Locally born and raised, J. Audley Pierce coached Tennessee’s first football team

Mac Lynch is unsure how his great-grandfather became a football coach, his name fittingly etched among those of University of Tennessee notables such as Robert Neyland, Doug Dickey, Johnny Majors, Phillip Fulmer and the current coach Josh Heupel, who will bring his team to Acrisure Stadium on Saturday.

But you can look it up: Joseph Audley Pierce, born in the Gill Hill section of Jefferson Hills and a lawyer, businessman and one of the founding fathers of the Youghiogheny Country Club in Elizabeth Township, was Tennessee’s first football coach .

And he had a winning record in his two years as a one-man coaching staff from 1899-1900: 8-4-1.

After graduating from Lafayette College, Pierce attended Tennessee Law School around the time the school was establishing its football program.

“Somehow he ended up as head football coach,” Lynch said. “I don’t know what qualifications he had to do this, or if it was some kind of volunteering. It could have been something as simple as a work-study program.

Nevertheless, Pierce had plans other than football in mind, and after law school he returned to western Pennsylvania, settled in Dravosburg, discovered oil on his land, raised a family and worked in public services and banking, leading a prosperous life until he died in McKeesport in 1956 at the age of 81.

Pierce family lore indicates that the family tree dates back to the second sailing of the Mayflower in the 1600s and the Revolutionary War. A relative, James Torrence, commanded a militia group and later served as captain of the 4th Company, Third Battalion, Westmoreland County.

But Pierce never coached football again.

“Wikipedia says he ended up in Texas as a high school football coach, but that doesn’t match my grandmother’s date of birth,” Lynch said.

Pierce’s most obvious connection to the sport occurred in 1911 when he joined a group of investors who purchased the 107 acres where the Youghiogheny Country Club now stands. Under the leadership of Pierce’s group, it grew from a four-hole golf course to the tree-lined 18-hole site it is today.

Lynch, whose father, Tim, is Pierce’s grandson, plans to attend the Johnny Majors Classic between Pitt and Tennessee on Saturday. Lynch is a Pitt fan with family ties to college, so his rooting interest on Saturday will be exclusively with the Panthers.

His uncle, Dan Martino, clocks Pitt’s men’s and women’s basketball teams and another grandfather, also Dan Martino, spent many years timing Pitt Stadium’s football and basketball teams. and the Fitzgerald Field House.

Lynch, who grew up in Aspinwall and lives in Highland Park, said the story of J. Audley Pierce is proudly told by many family members.

“I only knew about this story five years ago. It was only last year that the story was confirmed. Sometimes family traditions are stretched, but my dad always mentioned it.

“Ironically, I met a person who was very involved with the University of Tennessee. And I kind of threw it out there as a joke. He didn’t believe me. I said ‘Look at it in your archives.’

“He looked at it on his phone immediately and his mouth dropped.”

Pierce died before Lynch was born, but Tim Lynch, who played in the same Shady Side Academy backfield with Pitt All-American Paul Martha, knew former University of Pittsburgh provost Rhoten Smith.

“He had dinner with Majors years ago,” Lynch said of his dad. “His famous story was wondering who was the best triple-threat backfield in the history of the game.

“Johnny was naming all these other people and my dad was like, ‘You forgot one important person and that’s you.’

“My dad was a huge Johnny Majors fan.”

Jerry DiPaola is an editor at Tribune-Review. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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