Don Anderson was calm when he started, but as he recalled his 40 years as a football coach, that all changed.
“It’s a multitude of emotions,” the Hall of Fame Gonzaga Prep coach said. “This brings back a lot of memories.”
Anderson, 65, told his players Tuesday this would be his last season. Anderson has a career record of 263 wins, 60 losses and four ties, starting in 1956 with Lakeside in Seattle. He has been at Gonzaga Prep since 1973, leading the Bullpups to 14 Greater Spokane League titles, two state championships and three second-place finishes.
“It’s time, I know it’s time,” he said. “I still feel young in a lot of ways, but it’s time to get on with my life and give someone else a shot. I’m not a retiring type, mowing the lawn, fishing or golfing. I’ll be doing something. I wanted it up front before the season starts. It’s just been a beautiful journey.”
“I might get slobbery over Don,” said former Spokesman-Review sportswriter Merle Derrick, who covered high school sports in Spokane for almost 50 years before retiring five years ago. Derrick has seen almost every Prep game since Anderson arrived. “His teams’ performances were a reflection of him. They were organized, prepared, disciplined and I think they always gave a true reflection of their ability. He’s always been courteous … and a guy if he told you something you could count on it being a fact. He rarely got flustered and was always a pleasure to talk to under dire circumstances. He tackled everything with poise and consideration. He’s a class act.”
With the end in sight, Anderson’s emotions tumbled out.
“There’s not an individual highlight,” he said. “You can take the state titles, but it’s the relationships you’ve had along the way. There are the people expected to do well who do well, but some get off to a slow start and you help them find themselves. Mostly it’s the human relationships, the one-to-one relationships in a team concept. I’ve been truly blessed with this. It keeps you young being around them, sharing their emotions.”
That continues beyond their graduation and extends to the coaches.
“One of the true blessings in the whole process is the former players who come back to help out or have fellowship with. That’s been beautiful,” he said. “And it’s not just the kids, it’s the coaches, too. I’ve been very fortunate with the great assistants I’ve had, their great loyalty… . On a daily basis you have to enjoy each other’s company.”
H.T. Higgins, who has been an Anderson assistant the past 15 years after playing for him, said, “The biggest thing is Don doesn’t have an ego, so therefore he has the ability to attract good coaches that he allows to coach. He’s not a dictator.
“He’s not in it for the wins and losses - that’s just a byproduct of his enjoyment of the game - he’s in it for the kids.”
Anderson has been hospitalized for different ailments twice this summer, the second time forcing him to miss the Bullpups football camp last week, which, according to Higgins, had at least a dozen of his former players helping out.
“It’s a testament that so many of his former players come back and help coach,” Higgins said. “This last week was the first week in the last 15 years he wasn’t there (for summer camp). As the week went on, I realized how much I enjoyed being with him … it wasn’t quite the same.”
Anderson had other opportunities, but he was always drawn back to high school athletes. He was a graduate assistant at the University of Washington - although the Roosevelt High School and UW graduate was a baseball player - before going to Lakeside. He came to Spokane for two years to help with the semipro Spokane Shockers of the Continental League before going to Northern Arizona University for two years. Then he replaced Billy Frazier at Gonzaga Prep, only the third coach for the Bullpups in four decades with Puggy Hunton preceding Frazier.
“I’ve been very fortunate. I was in the profession I wanted to be in … but I could never foresee this,” he said. “A couple of years ago they put me in the Hall of Fame. I grew up wanting to be a coach and to be rewarded like that. It was a great journey. Being the guy in charge was important to me. The thrill of being around the high school age, it is definitely sometimes up and down, but it’s definitely a reward to be part of that growth period, too.”
Some of the growth has been Anderson’s, who has seen society change in the last four decades.
“I feel I’m not probably totally in tune with all of the societal changes, but there is a point where I definitely relaxed,” he said. “I’ve adjusted, I think I’ve been flexible. … Hopefully, there is a foundation of consistency. Even though there are changes, I didn’t give up what I believe in. … Though there have been changes, there has been kind of a glue … that I think young people would like to hang on to. I haven’t wavered from that. Hopefully, that will be one of my credits, I’ve went through different generations, maybe not sparkled, but I’ve survived it all.”
Only one coach had more wins than Anderson. Dick Armstrong, who retired from Snohomish two years ago, finished with 281, but that isn’t a milestone he cared about.
“Our theme was to win with class,” he said. “Sometimes we lose track of that with our sports … how to win. Winning with class has always been a big thing. If I have one thing to pass on … when you do win, you do it with class.”
Higgins said, “His quest, as he would say, was for the perfect play, to run a perfect play. He loves the X’s and O’s and he’s been a lifelong learner. Obviously he has the ability to motivate his players.”
That should be easy this year.
“This year I don’t expect any more or any less (for the team),” Anderson said. “My sense is that this is going to be a fun year, striving to be the best we can be. It’s just going to be enjoyable to be around each other. I just want to go out and enjoy the season … and just fade away. I’ve had all the rewards I need.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Don Anderson file Age: 65 Record: 263-60-4 Milestones: 14 GSL titles; two state titles; second-winningest prep football coach in Washington.
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