HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- One of the biggest names and cheerleaders in the game of high school football in the Richmond area has passed away. Al Rinaldi, who coached programs at Warrenton, Highland Springs and J.R. Tucker died Wednesday at the age of 90.
Mr. Rinaldi came to the RVA after serving with the 83rd Infantry Division in World War II. He survived the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded in the Normandy campaign after which he was sent to McGuire Veterans Hospital for his recovery. He then accepted a scholarship to the University of Richmond for basketball, because they allowed him to play football also. Ironically, it's for his basketball career that he's enshrined in the Spiders Hall of Fame, while he only played football for one season.
Following graduation, Mr. Rinaldi accepted the football coaching position in Warrenton, the first of his three Virginia stops that saw him win 191 games, the most ever by a Central Region head coach until the mark was bested by Patrick Henry's Ray Long in 2004. Mr. Rinaldi's Highland Springs Springers were awarded a state title in 1961, the last for the program until this past fall.
After his coaching career came to a close, Mr. Rinaldi found another outlet to remain close to the sport he loved. He became the color analyst for games on Fox Sports 910 with Gary Hess for 15 years, bringing an intense love of the sport with him every Friday night.
"His passion for high school football was unparalleled" Hess remembered. "It was infectious. Friday nights were a blast. You loved being at the game and a large part of it was because he was there and made you excited about it. And I hear he had that same passion when he was on the sidelines coaching."
During his games, Mr. Rinaldi almost always made a point of emphasizing the physical measurements of each offensive and defensive line, his area of specialty during his coaching days. "It still comes down to basics" Mr. Rinaldi said in a 2006 interview. "You have to block and tackle. The hardest skill to teach is open field tackling and the hardest position to coach is the offensive line."
Mr. Rinaldi was also enshrined in the Virginia High School League's Hall of Fame for his coaching efforts. Since his retirement from the broadcast booth, Mr. Rinaldi had made fewer and fewer public appearances due to declining health, a void that is now permanent with his passing.
"It was a legendary career" Hess said. "We teased him about being called the 'Hall of Famer', but he was in the Hall of Fame for a reason. He was truly deserving. Great coach, great guy and it does leave a huge void."
There will be a memorial service celebrating Mr. Rinaldi's life and career officiated by Reverend Joe Ellison, one of his many former players, at Highland Springs High School Sunday night at 6pm.