Randy Gordon retires after 26 seasons at Trinity, 36 years as head football coachFrom the time he was a high school student in New England, Randy Gordon knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He was going to be a football coach.
By: Royal McGregor, The Dickinson Press
From the time he was a high school student in New England, Randy Gordon knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.
He was going to be a football coach.
In the past 36 years, Gordon has succeeded at that dream.
Now, after 26 years at Dickinson Trinity, Gordon is stepping down as the head football coach.
“It’s been crossing my mind simply because of my son (Ben) being a senior,” Gordon said. “That’s what probably started it. It really doesn’t have anything to do with anybody or anything. I think it’s just time. It was a good time to leave because the program is solid. It’s got some good shape with players, numbers and coaching staff.”
However, it wasn’t a decision that Gordon made easily.
“It ranks up there in the top five decisions I’ve ever made for myself,” Gordon said. “Am I ready? What are you going to do then? I know I’ll miss some of the stuff. I’m going to miss getting a big win and preparing for the next game.”
Gordon, who began his coaching career in Killdeer, finished with a lifetime record of 241-102 (70 percent) and has been named North Dakota Coach of the Year five times.
He led the Titans to three state championships, including back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. His final championship win was in 2006.
“After one state championship, I think it takes a lot for a team and a coach to come back next year and do it again,” said Kyle Steffes, a 2002 Trinity graduate and the standout running back for Trinity’s back-to-back state title teams. “That’s just a testament to him. It’s one thing to have good players and good athletes, but it takes a good coach to bring everybody together. That’s what he did.”
During his tenure at Trinity, Gordon’s teams have missed the postseason just four times, including the past two seasons two seasons.
“At Trinity, we’ve only missed the playoffs four times,” Gordon said. “There have been those years, but those years are going to come. There’s only been two losing seasons. Every year has been successful to me. Anytime you win a state championship is a high, but I think the best high I’ve had is when you win the region.”
“Winning a region title has always been a big one for me. Anything else that comes after that is just what kind of team you had, the draw you had and some luck.”
Throughout Gordon’s 36 years as a head coach, he has had 62 assistant coaches.
“There’s a certain amount of automatic respect that Randy got just because he had been there for so long,” said John Odermann, who played on the back-to-back state title teams and is now the Titans’ defensive coordinator. “When I started coaching in the fall of 2007, it took me almost a year to call him Randy. I always called him coach Gordon or Mr. Gordon.”
Starting in Cowboy country
After Gordon graduated from Dickinson State, he traveled north to become the head coach in Killdeer.
Gordon’s senior year at DSU was Hank Biesiot’s first season as head coach for the Blue Hawks. Biesiot has went onto his own successful 37-year coaching career with 257 wins.
“Hank is someone that’s always been a role model,” Gordon said. “All my coaches have been good coaches and I think those are good role models.”
In the beginning at Killdeer, there was Gordon and one assistant. It wasn’t until he started building a program in Killdeer that he was able to add more assistant coaches.
“When I first started in 1977, there were me and another guy,” Gordon said. “That’s all there was in Killdeer. Within four or five years, they granted me two or three more assistant coaches inside the system.”
The start of Gordon winning his region titles began in Killdeer. After finishing the 1980 season with a 2-6 record, Gordon won his first region title in 1981 and was subsequently named the Class B 11-man Coach of the Year.
Two football players that played for Gordon during his time in Killdeer were Scooter Pursley and Travis Olson. Pursley went on to become a sports reporter for The Dickinson Press and covered Gordon at Trinity. Olson is now the head football coach for Richardton-Taylor Hebron.
“It’s one where you play for somebody and now you are kind of attached to them for as long as you live,” said Pursley, who now lives in Bismarck. “It just got easier from there. He was accepting and respectful for somebody that was young at The Dickinson Press.
“I’ve apologized many times for causing most of his losses in his career,” Pursley added with a laugh. “We definitely lost when I was there. Once he got rid of me, then he had a pretty good career.”
Killdeer won its first region championship during Olson’s senior season. Olson said he reiterates some of the same messages Gordon did during his tenure in Killdeer.
“I graduated in 1981 and still remember some of the things coach Gordon said to me when I was playing,” Olson said. “I still use them today. He’s been a very important person in my life, because of football.”
Killdeer repeated as region champions in 1982. Three years later, Gordon headed south to Trinity.
“Killdeer had a very solid football program for the rest of the time that he was there,” Olson said. “I think Randy Gordon was the roots to that program.”
Taking over the Titans
Gordon took over as head coach of the Titans in the 1986 season, when Trinity was still a member of Class A, which is now known as Class 3A.
Despite playing schools with far superior numbers, Trinity compiled a 23-21 record until reclassification happened in 1992 and they were bumped down to Class B.
“In my whole career, I don’t think we’ve ever been down,” Gordon said. “We’ve always been right back in the middle of things and competing.”
Reclassification in 1997 made Trinity a Class 2A school and the Titans have been in the thick of things ever since.
“It was definitely an excellent experience,” said Steffes, who is the second all-time leading rusher at North Dakota State with 3,952 yards and 43 touchdowns. “To have coach Gordon as our leader bringing everybody together was a great experience. You look up to your head coach before the big game and when you’re in the situations where you’re competing for state titles. You feed off every single word your head coach says and I thought he did an excellent job leading our group of guys throughout my career.”
Gordon said the real underlying factor may be the tradition Trinity was able to build during his career.
“We had a huge string from 1991 until now that we’ve always had good players,” he said. “I think it’s a little bit of luck to have a lot of those kind of kids come along, but once you get the ball rolling, kids change to where they want to keep up with the tradition. Tradition itself made a lot of kids better players.”
Gordon couldn’t make the decision to step down as head coach without running it by his wife, JoAnn, and his four children, Katie, Emily, Megan and Ben.
“It’s not a thing that you decide yourself,” Randy Gordon said.
The coach said he was always ready to step down if it meant getting to spend more time with his family.
“My three daughters were older than Ben and I didn’t get to see a lot of their games,” he said. “Every year I would ask them, ‘Do you want me to do this or not. I’ll quit for you guys. If you want me to quit coaching, I’ll spend more time at your games. Just let me know and I will do this for you.’ Every time they’d answer, ‘No dad, we want you to coach. We’re fine.’ I would have quit if my family would have asked.”
JoAnn and Randy have been married for 24 years. She said it was difficult when the kids were younger, but as they got older, it started becoming easier to have her husband preoccupied by the rigors of coaching each fall.
“When the kids were really little that was probably the hardest, because they didn’t fully understand why he was away,” JoAnn said. “As they got older and more involved, they were always going to football games. We are a football family.”
Football runs in the family.
For the last three years, Ben has been Trinity’s starting quarterback and stood on the sidelines with his father.
“Growing up, I was always around the team,” Ben said. “It was always my dream to be a varsity player. It was a little more special that I got to go through the ups and downs with my dad. It’s something that I wouldn’t trade the world for.”
Both Randy and JoAnn agree it will be a little different when the 2013 football season rolls around.
“That’s all I’ve ever known,” JoAnn said. “He’s been a head coach since we dated and got married. This will be a huge change.”
Relishing the experience
Have the last 36 years been fun for coach Gordon?
“Oh yeah,” he said. “I wanted to be a teacher and a coach even when I was in high school. I knew that’s what I was going to do.”
The one fact Gordon will continue living his life by, even after football, is to cherish every day because each day is different.
“There’s never one day that is the same,” Gordon said. “It’s going to be different every day and that’s exciting.”
Over the past 36 years, he has wanted to instill a passion for football — players and assistant coaches all say he’s done that.
“It’s bittersweet, because I’m happy for coach Gordon and all the success he’s had. I’m sure that he shaped a lot of young men’s lives,” Steffes said. “Everybody is going to miss that. I’m going to miss coming back to Trinity games and seeing coach Gordon on the sidelines. That one of the best times of my life, playing my sophomore, junior and senior year for coach Gordon. It’s going to be sad not to see him on the sidelines.”
“The biggest thing that I remember is that he brought a love of the game to me and to the other players,” Olson added. “We loved to play football and, for me personally, he had a huge impact on that in my life. As a coach, that’s one of the most important things you can do as a coach is to bring a love to the game.”
Gordon has also been an assistant coach in boys basketball, baseball and track and field. He remains an assistant boys basketball coach under one of his former assistants, Gregg Grinsteinner.
Now that Gordon has stepped down as the football coach, is his next decision will be how long to continue coaching basketball.
“I’m going to take it one step at a time,” Gordon said with a smile.