Tom Mix, Published August 25 2013
West Fargo football coach Gibson still enjoys the bright lights of Friday nights after 22 years
The lights illuminate Gibson’s 100-yard paradise, where his enthusiasm for the game is felt along the entire length of the sideline.
Gibson, 56, is comfortable in this atmosphere, where teams clash to determine victory and defeat, where fans cheer and where he has carved out a successful career.
This fall, Gibson enters his 23rd year as head coach at West Fargo. Friday’s opener at Minot will be his 224th career game coached with the Packers, and like anyone who has done the same job for
20-plus years, Gibson is a man of routine.
“I eat the same meal every time. I go to McDonald’s,” joked Gibson. “I just think there are some people in the world that can find something they are comfortable with and they stay with it. I’m comfortable coaching at West Fargo. I like the community.”
Gibson, a native of Dickinson, N.D., is 143-80 at West Fargo and has won five state championships (1993, 1998, 1999, 2002, and 2003). He is the second longest-tenured active coach in North Dakota Class 3A behind Bismarck Century’s Ron Wingenbach (24 years).
Before he was a coach, Gibson was a basketball and football standout at Dickinson High School, playing point guard and tailback for the Midgets before graduating in 1975.
Gibson played basketball at the University of North Dakota and also joined the football team his final two years. One of Gibson’s friends from Dickinson – Terry Kadrmas – was a defensive captain on the UND football team, and together they entered the world of coaching high school football in the fall of 1980.
“Tom Gabrielsen (Grand Forks Red River head coach) hired Terry and I to coach the Red River High School sophomore team,” Gibson said. “That was my first taste of coaching and that was really something. I have never been so excited and frustrated all at the same time. It really intrigued me.”
Gibson accepted a teaching job in Bismarck in 1981 that allowed him to coach the junior varsity basketball team at Bismarck High School.
In the fall of 1984, Gibson returned to the football sidelines, accepting a job as Bismarck’s defensive coordinator under longtime head coach Bob Feeney, who died last year.
The job offer from Feeney wasn’t expected.
“Bob Feeney came to me and said ‘I need a defensive coordinator’ and I said I know nothing about defense,” Gibson said. “Bob became a big part of my life after that because I accidently said ‘yes’ to him. I said I would do it, but I needed help. He took me to NDSU that spring for a clinic and I was able to sit and learn from the coaches there.
“Bob was a North Dakota coaching legend, and he was the hardest-working guy in football. I learned so much from him. Bismarck High was a great experience for me.”
The Demons won state titles in 1984 and 1985, and though he said he could have remained an assistant coach his entire career and been happy, Gibson aspired to lead a program of his own.
Gibson married his wife, Anna, in 1986 and they started a family. Five years later, Gibson got news from his mother-in-law, Sara Frissell, that West Fargo was looking for a new football coach.
“I just wanted to be a head coach,” Gibson said. “There wasn’t a lot of turnaround back then.”
West Fargo activities director Curt Jones, who started his position at the school in 1989, interviewed Gibson.
“I remember a young guy with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Jones said. “I was very impressed with his football knowledge. He had a lot of strong references who called me multiple times to show their support of him.”
Gibson was hired and in 1991 began his tenure with the Packers. His first game was a 22-6 loss to the Demons in Bismarck. Two more losses followed, but then came a five-game winning streak and a berth into the playoffs.
“The whole town was just excited because we were still a small team fighting goliaths every week,” Gibson recalled. “Who wouldn’t want to coach in that type of atmosphere? It was really fun.”
Gibson’s early success continued in 1993 when West Fargo went 11-0 and won its first-ever state championship.
Gibson has experienced only five losing seasons. West Fargo has gone on winning streaks of 25 games (1998-2000) and 23 games (2002-2003) under Gibson.
“There has been a lot of consistency with the football program in the time he has been in West Fargo,” Jones said. “The formula is there and I’ve been very pleased with him as well as the staff he has provided our student athletes over the years. The amount of energy and enthusiasm he showed in 1991 is the same now as a 23-year veteran head coach.”
Gibson has coached many standouts with the Packers. Tyler Roehl, just one player on that long list, played running back at West Fargo from 2001-03 before a collegiate career at NDSU.
“Jay is a guy who asks a lot of you, and you want to live up to everything he asks of you and more,” Roehl said. “If he asks you to run 10 yards, you run 40. He has that much respect. He is a great leader and a great guy to look up to.”
Roehl, now the defensive coordinator for the Moorhead High School football team, served as a volunteer coach for the Packers in 2009 and said he tries to show the same amount of enthusiasm with his players as Gibson is known for.
Gibson said he hasn’t given retirement a thought. Instead, he focuses on the game or season ahead of him.
“Every year is different, but every year is good,” Gibson said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Tom Mix at (701) 241-5562