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GOTTA, John Charles “Jack”

GOTTA, John Charles “Jack”

November 14, 1929 – Ironwood, Michigan

June 29, 2013 – Cochrane, AB

Jack Gotta, renowned charismatic football coach, player and three time Grey cup winner, passed away June 29, 2013, at Bethany Care Centre in Cochrane at the age of 83.


John Charles “Jack” Gotta was born November 14, 1929 in Bessemer, Michigan to Joseph and Linda Gotta.


In 1952 Gotta received a sports scholarship to attend Oregon State University after a scout spotted his prodigious talent.  He completed his Master’s Degree in Health Education before continuing his work towards a Doctorate.  Always an accomplished academic he did not excel in athletics until his college years.


After his university education Jack went into the US Air Force as a Lieutenant at Hamilton Air Base, California.  He served as an air traffic controller during the Korean War before being honourably discharged.  He played football for the Air Force before being drafted into the NFL by the Cleveland Browns in 1956. By now it was obvious his future lay in the football world.   Given the choice to stay in Cleveland with the “Taxi Squad”, a term used for keeping players in town who were not on the official roster, or starting in Canada,  Jack quickly made the decision to start with the Calgary Stampeders.   Typical of his adventurous character he made his way to Canada with a briefcase ” filled with an apple and a roadmap”, and enjoyed a very successful playing career in the CFL with the Calgary Stampeders, Saskatchewan Roughriders and finally with the Montreal Alouettes in 1964.  He played for 13 years and was an All-Star on both the offence and defence, giving him the moniker of “The Toaster” as he would “burn them on both sides”.


His coaching career began as an assistant coach with Saskatchewan in 1965.  The following year he went on to win his first Grey Cup.


He joined the Ottawa Rough Riders coaching staff and won his second Grey Cup as an assistant coach in 1969.  He replaced his retiring mentor Frank Clair in 1970 as head coach in Ottawa and went on to win his third Grey Cup in 1973.  Symptomatic of his larger than life character and fondness of practical jokes when requesting a raise he pulled a toy gun to emphasize his request.  By now Jack’s prowess as a coach and manager lead him to be offered to help form a new league south of the border.


In 1974 he moved to the World Football League’s Birmingham Americans as head coach and general manager.  At the helm the team went on to win the only WFL World Bowl at Birmingham’s Legion Field.  The City of Birmingham honoured Jack with a Key to the City and declared December 26 Coach Jack Gotta Day. By now arguably at the zenith of his career Jack was offered a position as head coach of the NFL’s Chicago Bears.  He turned down this offer to focus on his attempt to enter the Birmingham team into the NFL however they were overlooked in favour of the newly formed Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


Several offers were made and in 1977 he returned to his old team the Calgary Stampeders only this time as general manager and head coach.   Tasked with rebuilding a disillusioned team who had suffered from five losing seasons, Jack brought his legendary organizational and personal skills to transform the team. This culminated in the Stampeders being back in the play-offs and made back to back appearances in the West Division final.  He finished his career as a coach in Saskatchewan for two years and finally as a commentator for CTV, the first CFL coach to be honoured with a record three Annis Stukus trophies as Coach of the Year.


Despite the rigours of a highly successful sporting career Jack was foremost a family man.   Having grown up with three brothers in the Depression Era he knew that the fundamental principles of family, hard work and integrity should be the shining lights of one’s life.  This along with an enormous sense of humour and tremendous charisma ensured that Jack positively influenced many people from all walks of life. His leadership skills and innate understanding of motivating people meant that many fulfilled ambitions that they did not feel were possible.


Jack’s greatest love was his beautiful and beloved wife with whom he shared a happy marriage for fifty years.  They were a testament to true love and dedication.  Sadly the last years of Jack’s life were blotted by the ravages of Alzheimer’s. Despite this he braved his illness with typical fortitude, humour and shining optimism right to the end lovingly cared for at home by his wife. Emboldened by the wonderful care given by the staff at the Bethany Care Centre in Cochrane for the last seven months of his life Jack will be greatly missed.


The family wish it to be noted that although a US citizen Jack was a naturalized resident of Canada and adored his adopted country. In particular he was immensely attached to the wonderful people and City of Calgary.


Jack is survived by his wife Joni, son Jeff (Mary) of Calgary, Alberta; son Anthony of Los Angeles, California; son Jake of Cochrane, Alberta and daughter Gia (Julian) of Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK; two brothers, James (Fern) of Pelican Lake, Minnesota and Jerome (Irene) of Sacramento, California; granddaughter Jordan of Los Angeles, California and grandson Justin of Calgary, Alberta.


A Family Graveside Service took place at Cochrane Cemetery on July 4, 2013. Condolences may be forwarded through If friends so desire, memorial tributes may be made directly to The Alzheimer Society of Calgary, Suite 201, 222 – 58th Avenue S.W., Calgary, AB T2H 2S3, Telephone: (403)290-0110,


In living memory of Jack Gotta, a tree will be planted at Big Hill Springs Park Cochrane by McINNIS & HOLLOWAY FUNERAL HOMES, Crowfoot Chapel, 82 Crowfoot Circle N.W.  Telephone: (403) 241-0044.

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Condolence Messages

  1. Joan Longeway :

    Our deepest sympathy Joni and family on the passing of Jack. Remember fondly when Jack and his son came into our restaurant when they were peeling logs at Moose Mountain. Clarence as a football fan remembers the kindness shown by Jack towards Robert Hassel who was a special fan of the Calgary Stampeders.

    Joan & Clarence Longeway (Home Quarter Mercantile & Pie Shoppe)

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  2. Gary D. Braun :

    My deepest sympathies to the Gotta family.

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  3. The Mauro Family Thunder bay :

    Thinking of you all at this difficult time. So sorry for your loss. He had an incredible life, just read the obituary.

    Anna, Ronny, Jade and Jazmine

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  4. Sue and Spence Fawkes :

    Our deepest sympathies to your loss. He was my hero as well, I had his football card in my kid collection. I enjoyed listening to his football chatter, he was a great story teller.
    Please continue painting, in Jocko’s honor. You have a great talent.
    Love, Sue and Spence

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  5. Jack MacDonald :

    Joni and Gotta family, Condolences on the loss of Jack. I know the last few years had been tough. As a young sports reporter working with Eric Bishop and Ed Whalen in the late 70’s and 80’s I had the pleasure of covering the Stampeders and getting to know Jack and all those connected with the football club. He was a joy to be around and taught me a lot about football and about life itself. And as a youngster Jack had been one of my favorite Stamps back in the Mewata Stadium days. I will always remember his sense of humor, honesty,loyalty and professionalism. A very special man. My best to the family.

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  6. Stan Schwartz/Calgary Stampeder Football Club :

    July 7, 2013

    Joni Gotta & Family

    Dear Joni,

    On behalf of the Calgary Stampeder Football Club’s Ownership Group; Chairman, Ken King; Governor, Doug Mitchell; President, Gord Norrie; Head Coach and General Manager, John Hufnagel; management; coaches; players and the entire Calgary Stampeder family, we are deeply saddened by the loss of your husband Jack.

    The Gotta family will be faced with enormous and profound adjustments. These adjustments will be such that they affect the whole being. The path of grief, hurt and finally acceptance will take time and is one that each member of the family must travel alone. You are fortunate that your family and friends are close and each in their own special way will help others.

    I, like so many, was fortunate to have known Jack as a friend and as a member of the Canadian football fraternity. I have been blessed in my life to meet people that made a difference. Jack Gotta is one such person. His tools are generosity, strength and compassion. A sport will only be as good as the people who devote their personal time to that sport’s betterment. By that yardstick, Canadian Football is better today because of Jack Gotta’s commitment over the years. Jack’s dedication and longstanding commitment to Canadian football are a rarity when compared to the selfishness and individualism so prominent in sports today. Few could only dream of traveling the Jack Gotta road.

    Jack Gotta provided me the opportunity to coach Stampeder football of which I will be forever grateful. He welcomed me to the Canadian Football League fraternity with open arms. Jack Gotta was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm. No one wanted to win more and ensure the success of the Club. He brought fun to the sport everyday. He assumed the responsibility that goes along with that of being a head coach. He didn’t point the finger for the Club’s failure to win games. I recall on one occasion when one of the local media scribes asked coach Jack if its any harder coaching in the Canadian Football League than in the World Football League. He replied: “No coaching is easy,” “It’s winning that’s difficult.”

    Jack is truly a gentleman and always found time to show a genuine interest in the people that he met. When I think of sport’s personalities that have a real passion for their sport and a willingness to share their experiences with others, I think of my friend, Jack Gotta. He remains one of the most engaging individuals that I know in sports. I’ve seen him spend hours with people that he has never met before, and when they leave, they feel that they have been treated special and have a new friend. We only go around once and it’s nice to go around with good people and good friends.

    Without Jack’s longstanding guidance, support, wisdom and most importantly friendship, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

    However, a more important statement about Jack and the kind of person he was is what he left behind. Jack is such a lucky person to have a caring family and friends. How proud he is of you; his children Jeff, Tony and Gia; his grandchildren; and family. What greater satisfaction is there in life? People are better off today for knowing Jack Gotta.

    Knowing all to well the tough times that lie ahead, empathy for the Gotta family is strong. Remember the good times that will always be there to remind you, for they will help you through the many hurtful moments. Hold these memories fast. Soon they will help you remember with a smile. Jack lives on in your life and the lives of others who knew him.

    Our sympathy and prayers are with you and your family.

    Your friend,
    Calgary Stampeder Football Club

    Stan J. Schwartz

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  7. Katie and Paul Pearlman :

    Dear Joni and Family. Pacey and I were saddened to hear of Jack’s passing. Always the life of the party, he will be missed. Our love goes out to all of you.
    Love, Katie and Pacey

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  8. John and James Slavin (Ironwood, MI natives) :

    We would like to offer our heartfelt sorrow a Jocko’s passing. We both had the fortune of knowing him during a brief stint a Ironwood High School and quickly learned to love and respect him! My brother John also worked for Jacks’ dad picking worms at their worm farm behind the Ironwood Fairgrounds. Respectfully, Jim and Jack Slavin(Former Ironwood High School Students)

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  9. Ed and Ilona Nant :

    Joni and family: It has been many years since our paths have crossed but we both have fond memories from our horse show years. We are still avid Roughrider fans, and have many wonderful memories of Jack as a player and coach. Our deepest sympathy to you and your family. Sincerely, Ed and Ilona(Barber) Nant

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  10. Lisa Fryklund :

    Jack’s influence touched me through his family he raised a group of the most interesting and engaging people I have ever met and befriended. From them and Jack I picked up some betters ways of approaching people and sharing the love of life.

    Mrs. Gotta, you share that influence and I am deeply moved knowing you made Jack’s life wonderful.

    Thank you Gotta family, thank you Jack Gotta.
    My sympathy to you.
    Lisa Fryklund
    Alameda, California

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  11. With deepest sympathy on the demise of Jack. My family offers its thoughts and prayers in this difficult time.

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  12. Lissa Townsend :

    My most heartfelt condolences to the Gotta family for the loss of their charming gentleman, husband and father.

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  13. Steve Horvath :

    I am saddened for the Gotta family on the loss of Jack. I am not a friend or even an aquaintance of Jack, however he was my favorite coach ever, of the Stampeders. My friends and I met him many years ago while he coached the team. He spoke to us like we were his close friends…I will never forget that day. My heartfelt condolences to the Gotta family. He was and still is a great man in my opinion. God bless.

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  14. Barbara Walters Potyok :

    Dear Joni,
    We moved back to Calgary almost 9 years ago & I have tried to contact you a couple of times but no longer had your phone# & couldn’t remember how to find your acreage. I don’t get the paper so only recently heard of Jack’s passing. I am so sorry that you have joined the rest of us in widowhood. I lost Ron 6 years ago to lung cancer. I sold our house in Scenic Acres & moved into a seniors’ condo complex in Hawkwood 3 years ago.

    With love & sympathy,

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