‘Ol’ Coach’ Jack Gordon loved football ‘more than life itself’

Jack Gordon spent his life around football, and he enjoyed nothing more than Friday nights on the sidelines.

Gordon, a 1949 Hamilton High School graduate, played football at the University of Cincinnati and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams. Instead of playing professionally, Gordon chose a career path than included a 24-year coaching career, high school teacher and radio broadcaster.

Affectionately called the ‘Ol’ Coach,’ Gordon was an assistant football coach at North College Hill for five seasons, then one season at Lima. He made his mark in Middletown where he coached the Middies for 18 seasons, compiling a 116-59-1 record and producing 11 All-Ohio players. He also served as assistant coach under Paul Walker for one season.

After he retired from coaching, Gordon remained close to the game, serving as play-by-play announcer — the “Voice of the Middies” — on WPFB radio.

On Saturday, Gordon, who had been in deteriorating health for some time, died at Hospice Care of Butler and Warren Counties. He was 85.

One of his former players, Al Milton, said he heard about Gordon’s death Saturday night while he was eating in Middletown. The news brought back a flood of memories for Milton, who was a sophomore in 1982, Gordon’s last year as coach.

He said Gordon was a disciplinarian who expected the same of his players during practice and in games. After his players graduated, Gordon remained their friends, Milton said.

“He just loved football probably more than life itself,” said Milton, who sometimes visited Gordon at his Middletown home. “He was a hard-nosed coach, but he was a players’ coach. He created an atmosphere where you knew the ultimate goal was all about winning.”

His sophomore season, Milton said, the Middies were facing Princeton and Gordon wanted — and expected — Milton to play. But Milton thought his ankle was too sore, so he stood on the sidelines.

“He told me, ‘If you don’t man up you’ll never play football,” Milton remembered.

John Mail, who played for Gordon and later became a close friend, said Gordon’s coaching style fit the times.

“He’d be thrown in jail in today’s world,” said Mail, 69, an all-state receiver.

He remembered one game when the Middies were trailing at halftime and Gordon was “ranting and raving” in the locker room. That’s when Gordon picked up one of his players and stuffed him inside a locker, a story Gordon later discounted.

“He tripped,” Gordon said of the player.

After Mail graduated, served in the U.S. Army, got married and lived in Georgia for a number of years, he ran into Gordon one night at Capozzi’s, one of Gordon’s favorite Middletown hangouts. They remained friends ever since, a relationship that Mail will cherish.

“He just gravitated to people,” Mail said. “He was such a lively person. He was exciting, always engaging.”

Greater Miami Conference President Stu Eversole, a former football coach and athletic director at Lakota, wrote in an e-mail that Gordon “leaves a legacy of excellence” not only in Middie athletics but also across state of Ohio. “Jack was without question an outstanding coach and leader of young men. His positive ‘ripple effect’ will go on for generations.”

For 14 years, Gordon, Carel Cosby and Fred Finney broadcast high school games on WPFB, Middletown’s radio station. Gordon was play-by-play, Cosby was color commentator and Finney kept statistics. When they stopped announcing after the station was sold, they remained friends. Finney saw Gordon about every Saturday at the VFW. That camaraderie can’t be replaced, he said.

“He was a rough, old dude, but a good, old dude,” said Finney, 89. “We cared for each other. We enjoyed shooting the breeze. You wouldn’t know it, but he’d do anything for you.”

Jerry Nardiello, who served at the Middletown Journal’s sports editor for 60 years, covered all of Gordon’s games at Middletown. Nardiello said he remembered Gordon as an outstanding player at Hamilton, and he never thought Gordon one day would be the Middies coach.

“He was a good fella,” said Nardiello, 94. “He was just a nice guy.”

Gordon’s first wife, Mary Kay, died in 1996 and five years later, he married Kiki Demetrion, a retired MHS teacher. Demetrion, 81, said she will remember her husband as an outstanding high school athlete who later influenced the lives of young men.

“He was a man’s man,” she said. “He could influence and talk to men and they listened to what he had to say.”

The Gordons have two children, Kathy Lindsey of Hillard, Ohio, and John “Jack,” of Bucksport, Maine; four grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Baker-Stevens-Parramore Funeral Home, 1500 Manchester Ave., and the funeral will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. John Church, 1405 First Ave.

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