Vital signs

“Uncle Dave’s coaching what?!?”

“Women’s football, you rookie. And that’s ‘Coach Tibbs’ or ‘Sir’ to you. Give me 20 push-ups.”

That’s exactly what coach Dave Tibbs will give you, too — if you play on his football team, that is. Better known to some as “Uncle Dave” of WNCW’s weekly Grateful Dead bonanza, “Dead Air,” Dave is now leading something of a double life here in WNC. Like some latter-day Jekyll and Hyde (with a pure twist of Asheville thrown in), he’s also the new head coach of the Asheville Assault: the women’s pro football team in town, now in its third season.

The team’s owners concluded an extended search for the right head coach by choosing what might seem the unlikeliest of candidates. But don’t be fooled. Sure, when he’s wearing his tattered WNCW ball cap, Dave can talk for eons about Jerry Garcia’s guitars, the top Blue Note releases from 1965, or how the Beatles stole some of their best material from the Beach Boys. But once he dons his coaching cap, Dave talks every bit as knowledgeably and passionately about a 4-3 defensive scheme, the importance of the kicking game, and the absolute necessity of good fundamental football.

Dave’s savvy stems from a lifelong dedication to this all-American tradition — an institution that’s every bit as complex as the Grateful Dead, if profoundly different. A high-school standout as a 250-pound tackle in Jackson, Miss., Dave has been a football fanatic for even longer than he’s been a Deadhead. And while at the end of each installment of “Dead Air” Uncle Dave urges listeners “to be good to each other out there,” coach Tibbs’ rhetoric at Assault practices carries a remarkably different tone.

“You’ve got to hit ’em out there, ladies! What was that sh** anyway?!? Run that play again — and this time, let’s do it right!”

Assault owners Sherry Lusk, Nikki McGinnis and Shannon Ashe — veteran players all — describe Dave as the perfect fit with a team that’s ready to build on the successes of its first two seasons in the National Women’s Football Association. Last year’s 5-3 record earned the Assault its first playoff appearance, and these ladies of the gridiron feel they’re poised for another run at the championship. The owners say they wanted a coach who would treat the Assault women like the football players they are while still respecting them and bringing a positive outlook to the work. With Coach Tibbs, they found all that and more.

“We’re gonna put the hurt on somebody,” says a grinning Tibbs about his charges’ readiness for the first game.

And you better believe it’s true. Observe an Assault practice and you’ll quickly grasp what many may believe to be the furthest thing from the truth about women’s football: These girls hit, and hit hard.

Being treated with respect — even by past coaches — has been an ongoing struggle for the young team, say the owners. But not anymore.

“I just treat them like any other football players,” says Dave. “Their love of the game and level of play is better than a lot of guys I’ve coached.”

Dave’s the kind of guy who makes most things he does seem easy, including the intricacies and nuances he brings to “Dead Air.” But the truth is, you don’t win Xpress‘ Best DJ in WNC accolades (two years running, no less) without a whole lot of hard work and planning. In the days leading up to a show, you’ll find Dave laboring furiously over spaced-out set lists, hilarious sound bites, and the assorted other fine points that make “Dead Air” the WNCW crown jewel that it is.

Similarly, when he’s preparing for an Assault game, you’ll find Coach Tibbs relentlessly studying game films, drawing up new plays and formations, and sizing up the opposition’s defensive backfield — in short, displaying the same work ethic that informs his on-air presence. Face it, Coach Tibbs and the Asheville Assault are downright hungry for that first kickoff. Now play ball.

[Freelance writer Stuart Gaines is based in Asheville.]

The Asheville Assault plays its first home game Saturday, May 8 at North Henderson High School. The remaining three home games (May 29, June 12 and June 19) will be held in Asheville’s Memorial Stadium. See for game times and more.

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