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 www.mcinnisandholloway.com. 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, www.alzheimercalgary.com.
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.Print This Obituary & Condolences