the Mogadore ghosts of yesteryear are still coaching today’s players.
“Keeping that tradition going with the kids is something that is important to me. I think it is important to all of us,” Pierce said. “Trying to keep everything as close to the way it was when I grew up playing.”
He said he is assured that in his upcoming absence that will continue, as Robbie Custer, who Pierce coached, will take over as the youth varsity head coach for the 2024 season.
“That is one of the many special moments about coaching these great kids,” Pierce said. “Especially when you have coached for as long as I have. Your former players return to visit, after they have gotten older, and they come see you at practice. You know you made an impact on their lives and that is something that feels really special. Then, like with Robbie, you start coaching alongside the guys that you used to coach.”
It still excites him.
Just like the games still do.
Even as he walks toward retirement.
“I still get butterflies at the start of every game. Until we get that first big hit of the game, and I can relax. I’m still ready to play. I am ready to run down on the kickoff and make the tackle. That is just the way I am built. The way I am wired. It is the way I have always been.”
There is a softer side to Pierce, though, too.
Many will see it on Thursday night when the Wildcats host their end-of-season banquet.
“It is emotional for me at the end of the year and it is hard for me to talk sometimes,” said Pierce, whose patient demeanor inspires him to coach by teaching instead of yelling and screaming that he admits was more prevalent in his coaching style during his younger days. “I always tell the kids at the end of the season that they will always be part of my family. They truly become sons to me, and I will always be there for them.”
Mogadore youth football director Brian Sansom has seen it firsthand. For a long time.
“Ruf is just a special coach. We have been friends since Kindergarten,” Sansom said. “We came up playing with each other, and we have worked together at the post office for the last 30 years. We spend a lot of time together even outside of football. He is great with the kids, and I never have to worry about his teams. Even if he is on a down year, he brings the most out of his kids year in and year out.”
And while Pierce has, without question, walked his own path and created his own legacy, he can’t help the fact that his favorite memory still pulls him back to his hero.
His father, who, during the summer before the 1979 season, was ready to take a break from coaching.
Ralph Sr.’s love for coaching and for the Wildcats was as strong as ever, but his growing family needed a growing house. He made a decision to pause coaching so that he could build an addition onto the family’s home on Martin Road.
While that was the wise choice as a husband and father, it didn’t fit right for the Mogadore football players, who also adored their coach.
“Fifteen players from the team showed up at the house and continued to show up at the house over the summer to help build the addition on the house. They wanted him to be a coach so badly that they finished the work with him.
“That was my freshman year, and we went on to win a state championship that season.”
Building houses or building for state championships, the secret to Mogadore’s long standing success and tradition lives inside people like Ralph “Ruf” Pierce.
Special people who choose to dedicate their lives to the youth of their community.
As Pierce said, as he pushed back a flood of overwhelming emotions.
“My whole career, I always wondered how I could possibly even come close to giving back to the community that gave me so much. The community that made my life what it is.”
Pierce’s former players can line up with assured testimonies that their beloved coach successfully answered that calling.
He became their hero.
Ralph was a good man and great friend. I never played football with Ruf or was coached by him, I knew RUF from his job as a truck driver at Acme. We became good friends and spent a lot of time talking about football. Ralph was also a great mechanic and did a lot of work for the people he knew in Mogadore. Never charged people much he just loved to help out. I miss him everyday.
This is a fantastic article about a wonderful man and cousin. Our son played youth football under Ruf and he coached with my husband. Everything in the article is so true. Ruf certainly made a positive difference in our son’s life. ❤️
The Pierce family is a great extension of the Murphy family. Congratulations Ralph and know your Dad was the coach that always had my back. Congratulations and thank you for all the years you coached. Plus your tireless pursuit and passion that makes MOGADORE and someone like you very special. I am sure you will miss those games just like I miss your Dad. Congratulations once again!!
Went to school with Ralph Sr. So sorry to hear of his passing
Just want to thank Ralph for the incredible blessing he has given the Mogadore community over the years. You have been a part of why Mogadore is a great place to live and learn how to be part of something greater than one’s self. People like Ralph and his family change lives. The Village has been a better place because of the hard work and dedication you and your family.
Thank you so very very much!!!
Your a true legend Ruffy!! I remember my years at Mogadore youth, we were unstoppable. I’ll never forget those games at lions park and once in a while under the lights down at wildcat stadium!!! You have most definitely touched a ton of lives. Something I will always be grateful for! Thanks Uncle Rufus!!! THE LEGEND!!