Posted by Josh Katzowitz
Bill Gottfried was a longtime college football coach (for a combined 12 seasons, he was the head coach at Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas and Pitt with a combined record of 75-56-4), and since he hung up the whistle for good, he’s kept involved in the game. He was a TV analyst for many years at ESPN, but he’s also turned to helping boys who are growing up without fathers.
A decade ago, he started Team Focus, a program that helps provide those fatherless children with the skills of life and provides them with a long-term mentor. Three years ago, he wrote a book called Coaches Challenge: Faith, Football and Filling the Father Gap.
Now, he’s back with his second literary offering, Wisdom From Winners. In that work, he talks to coaches – including Houston’s Gary Kubiak, Indianapolis’ Jim Caldwell, former Atlanta coach June Jones and former Dolphins QB Bob Griese – about the nuggets of wisdom they’ve learned in their lives.
We caught up with Gottfried, who now lives in Mobile, this week to talk about Team Focus, his former NFL aspirations and his new book.
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1. CBSSports: I know you wrote a book a few years ago about kids with no fathers, but tell me about this book idea and where it came from.
Mike Gottfried: I was riding on an airplane with Mark Harris, a singer-songwriter. He lives in Mobile. We were coming back and he said, “Of all the people you know, why don’t you write a book on legacies?” I said, “Well, maybe someday.” I went back and that’s about the time (former NFL coach) Sid (Gillman) died. Bill Walsh died a little bit later, and I got to thinking that with those boys I’m working with, they’re not ever going to meet a Sid Gillman or a Bill Walsh or Pete Rose or John Wooden or Nick Saban or Bobby Bowden. I thought if I could get these people to give a little nugget of influence they got somewhere along the line, I could combine it into a book. I started calling guys and sending out questionnaires.
CBS: I know Sid died in 2003. How long did it take you to compile this?
Gottfried: It’s been about seven years. I was real fired up right way, and then I got involved in some other things, and I put it on the backburner. Probably about a year ago, I really got everything accumulated. I took everything and started compiling it.
2. CBS: Most of these coaches are successful at the highest levels of their profession. Do you think they really stop to think about their legacy?
Gottfried: I think you do at different times. You don’t go around every day thinking about it. But when I sent the letter to them and the questionnaire and told them about the boys, they took it serious. They thought, “I do want to be a part of this. I do have something to say.” It became very important to be a part of it.
CBS: How did you get involved with Team Focus?
Gottfried: My father died when I was 11. I felt the loss of a father and I kept a lot of things inside me. I didn’t have a lot of people to ask, “How do I do this?” I grew up in a small town where the people really kind of helped raise us. They would encourage me and my brothers. I knew that played a big part in getting me where I’m supposed to be.
CBS: Were a lot of the coaches you talked to in this same scenario – maybe not a father dying but having to overcome long odds to get to where they are now?
Gottfried: Many of them. Bob Griese is one that comes to mind. His dad died when he was 10. Coaches, teachers and Little League helped him, because he was struggling. I think there a lot of guys that know the importance of coaching and the importance of being a mentor in somebody’s life. They were so interested in helping and getting out the nuggets that people taught them. That was a really encouraging.
3. CBS: It’s interesting you say that. I always tend to think the mentoring coaches are more those guys in high school and in college. But I remember watching the TV show Hard Knocks last year, and Marvin Lewis spent time mentoring Chad Ochocinco in the world of banking and saving money. Here’s a guy who’s grown up and in his 30s, and still, Lewis is mentoring him about life. But I guess that’s why people get into coaching when they first start out.
Gottfried: Without a doubt. So many guys I saw come to schools I was at – Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas and Pittsburgh – I would see things in them that if you just would work with them, they really could be polished in those areas. Some of them were real shy and didn’t want to speak. We talked to them about speaking, and with some of these young boys, we put them on camera so they could see how they looked to other people. All those things you take for granted if you’ve grown up with a father. But growing up with a father who’s absent, they don’t learn it. It’s missing. If you can help them be complete, that’s coaching.
4. CBS: When you were coaching college, did you ever have the desire to go to the NFL?
Gottfried: I had some chances to go in the NFL after I got fired in Pittsburgh. I got into TV, and I wanted to go back. One year, I had a chance with the Browns, one year with the 49ers. I talked to Bill Walsh, and he talked about going back to Tampa and I talked to him about that. Then he decided not to go back. But I thought about it a lot.
5. CBS: Following the stroke you had a couple years ago, is the TV career over? Is that something you can get back into?
Gottfried: Right now what I want to do is focus on trying to raise money and reach more boys with Team Focus.
CBS: That must be satisfying experience.
Gottfried: It really is. I’ve seen guys when we statted 10 or 11 years ago and now we see so many young men, so many serving in Afghanistan and in Iraq, so many in college, working in business, and leading all kind of different lives. When you see a picture of them from 2002 and you see this little guy in the first row and you know where he’s at today, it’s pretty rewarding.
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