The Austin High School athletic family is mourning the loss of former assistant football coach Thomas Pierce.

Pierce, 81, died of a heart attack at his home in Aberdeen, Mississippi, on Wednesday.

Pierce came to Austin in 1990 after retiring from coaching in Mississippi. He ended up staying nine years at Austin, mainly coaching ninth-grade football.

“He loved Austin High School,” Mitchell Knox, a current Austin coach who served with Pierce, said. “After he left, he always came back for the Decatur football game and homecoming. He even came to a few basketball games.

“Coach Pierce taught me a lot about being a man. He was a tough son of a gun. One of his favorite sayings was ‘You jarheads.’ ”

Steve Pendley was an assistant coach fresh out of college when he came to Austin in 1992.

One of his first duties was to assist Pierce and Larry Patterson coaching ninth-grade football. Despite their age differences, the two became good friends.

“He was a coaching legend in Aberdeen,” Pendley said.

“He came to Alabama to coach because he wanted a second income, and I am so glad he did. He really took care of me.”

After Pierce retired from Austin, he and Pendley stayed in touch with weekly phone calls.

After losing his wife, Christine, to cancer in 2013, Pendley admitted the phone calls became even more important.

“He was a wise man and the kids all loved him,” Pendley said. “The biggest thing I remember about him is a saying he had. He said kids won’t remember very much about what you teach them in class, but they will always remember how you treated them.”

Pierce is survived by his wife Mary Frances, son Tommy and two granddaughters. Funeral arrangements are being handled by Tisdale-Lann Memorial Funeral Home in Aberdeen.

Contact David Elwell at 256-340-2395 or by email at david.elwell@decaturdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @DD_DavidElwell.

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