Keith Lyle will tell you he had an undistinguished career playing football with such players as Bob Moore and Buster Edwards at Erwin for Al Rottella, and only developed an interest in coaching football after taking a class as an elective under Calvin “Shorty” Frey at ETSU. But once he got coaching fever, he was one of the hottest ones in the region.
“I started in Junior High School in ’61 right out of college,” Lyle said. “Mr. (Sidney) Smallwood came to me and said they wanted to start a seventh-grade football program and asked me if I’d be interested. Emory Hale and Coach (Bob) May were coaching the ninth grade. I coached the seventh grade that first year by myself.
“I always say that’s the only time I was ever a head football coach. We won all our games. Of course, that bunch of kids went on to high school and was really successful – Bobby Sanders and Jimmy Lawson and Randy Crutcher, Tim Persinger and Tommy Gasteiger.”
Lyle was offensive coordinator at Science Hill for Bob “Snake” Evans (1967-76), Tommy Hundley (1977-78) and May (1986-90). Evans’ teams were 6-4 against Dobyns-Bennett. May’s 1988 team won the conference.
“The person I went and got when I got the job was Keith Lyle, and he stepped out of administration and came back,” May said. “We had some success. Of course, Gary (Shorty) Adams, I think, made us both look like great coaches. Coach Lyle had good knowledge about offense, but the best thing he had was such a good relationship with the kids.”
Emory Hale, who coached three all-state quarterbacks at Science Hill, including Steve Spurrier, and won three state titles at Oak Ridge before becoming head coach at Austin Peay (1981-87), saw Lyle’s relations with players.
“I started the Fellowship of Chrstian Athletes there,” Hale said, “but Keith took it to even greater heights. He had Bible studies in his home and he counseled with the kids.”
Not being prepared for Dobyns-Bennett would’ve qualified as sin.
“I saw Keith trick Kingsport by switching personnel one night in Kingsport when Science Hill won,” Hale said. “Coach Lyle changed the weak- and strong-side of the offensive line, and Kingsport lined up with their best players against Science Hill’s weakest players and their weakest side against Science Hill’s best side, because Kingsport didn’t figure out what they were doing. I guess I’d come from Austin Peay or Oak Ridge or somewhere that night and was sitting up in the pressbox and said, ‘Keith, just keep doing what you’re doing.’ And he kept pouring it on. Coach Evans had a knack for beating Kingsport, and Coach Lyle had a lot to do with it.”
Mike Voitlein did his student teaching at Science Hill when he played football at ETSU. His first job out of college was at Holston Valley, and before he started, he visited Lyle at his home in search of grand wisdom.
“I was sitting in his living room and I said ‘Let me just borrow some of your books and talk to you about things’ and he told me about KISS,” Voitlein said. “I think his short and sweet thing for everything was KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. I tried to adhere to that. … He gave me a lot of good fatherly advice.”
Lyle said looking smart wasn’t complicated with players like Biggie Carpenter, Dee Dee Stuart, Tom Sholes, Randy Ferrell and Van Williams. Beating Greg Jones-led Tennessee High in Bristol to snap the top-ranked Vikings’ 28-game wins streak in 1973 was one of his favorite victories. Working with Evans was always gratifying.
“Bob Evans was a heck of a football coach,” Lyle said. “He delegated. He’d call a play every once in a while, but 3rd-and-15, he’d say ‘Get you a good one.’ …
“The biggest win was probably in ’67 over Kingsport in Coach Evans’ first year. That was the biggest crowd I ever remember at Memorial Stadium. The crowd was on the banks. Tennessee’s Doug Dickey and two or three of his assistants were there. Biggie Carpenter, our tailback, was out. He didn’t get to play. We played for the conference championship outright. We won 27-13.
“We hadn’t played them in four years. That was another thing that made it special. And that was Snake, (defensive coordinator) ‘Little’ Bob Evans and my first year together.”
Coaching at Science Hill was an education.
“Emory Hale taught me the offensive game,” Lyle said. “Coach May taught me that you had to be tough in football. Little Bob taught me that you needed to love your players and Snake taught me that you’ve got to be consistent in what you do. … Had it not been for those guys, I would’ve not been a football coach. I just learned so much from them. I’m honored to go in the Hall because of those guys in there – and Coach Smallwood and Coach (Cot) Presnell. …
“Coach Presnell taught me a lot about scouting. I’d go with him to scout when were in junior high. And they were all good men who had character.”
Going 6-4 against Dobyns-Bennett under Evans obviously was no accident.
“When Snake hired Little Bob and I,” Lyle said, “we went in the office up there and he said, ‘Now boys, we’re gonna be judged on how we do against the Indians, and we can’t beat ’em every year, but we’ve gotta beat ’em sometimes.’ And he scouted them every game they played, every play they ran. We had it all on paper and we put all that information on the board the week before the Kingsport game. We had every play they had run.
“Those kids would come through there and look at that board. It was pretty impressive to them. … We didn’t’ mention it to the kids until game week, but we’d been scouting them all year.”
Lyle often coached year-round. He was the tennis coach (1967-70) when Sanders and John Fields won a state doubles title. He was an assistant track coach (1973-74) and girls basketball assistant (1988-91). But football was his passion.
“I think Keith Lyle,” May said, “was one of the best football coaches in East Tennessee.”