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Sunday, May 26, 2024

The man I knew: A remembrance of Tim Rimpfel

Hearing the news of the passing of legendary Cumberland Valley/Bishop McDevitt/Trinity head football coach Tim Rimpfel, I spent some time remembering so many years of having the privilege to cover Cumberland Valley when Tim was their skipper.

What I learned in nearly three decades is that Tim wasn’t just a football coach. It was something he did very well and enjoyed. But it wasn’t who Tim was at his core.

I flashed back to 1992 when, as a newjack sports writer who literally had no idea what I was doing to be perfectly honest, I was sent to cover a Cumberland Valley game by the person who gave me a shot — Shelly Stallsmith.

Being ex-military and freshly removed from my time serving that year, I approached learning about the Eagles and their program in a very organized and military fashion. They were good, very good. Their coach was strict and ran a system he believed worked. And they won more than their fair share of games.

I can remember it as clear as yesterday my first encounter with Tim after CV took care of Chambersburg 33-0. I was nervous and a bit surprised to find myself alone on the field with the head coach of the Eagles and nobody else around to ask questions. It was that moment I gained my first peek into Tim Rimpfel the person. He introduced himself, asked me my name and immediately inquired about what I thought of the game.

To this day I have no idea what I said or how I answered his question, but I know it made me pause. Wasn’t I the one supposed to be asking the questions?

From that first meeting in Week 3 of the 1992 season, I always saw Tim in a different light than probably others in my profession. He was always professional, of course. He returned every call, answered every question with occasionally brutal honesty and was available. I don’t recall many “off the record” conversations, either.

Tim was a people person, at least through the lens I grew to admire him from. He was never comfortable talking about himself or what “his” team had accomplished. You could tell that wasn’t part of his DNA — a unique trait in a high school football head coach I’ve come to learn.

The Tim Rimpfel I came to know won more than 300 games, a lot of district titles and a state title in 1992, but none of that was really important to him. He was what I call a selfless servant. And what engaged him more than anything was people.

As a coach he ran a tight ship, and his expectations both on and off the field were sky high. That’s how he thought it was best to extract the very best out of his players and equip them with life lessons.

And when it came to football there wasn’t much gray area with Tim, either. It was pretty black and white from my chair. But it worked and produced a machine of a program at Cumberland Valley.

Underneath all of that, though, was a gentle, kind and extremely engaging person who adored being a mentor and helping others.

When you cover high school football for the Patriot-News, you work extremely close with coaches on a weekly basis.

You establish boundaries and understandings. I always found that easy with Tim, because he was a professional and understood my job and I understood and respected his job. We didn’t always agree, but that didn’t seem to matter.

I probably covered 50 Cumberland Valley games when Tim was the head coach. We spoke a lot. And what I will never forget, and the ultimate life lesson I learned from him over the years, was that people matter.

He never failed to ask how my wife — a fellow teacher, so he immediately had some strange teacher bond I didn’t understand but got it — was doing. As my kids grew up he knew their names and asked how they were doing and what was going on. He knew how to press those family buttons.

And I learned how to press his, in return. His kids. I never knew Tim to light up more when asked about his kids, what was going on in their lives and how were they doing? Ask a football question of Tim, you get football answer. You ask about his kids, settle in for a few minutes cause Tim was now on a roll.

I loved that about him so much. They would be turning the lights out at CV and there was Tim and I on the field chatting about our lives and kids. The football phase of the conversation had long since passed.

Sure, he was a teacher, mentor to many and a damn good football coach. Being a loving and doting father breathed a different kind of life into Tim. That’s not easy when you are running a state-caliber program in Pennsylvania. You hear the stories about something had to give to make that happen.

For Tim, he had this unique perspective where nothing had to give in terms of what was really important to him in order to run a state-caliber football program. That’s a gift.

I can remember fondly looking forward to visiting his office to talk about his team, his depth chart, my disdain for the Wing-T offense and why I was wrong. We had all those conversations. And then we’d spend even more time talking about life and fatherhood.

Those conversations are the ones I have never forgotten.

The smile, that gentle handshake from his massive hand and always addressing me by my first name and asking how my family was doing. It was part of my fall ritual for more than 20 years.

Coach Rimpfel was a lot to so many. To me he was a great human being who cared about others more than himself and adored sharing about his kids and being a father.

My deepest sympathies to Liz, Tim’s wife, and the entire Rimpfel family. Your husband/father was truly a special man. To me he was always a much better person than he was a football coach. 

Thanks for the time, coach. A pleasure as always. That’s how I ended any conversation with Tim. And it truly was always a pleasure.

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