Dave Walker became a local icon a Hall of Famer in his field by spending nearly four decades coaching students at Naples High School.
But first and foremost, Walker was a teacher.
He had a knack for condensing and imparting his vast knowledge in the classroom as a math instructor and in athletics. Those close to him said it was Walker’s ability to teach that made him a legendary coach.
Walker died Tuesday morning at the age of 68 following a battle with brain cancer. Inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame because of his 33 years as Naples’ girls basketball coach, Walker also spent time with the Golden Eagles’ boys basketball, softball and football programs in 37 years at the school.
“With Dave’s intellect and charisma and ability to communicate and hold people’s attention, he could teach anything,” said longtime Naples coach and administrator George Bond, who started at Naples the same year as Walker in 1975. “As a matter of fact, he pretty much could coach anything.
Related story: Ex-Naples High girls coach Dave Walker takes place among state’s best
“When Dave spoke, everyone listened and looked right in his eyes. He had this booming voice. It wasn’t a berating voice. When he spoke, the world stopped and listened.”
Walker coached the Golden Eagles girls basketball team from 1979 until his retirement in 2012. Walker went 611-282 at Naples, his only basketball head coaching job. He served as the Eagles’ softball head coach, assistant football coach and assistant boys basketball coach at various times.
In December 2011, his final season, Walker became the 33rd basketball coach in state history – high school or college, boys or girls – to win 600 games.
Walker was enshrined in the Florida High School Athletic Association’s Hall of Fame in 2012. At the time he was just the second person from Collier County inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame, joining former Naples High softball coach Robert Iamurri.
Later that year, the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches inducted Walker into its Court of Legends, the organization’s hall of fame.
“Dave was a Naples High School Golden Eagle,” said Naples athletic director Ernie Modugno, who worked with Walker for almost 25 years. “He was a Naples High School icon, a basketball icon throughout the state, and highly respected among his peers.
“Dave established a very deep connection with the girls that played for him. They realized how much he cared about basketball but also how much he cared about them.”
Walker’s family and Naples High School are planning a memorial and celebration of his life in the coming weeks. The event will be held in the Naples gym but a date has not been finalized.
The Eagles qualified for the regional playoffs 20 times in Walker’s 33 years. Naples won regional championships and played in the state semifinals in 1988 and 2006.
Walker was fiery on the bench. He could be seen yelling during games until he was red in the face. But agitated as he might get on game nights, Walker wasn’t a mean or tyrannical coach, friends say.
“I always thought it was so unfortunate that some people only got to see that rough exterior on the basketball court,” former player Andrea Froloff Chaney said. “They really got short-changed and missed out on an incredible man.
“His big voice did him a disservice. It sounded scary and awful, but if you listened to the words he was saying, they were constructive. He yelled, but he always put a positive spin on things.”
Froloff Chaney played for Walker from 1988-91. She then was an assistant coach at Naples from 2001-09. Afterward she stayed close with her mentor.
Walker originally was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015 and had surgery to remove a tumor in November of that year. The cancer returned more aggressive in the summer of 2016, and many former players reached out to Froloff Chaney for updates. With the blessing of Walker’s longtime girlfriend and assistant coach Leann Burkhold, Froloff Chaney started the Facebook group “Coach Walker’s Crew” to provide updates as well as provide an outlet for people to share their memories of Walker.
“He always said, ‘Once you play for me, you’re one of my girls,’” Froloff Chaney said. “He didn’t mean for the four years you were there. He was deeply invested in his players.”
The coach cared for players like they were his children. He referred to the team as a family and treated the Golden Eagles as such.
“He was very intense, but he was a father figure for me,” former player Kirsti Jones said. “He instilled in us good values, character, morals. When we played, you felt like it was a family, and you don’t want to let your family down.”
When he was inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame, Walker said one of his greatest delights was coaching his daughter, Tiffany, from 1996-99. Now a doctor, Tiffany Walker Sigal also worked as an assistant coach for her dad from 2004-07.
Jones played four years of varsity for Walker, winning two district titles before graduating in 2001 and playing in college. She was the Lely girls basketball head coach and now is an assistant for the Barron Collier girls.
“Dave was big on basics, big on fundamentals,” Jones said. “He could take an average team and win big games because they were disciplined in fundamentals. I took that into my coaching – keep it simple and harp on the fundamentals. Basics, basics, basics.”
A native of Columbus, Ohio, and three-sport start in high school, Walker played football at Ohio Northern University. He moved to Naples in 1975 when he was 27 to teach math and coach football. Walker was the boys basketball junior varsity assistant before he took over the girls varsity team in 1979.
After graduating from Ohio Northern, Walker spent a season as a football graduate assistant at Morehead State in Kentucky under Roy Terry. Terry, now a Collier County school board member, played football in college for Dick Pugh, who was the Naples High football coach at the time (1974).
On Terry’s recommendation, Pugh hired Walker as an assistant football coach, and Walker started at Naples in 1975. When Terry became the head coach in 1979, Walker spent six years as his offensive line coach.
“He was dedicated to his sports, and that meant being a good teacher,” Terry said. “He was teaching kids to play the game. He demanded that they learn what they were supposed to do. Players had a great deal of respect for him because he knew what he was talking about.”
That same year Bond also started on Pugh’s staff. Bond went on to coach track and serve as the Golden Eagles’ athletic director and assistant principal.
When Bond was hired, he moved to Naples and his family stayed behind in Virginia. Bond slept on Walker’s couch for a month until he found a place and brought his family down.
“Dave wore the badge of a coach very proudly,” Bond said, “but I think he really considered himself to be a teacher. One of the things Coach Pugh always looked for in his staff was coaches who were good teachers and good men. Dave certainly was one of those, and he proved it.”