FSU family remembers longtime strength coach Dave Van Halanger

Dave Van Halanger, Florida State’s strength coach who helped build the Dynasty Era, died at home of a heart attack on April 2, 2023. He was 69.

“I can give you a million quotes on Coach Van; he was the first man I can remember who told me he loved me,” former wide receiver Kez McCorvey said. “After practice or somewhere he’d just say, ‘Kez, I love you.’ At first, I thought it was strange, but when I got older I knew what it meant.”

McCorvey is now influencing young men working as Regional Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“I am sure he planted seeds in me,” McCorvey said. “At FSU they had a good culture of caring and that helped with the success we had. You felt safe. You knew people cared for you and you were able to give all you could.”

As a 6-foot-6, 250-pound prep athlete, Van Halanger signed with Bobby Bowden at West Virginia. His size, quickness and passion for weight training made him an outstanding collegiate player, earning All-East honors twice and honorable mention All-American honors as a senior co-captain on Bowden’s 1975 Mountaineer Peach Bowl team.

Van Halanger’s career with the Atlanta Falcons was cut short by injury and he became West Virginia’s first strength coach for all sports. In 1983 he joined Bowden at Florida State University, where he helped the Seminoles claim nine consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference championships (1992-2000), two national titles (1993 and 1999) with two Heisman trophy winners-Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (2000) and dozens of All Americans and NFL draft picks.

“Coach Van played such a key role in establishing the culture that Coach Bowden had (West Virginia),” said Mark Salva, who played center at FSU from 1984-87 and was an assistant line coach at FSU until 1994 when former FSU offensive coordinator Brad Scott was hired at South Carolina. “He was much more than a strength coach. He was someone a player could go to when they needed someone to listen, when it seemed no one would. He knew the heartbeat of the team and often offered relevant counsel to both players and coaches. For me, he was a mentor for a young coach who embodied faith, family, and football and lived it.”

“Dave’s positive attitude was very contagious,” said Richt, who worked with Van Halanger as offensive coordinator at Florida State, before asking Van to accompany him at Georgia. “He was a big part of our success at Georgia.”

During their tenure in Athens, the Bulldogs won 106 games, earned two Southeastern Conference championships (2002 and 2005), nine bowl victories, and six top-10 finishes.

Over four decades his teams won 300 games, with 18 top-10 finishes and 30 bowl appearances. In all, Van coached 40 first-round NFL draft picks and shaped countless lives.

The 1993 NFL Coaches’ “Strength Coach of the Year” also served a five-year term on the National Board of Ethics for the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

USA Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association inducted Van Halanger into their Hall of Fame in 2003 and attribute much of Van Halanger’s success to his ability to instill a passion for greatness.

“It is achieved first by training highly recruited athletes in exercises that will help them on the field. Power cleans, squats, and other lower body movements are critical to developing basic strength, while plyometric exercises and sand-pit jumping provide explosiveness and speed,” his Hall of Fame plaque notes. “But Van Halanger regards the mind as the most important muscle in the body. ‘What the mind can conceive, the body can achieve,’ he is fond of saying. Players must visualize greatness in order to achieve it. While head coaches provide direction, it is the role of the strength and conditioning coach, he believes, to provide a winning demeanor.”

Osceola readers will remember the strength and conditioning reports Van Halanger provided the Osceola after spring and fall testing. Van Halanger provided those test result to us because he knew it would give the players an added incentive to give their best effort and would be a reward for those who improved their results from one testing period to the next. Many of those players tell us they still have copies of those issues.

“The biggest thing is he cared about the kids and they knew it,” said former defensive end coach Jim Gladden. “He really, really liked the kids. He had a very open personality with them and they could feel it. They could trust him. He was an encourager. He bragged on them when they needed it, patting them on the back during a time we were trying to build it back up. The players enjoyed him and they responded and he knew what he was doing as a former player under Coach Bowden.”

Said McCorvey: “When I became a Christian, the first man I came to see was Dave Van Halanger. Dave was a great dude. A great man. He had integrity in everything he did. He was the right person to influence young people. He was a super compassionate man; tough, demanding, but super passionate.”

Van Halanger is survived by his wife, Michele, and adult children Daniele, Julie and Matthew.

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