For more than 30 years a "humble and softly spoken" Rotorua coach has been beaming from the sidelines as his athletes took their stage.

Now there is an empty seat on the van ride home.

Mark Edmonds, 77, died suddenly in Rotorua on Monday leaving behind a legacy of All Blacks, Olympians, Silver Ferns, Black Ferns, Black Sticks and weekend warriors.

It was after running his first marathon in 1982 that Mark began training his own family, then others started asking for his training too.

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The former trucking contractor had no formal coaching training, so picked it up as he went along.

In 2006, when he became the groundskeeper at Rotorua Girls High School, his passion for coaching was quickly recognised.

Principal Ally Gibbons said they were lucky to have his expertise.

"He got so much joy just from seeing what the students could achieve."

Mark worked for the school up until last year, but, despite retirement, kept coming back to work with the girls, driving the van and showing up for games and trainings.

The school's rugby team manager, Carolyn Katu, couldn't believe the man who drove the team to Opōtiki, just last week, was gone.

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"He's been with us through thick and thin.

"To our girls he was affectionately known as koro Mark, because as well as being their trainer and mentor he was like a surrogate grandfather to them.

"He was our pou tokomanawa, the central support that held us up."

Mark Edmonds cut his hair and mo off to raise funds for cancer in 2013 after a suggestion from his wife Kathy. Photo / File
Mark Edmonds cut his hair and mo off to raise funds for cancer in 2013 after a suggestion from his wife Kathy. Photo / File

The school has cancelled its game this week because the girls were "too devastated" to play, but Katu said they would take to the field next week in his honour.

"We are just grateful his family shared him with us.

"They are devastated as well, he was a much-loved father and grandfather and he loved them tremendously."

Last June Mark received a Queen's Service Medal for his services to sport.

Former New Zealand Sevens captain Craig de Goldi was living in a Ngongotahā garage with former All Black Caleb Ralph when he started training with Mark.

"He was so softly spoken, and really humble.

"He used to thrash us, just up and down the stairs a thousand times.

"You'd be screaming and he'd softly tell you, 'go again'."

De Goldi said Mark's greatest strength was that he "believed in you when you didn't believe in yourself".

"It was a self-belief that he instilled in all of us.

"As a young athlete, you really need that little bit of support."

Caleb Ralph, left, training with his former running coach Mark Edmonds at Smallbone Park in December 2005. Photo / File
Caleb Ralph, left, training with his former running coach Mark Edmonds at Smallbone Park in December 2005. Photo / File

Ralph said he would miss catching up with Mark and was lucky to have called him a friend.

"I first met him when I was part of Lakes City in my early teens.

"Being part of his training group instilled a real work ethic in me around fitness and what I could achieve.

"I moved away, and played around the country, but I would come back around Christmas and train with him."

Sam Sinclair, now a Silver Fern, had just started playing netball for a representative team when she was told to "go and see this Mark guy" and he'd tell her what to do.

"He literally did it because he loved it, and that was so cool.

"He always had a smile on his face, just such a caring guy that would literally do anything for his athletes."

Sinclair said his coaching came from the good of his heart.

"He coached so many people from all different sports."

All Black and Chiefs player Liam Messam said Mark was a great man with a big heart.

"He taught me all about hard work, always had time for me, and pushed me to train hard.

"I always loved catching up with him after my games."

Mark is survived by his three children Deb, Bronwyn and Mark Jr.

A funeral for Mark will be held in the Rotorua Girls High School arena at 11am on Friday.