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Ingle Remembered for Impact on and off the Court

01/19/21

The legendary Coach Tony Ingle, who led Dalton State’s basketball team to a 2015 national championship, didn’t just give his players the tools to succeed on the court, but to succeed in life.

“He impacted my life in a way that anything I do going forward will be to carry on his legacy and who he was as a coach, a man, a leader and a follower of Christ,” said former player Reed Dungan, a 2019 interdisciplinary studies graduate. “He didn’t just give me the tools to accomplish what I did at Dalton State; he gave me the tools to be a better son and to become a good father and husband. No amount of words can do justice for what he meant to everybody.”

Ingle died Monday at 68 due to complications from COVID-19.

Ingle served as head coach at Dalton State for nearly six years before retiring in 2018 having built an impressive 134-33 record during his five-season run. He led the Roadrunners to two conference championships in addition to the 2015 NAIA National Championship in the program’s first year of eligibility.

But Ingle’s focus went beyond what happened on the court. His mission was to teach his players how to be upstanding men.

“Basically, what we’re doing is teaching these men to live life through a game,” Ingle said in a 2018 interview. “The game of basketball is something they love, and we can teach them principles and how to be an outstanding leader through that.”

“Coach Ingle took a chance on me, and I am eternally grateful to him for it,” said Aaron Burress, a basketball player and business management major expected to graduate this semester. “He taught me life lessons that I didn’t know I needed at the time. He helped me grow into a man. Coach Ingle was a man I looked up to and idolized as I grew older. His constant talk about loving one another brought me to realize that basketball isn’t about basketball. It’s about people. He was truly an amazing man on and off the court, and I am so thankful that I knew him.”

Ingle, a Whitfield County native had been a Roadrunner for many years prior to his successful stint as head coach. He played for what was then Dalton Junior College under Coach Melvyn Ottinger from 1971-1973. The team won state and regional junior college championships.

“I’m the luckiest man in the world to get to coach at my alma mater,” said Ingle, in 2018 when he announced his retirement. “It was an honor to get to coach the Dalton State Roadrunners. I will always cherish the many memories and friendships that I’ve made over the past six years.”

Outside of Dalton State, Ingle was a motivational speaker, an author, active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was known for his inspirational – and often, comical – sayings. He was born with a facial deformity and had to endure surgeries at a young age. He grew up poor, often telling of searching dumpsters for a pair of basketball shoes so he could try out for Northwest Whitfield High School’s basketball team. But those experiences didn’t deter him or his success. He was named national coach of the year four times, most recently in 2017.

“In our lifetime we meet very few people who are larger than life,” said Jon Jaudon, executive director of Athletics and External Relations. “Tony Ingle was such a person. He lived with love and compassion oozing from his pores. Oh, he was as tough and competitive as anyone could be, but more than that, he loved people and could see the good in every soul. I am a better person for knowing Tony Ingle and all those who truly came to know him are as well. Well done, Coach.”

“This is a tremendous loss for our Dalton State family and the Greater Dalton community,” said Margaret Venable, president of Dalton State. “Tony was a local hero who inspired all who met him. He leaves behind an enormous legacy with the lives of countless young men he impacted over the years along with his beautiful children and grandchildren.”

Ingle emerged on the court as a star in high school, playing varsity basketball all four years and earning all-tri-state honors from the Chattanooga Free Press. His success caught the eye of Ottinger, who offered Ingle a chance to extend his playing career.

Ingle ran Ottinger’s offense, helping propel the Roadrunners to a 30-0 record, a No. 2 national ranking and a berth in the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament. A chance at a national championship was derailed when Ingle suffered a major knee injury in the first game of the tournament. It would be the point where he decided to become a coach.

His coaching career began at the high school level in Georgia where he led three different programs. He moved to the collegiate ranks when he was tasked with rebuilding the dormant junior college program at Gordon College. By his third season, he led the team to the region championship game.

Following a brief stop at Alabama-Huntsville, Ingle was hired as an assistant coach on Roger Reid’s staff at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. In his seven seasons there, he helped the Cougars to five Western Athletic Conference titles and five appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Early in the 96-97 season, Ingle was named interim head coach at Brigham Young before working as a scout for the Utah Jazz. He also sold carpet, worked as a color commentator at KSL TV for the Mountain West Conference and even worked as a standup comedian to provide for his wife and five children.  

In 2000, he was recommended for a job at Kennesaw State University as head coach where he remained for 11 seasons until 2011. During his time with the Owls, the program earned its first NCAA Division II National Championship. The title took the program and the university to new heights as they made the jump up to the NCAA Division I level in 2005, joining the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Ingle was then recruited to resurrect the basketball program at Dalton State in 2013, which had been dormant for decades.

In June 2017 he answered the call to lead the Dalton ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a bishop. He stayed on the sidelines for one more season after the appointment but retired from coaching prior to the start of the 2018-19 season. Alex Ireland, his former assistant coach, took the reins of the Roadrunners.

What others are saying:

“I miss Coach Ingle terribly. He made such an enormous impact not only on me but on everyone he touched. He was an amazing coach, mentor and friend. Coach made everyone’s day better simply by being a part of it. He left an indelible imprint on the thousands of players that played for him and the coaches that have coached under him. It is through them, as well as through his family, that Coach Ingle will forever live on.” – Alex Ireland, Dalton State head basketball coach

“Coach Ingle was like no other. Those that had the opportunity to speak with him knew that one conversation with him would change your perspective on life. He challenged the norm and served as a true inspiration to all. We will miss you, Coach Ingle.” - Ben Rickett, Dalton State director of golf and development

“Working with Tony was an honor and a pleasure. He always made you feel like you were important and always gave a word of encouragement. He set the bar high as a coach and what Dalton State Athletics could be, but he set the bar much higher on what it meant to be a leader and a friend. Ultimately, he knew he would be judged not on wins and losses on the court, but on the impact he had on everyone he came in contact with. And no doubt he is in the hall of fame in both.” - Jim McGrew, Dalton State women’s golf coach

“Hearing about Tony's untimely passing has really brought back many great memories. I first met Tony when he was at Kennesaw State and I was athletic director at a rival school. Our student section loved competing against Tony more than any other coach. For most coaches, the student section could bother a coach during a game. Tony thrived on the electricity they created in the game.

I was also very fortunate to oversee the regional championship in 2015 at Kennesaw State as a member of the NCAA basketball committee. The Owls prevailed and Tony and his team were not only celebrating the win and knowing they advanced; however, they were crying because of the love they were receiving from their coach. The following week, they would bring home a national championship.

Some coaches would be puffed up by reaching the top level of college basketball, but not Tony. He just loved being Tony and loved his players. It was without a doubt his most noticeable legacy, the love he had for his team.

Fast forward to Tony starting the program at Dalton State. I'm now the commissioner of the SSAC and again get to interact with Tony and his team. In the very first year, the Roadrunners captured the NAIA title. In my opinion, the x's and o's and talent was not the most important factor in the title. His daily love for his players and staff prevailed them to the pinnacle of success.

Finally, we enjoyed several rounds of golf together. The last time we played golf together was at Dalton Country Club. He said, ‘Mike, I just want to make a difference in kids' lives.’

Tony knew how to recruit, how to coach, but his love for his players set him apart from anyone else I've seen during my career.” – Mike Hall, Southern States Athletic Conference commissioner