Wellington assistant likes coaching behind the scenes
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If John Gifford had his way, hed never talk in public, and certainly never, ever talk with reporters.
Im used to being behind the scenes, Gifford said.
For 44 years, Gifford has been behind the scenes of Wellington football as an assistant save for 1988, when he agreed to step in as coach for a single season.
Gifford is known better as Coach Giff to other coaches, his players, Wellington students and, well, basically the whole town.
But while Gifford, 67, who coaches the offensive line, was hesitant to talk about himself, others were not.
It doesnt surprise me that he doesnt want to talk, said Linn Hibbs, the Shawnee Mission Northwest coach who coached Wellington for 15 seasons, winning two Class 4A titles. Its always been about Wellington football with him.
Wellington has been successful with Gifford on the sideline or up in the coachs booth wearing a headset. Hes been a part of six state title games (1981, 1982, 1992, 2000, 2001, 2002) and part of championships in 1982, 2001 and 2002.
Sometimes you have guys who have been somewhere a long time as an assistant, and they just do the behind-the-scenes things, Wellington second-year coach Tyler Ryan said. But Gifford, in my opinion, is the best coach we have on staff. Hes one of the best coaches Ive been around.
McPherson coach Tom Young is one of the most revered in the area because of his success at Hanover (1979 title), Wellington (1982 title) and Derby (1994 title), and he turned McPherson, long considered a basketball school, into a strong football program.
Yet Gifford, who was a head coach in girls basketball, track and golf, was one of Youngs mentors.
When I took the job at Wellington, I didnt know anybody, said Young, who coached the Crusaders from 1980-82. It was a completely new experience there. I learned a lot from John. Hes a heck of a guy. Probably the biggest thing I learned is how to be organized, especially with the staff. How to use coaches. I didnt utilize people the way I should.
I remember sitting down with John and talking about it with him. Hes going to shoot it with you straight. Hes not a yes man at all.
Hibbs favorite lessons learned from Gifford included everything ranging from how to deal with athletes, how to treat athletes, how to handle practice and discipline, and game plan and parents.
He was my guy, and anytime I had an issue in any part of the program that I wasnt quite sure about, he was my guy, Hibbs said.
Scott City coach Glenn ONeil spent one season as an assistant at Wellington, but he hasnt forgotten Gifford.
What an excellent mentor, said ONeil, who won a Class 3A football title in 2012 and won 3A basketball titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
He scripted the plays out and hed put the defense into situations where they had to think on the run, ONeil said. When I was the defensive coordinator here, thats what wed try to do, too. Id have the call in for the defense, and we tried to make sure that it was the wrong call for the defense on the play coming in. You could tell if the linebacker and the safeties were up to date on the scouting report on whether they adjusted.
Gifford, whos originally from Belle Plaine, has a list of all the coaches hes coached with, knows their years at Wellington and discusses each one.
Then he starts talking about all the former players who have returned to coach at Wellington. Hes got a list of them, too.
To have all those guys come back and coach, I think thats the part I love the most, Gifford said. Guys who have played here, I get to coach them and get to work side-by-side (with) them.
Hibbs played at Wellington, as did four current assistants, including Zane Aguilar, who didnt want to be interviewed until he knew Gifford was on board for the story.
Aguilars dad, Mario, played on the 1982 title team, and shortly before Aguilar took the field his sophomore season for the 2001 title game, Gifford spoke quietly to him and told him it was his turn.
After Aguilar got in a minor accident in 2008, Gifford was one of the first to call and check on him, offering to let him use his car.
Theres not many people who are up there as far as respect, said Aguilar, who coaches quarterbacks and outside linebackers. I respect my father at the top, but Coach Gifford isnt far from him. I respect him out of this world. I feel a lot of players who played underneath him felt the same way.
When Gifford started at Wellington, his first teaching job out of college in January 1970, his parents asked him after each school year, Did you get re-hired?
After about 10 years, they stopped asking, said Gifford, who has been married to Jeannie since 1967 and has four children and seven grandchildren.
Gifford, who is a counselor at Wellington, chalks up his longevity to his passion for education and, in football, for the love of teaching the game and wanting his players to be perfect.
Winning is nice, but the thing I enjoy about coaching is trying to teach kids football, Gifford said. I just have this passion for getting a player to do everything perfect.
His goal is to connect with each student and player. While hes not always successful, he can always be counted on to tell the downright brutal truth.
We love Giff, senior lineman Ben Dejarnett said. Hes kind of a living tradition around here.