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Sports >  High school sports

Hall of Fame football coach Don Anderson dies at 87

UPDATED: Thu., Dec. 19, 2019

Former Gonzaga Prep football coach Don Anderson, left, listens to an official’s call during a game against Richland. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Former Gonzaga Prep football coach Don Anderson, left, listens to an official’s call during a game against Richland. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Hall of Fame high school football coach Don Anderson died at his home in Spokane on Wednesday, according his son, Todd Anderson. He was 87.

Anderson was inducted into the Washington State Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1995, two years before he retired.

Over a 36-year career at Lakeside (Seattle) and Gonzaga Prep, Anderson compiled a record of 269-63-4 – the second-most wins in the state when he retired and still tied for seventh in the state – and an .807 winning percentage that ranks 15th in the state all time.

Anderson won 15 Greater Spokane League titles at G-Prep, made five state final appearances (1977, ’82, ’85, ’86, ’87), and won King Bowl titles in ’82 and ’86.

His City League and GSL record was 164-36-3 and he went 195-53-3 overall while coaching the Bullpups.

Following some health issues which forced him to miss the Bullpups’ summer camp, Anderson announced his retirement in the summer of 1997. Dozens of former players came back to help run the Bullpups’ training camp in his absence.

“It’s a testament that so many of his former players came back and helped coach,” former player and longtime Anderson assistant coach H.T. Higgins said at the time.

Anderson then went out and won another GSL title.

“He was diligent with his detail,” current G-Prep coach Dave McKenna said.

“He was extremely intuitive and he prepared beyond most coaches. Just extremely prepared. He had an incredible football mind.

“It was never about one guy’s stats. To become a championship team, everyone had to get better. He would say that everything would take care of itself on the scoreboard if you prepared the right way.”

Jamie FitzGerald played for Anderson from 1981-83 and was part of the 1982 state title team. He went to Idaho State and played parts of three seasons for the Minnesota Vikings from 1987-99.

“Going into high school, I had no idea what film study was,” FitzGerald said. “But (Anderson) instilled that the strength of our brain was as important as anything else. If we knew our assignment better than the guy across from us our job was that much easier.

“As a coach, he was one of those guys that you just really wanted to play for and wanted to please him.

“He was a cool and calm guy on the sidelines. He wasn’t a yeller – pretty rare in those days.”

From a young age FitzGerald was impressed with Anderson.

“I had known him prior to attending Prep. I grew up on the South Hill in the Ferris district and I met him in (junior tackle) at 8, 9 years old. Even then, I knew I wanted to play for him at Prep.

“One thing that Coach Anderson always needed and put out there was to put out 100 percent every day, every play at practice, and then you’d be prepared for the game.”

FitzGerald said Anderson’s confidence in him helped him grow as a player and person.

“I wasn’t really big in high school and Coach Anderson said – and I’d never heard the term bona fide – but he said I was the first bone fide defensive back he had coming out of high school. That gave me the encouragement I needed to reach college and the pros.”

Upon his retirement in 1997, Anderson said his accomplishments weren’t about wins and losses.

“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.

“Our theme was to win with class. 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.”

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