One Herd Hall of Famer remembers another: William King remembers Phil Ratliff

August 11, 2015 by Derek Redd

William King had a unique relationship with the late Phil Ratliff. King set the single-season records for solo tackles and tackles for loss on Marshall’s 1993 team. He was a member of the 1992 national championship team on which Ratliff earned his second All-America nod as an offensive lineman. Ratiff went into the Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame in 2008 and King followed in 2012. King’s son, former South Charleston star A.D. Cunningham, is on the University of North Carolina at Charlotte football team, where Ratliff — who died Sunday at age 44 — was offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. It was Ratliff who personally recruited Cunningham to the 49ers.

Below are King’s memories of his old friend in his own words:

I met Phil in 1990 when I got to Marshall. I was in Coach Donnan’s first recruiting class and Phil was there with Coach Chaump and those guys. You noticed him right off the bat. He never met a stranger. He meets you, he likes you and you’re friends for life. It was the most amazing thing.

I would see him at the annual coaches convention. He was coaching at Marshall and JMU and I was at different places coaching. You know how it is, you really don’t have time to sit and chat on the phone all the time. But once a year, twice a year, you’d run into each other and I’d see him or he’d see me and he’s just this big ol’ guy. He’d come up to me and give me a big hug, a big bear hug and a big wet kiss on the cheek. And you’ve got a hundred coaches standing around and watching this and going, “What the …?” But that was Phil. That was a Marshall thing and a lot of people didn’t understand it. But that was the bond and the connection that we had, and Phil, he was just that kind of guy. No matter where you were, who you were with, he was going to pick you up, give you a kiss. He was going to kiss your wife, kiss your kids. It was just an awesome thing.

Phil was a guy that, if you were ever in a dark alley, that was the guy you wanted with you. It didn’t matter. If you’re on his team, if he was going to win, you were going to win right with him. Nothing less. That’s how it was. He was intense, just non-stop. Never quit. He was going to fight to the finish. He’s going to make sure you know you’re on his team. Relentless. The best guy. It’s just unbelievable we’re having this conversation about this. It’s just unreal.

He recruited A.D. He called me, said he liked him and wanted to recruit him. The process went on and they built a relationship. And he said, “Let me ask you this. You know, when I offer him, everyone else is going to run and come offer him?” I was like, “Well, that’s part of it, Phil.” Then he said, “Let me ask you this. If Marshall offers him, what’s going to happen?” I said, “You don’t have nothin’ to worry about, Phil.” He said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Hey, A.D., what happens it Marshall offers you?” And he said, “Dad, Coach Ratliff, he recruited me, he saw something in me. He was the first one to offer me. That’s who I’m going to play for.” He said, “The only way I’m not going to Charlotte is if Nick Saban was to fly down here himself and offer me.”

They were so much alike when it comes to being loyal, when it comes to standing by their word. He and Phil, that was their bond. I was down there, I went and watched practice (Saturday) morning and went over to the hospital. A.D. texted me … he said, “Man, he used to call me every Thursday before my games last season. All I had to hear was, ‘Hey, bud,’ and I knew it was Coach Ratliff. It’s just not fair. When I was having issues with my legs, he drove four hours to see me and see if I was OK.”

The only word I’ve got is “unbelievable.” His family is great people, and if you met his mom, you’d know where he got it. She’s hilarious, just like Phil. You hate that this happens to anybody, but why this guy? It’s just unreal. Unreal.

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