If you are one of the many local people who know Mike Gottfried and claim him as a friend, you will be interested in this.
Gottfried, of course, was the head football coach at St. Paul when its football program first achieved statewide attention. In the late 1960s, the Flyers were undefeated and named the small school state champion by Associated Press (there were no football playoffs in those days).
I got to know him when he would hang around the newspaper to read the ticker tape scores late each Friday night in the fall of 1969. Two or three of us would be working until 2 a.m. or so writing game wrap-ups, and we would shoot the bull with Coach Gottfried as he pored over the yellow paper issuing from the chattering machine.
That's my way of claiming Mike Gottfried as an old pal. But it is not a very exclusive club. Gottfried has been pretty much everywhere and knows pretty much everybody. He was head coach at a couple of other Ohio schools before moving on to college coaching jobs at Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas and Pittsburgh.
I was on a small airplane once with three guys from Murray, Ky. They all knew Gottfried personally, too. They said the university there had offered Coach Gottfried a lifetime contract to stay at Murray State. The town, the university, everybody loved Mike Gottfried.
He eventually ended up as the top college football analyst at ESPN, where he was working when I ran into him at an airport one night. We talked about those days back in 1969 Norwalk, and I asked him if he ever planned to coach again. "There is nothing like coaching," he said. "I really love it. But (working at ESPN) is so much fun. And it is so easy."
All of this is by way of introduction to the following little anecdote.
On Sunday night, Jan. 7, I was watching one of the most obscure of the many obscure football bowl games the GMAC Bowl from Mobile, Ala. It was halftime of a bad game, but I was still watching. That's when something really good happened.
A 12-year-old boy named Brelon Jackson was being interviewed, and he was compelling to listen to. Remember, he was on national television, live. Difficult conditions for anyone. But this boy did not stutter or falter. He had something he wanted to say, and he said it eloquently.
"I never knew my father," the boy said. "I've never had a dad at home. But I got into a program called Team Focus and Mike Gottfried became my mentor. He taught me how to tie a tie. He taught me manners and lots of other things. I still don't have a dad at home, but I'm going to do great in life. I've got Mike Gottfried."
My heart was in my throat. And then the camera panned to the press box where Mike Gottfried our Mike Gottfried was waving and beaming like, well, like a proud dad.
Researching afterward, I learned that Gottfried and his wife, Mickey, are the founders of the Team Focus project. According to the American Family Association Journal, Team Focus was created "to identify young men without a father who have leadership qualities and help develop them as leaders' as they 'reach their destiny and become a positive influence in the world.' The program focuses on mentoring young men, ages 10 to 17, through summer camps, tutoring programs and year-round activities. Team Focus began six years ago when Gottfried had the idea to hold a week-long camp in Mobile, Ala., for fatherless boys."
Now there are multiple camps in several states plus Washington, D.C. More than 850 young men participate. And the largest one outside of the original camp in Mobile is the one at Ashland University. During each week, campers learn the importance of leadership, teamwork, academic achievement and a strong moral character.
Through Team Focus, the young men are taught a variety of life principles such as how to take better notes, balance a checkbook, handle peer pressure, use good manners and respect females.
It sounds like a wonderful program. And Mike Gottfried has made it happen.
He was a good coach. And he's had a lot of great jobs. But he's never going to do better than helping young men get the feeling: "I'm going to do great in life. I've got Mike Gottfried."