The “little things” always have been the biggest part of Bob Gaddis’ football life.
Bit-by-bit, little-by-little, over 36 years of coaching, they added up to a Hall of Fame career.
“Do the little things right ... he’s always preaching that,” Columbus East running back Markell Jones said after a workout on Monday. “He said it again today.
“Honestly, coach Gaddis is by far the best role model, the best coach in the state. It’s been an honor to play for him.”
After coaching at seven high schools, winning 12 conference, nine sectional and seven regional championships and one state title, and after guiding thousands of players in a positive direction, the honor now goes to Gaddis. On Saturday at Harrison Lake Country Club, Gaddis will be inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame with a reception and dinner.
“I think one of the hardest things is to get kids to not take success for granted,” said Gaddis, who has a career record of 253-129. His record at Columbus East is 135-29. “It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and commitment. That is a tough thing to sell all the time.
“We tell our players, ‘Football is not an easy game.’ I believe in that. This is about building commitment and character. And you have to remember, with 15-, 16- and 17-year-old kids, whatever is important to them today, those priorities might change tomorrow. Things change tremendously in these kids’ lives every day. But if you want to be a champion, you have to put something into it. It is the same kind of work they will have to do in their jobs and their marriages.”
It is a point he managed to get across through the years.
“He always made kids understand that if they did the little things right, everything else would take care of itself,” said Tony Lewis, who played quarterback for Gaddis in the 1983 and 1984 seasons at South Putnam and later was his assistant coach for 10 years at Pike and Evansville Reitz. “I was a freshman when he came to South Putnam. It was an eye-opener. We had not been around the type of discipline that he had. He was all about doing things the right way.
“If you look back at his long career, every school has improved. That’s the mark of a great coach. South Putnam did not have a great football program at the time, but he instituted a tough weightlifting program, and that obviously helped us. After he left, my senior year, we made it to semistate. The following year South Putnam won the state championship. Mark Wildman, who became the head coach, would say that a lot of that had to do with what coach Gaddis brought to South Putnam.”
Gaddis brought success to Danville after leaving South Putnam and then Pike and then Evansville Reitz.
‘The guy oozed class’
He showed up in Columbus in 2001.
“We recruited some people, including Bob,” said Bill Jensen, who was the Columbus East principal at the time. “We had a strong list of candidates that year because Columbus East was a very attractive job. We had a good administration and a solid balance between academics and athletics. But whoever took the position would have to replace a Hall of Fame coach in John Stafford.
“We also had a situation where students could pick one high school or the other in town. Bob talked about how the quality of the program would determine what student athletes would come.”
East’s search committee liked what they heard, and Gaddis was hired.
“The guy oozed class,” Jensen said. “He was professional and first class. He talked about building a program and what that would take. He talked about what it would take from him and his staff and from his kids. We could tell that this guy knew what he was talking about.”
Starting in 2004, Columbus East won 10 consecutive Hoosier Hills Conference titles. The Olympians have won seven sectional titles and six regional championships under his watch and, of course, the state 4A championship in 2013.
“That was a really good hire,” said Jensen, now the director of secondary education for the Bartholomew Consolidated Schools Corp. “Wow.
“I remember playing a critical game his first year against Jennings County. We were behind on Friday night when we got rained out. Oh, the coaching he did that night. We came back and won the game on Saturday. The kids started believing.”
Besides producing successful teams and students, Gaddis promoted the sport with his work for the Indiana Football Coaches Association.
“Bob always has been dedicated to his profession beyond preparing his teams,” said Jim Kaiser, who faced Gaddis’ teams twice as the head coach at Monrovia and later worked with Gaddis on the IFCA staff. “He always was very active with the IFCA. He helped a lot of coaches through the presentations and clinics he gave. He attended countless meetings and did all those things you have to do behind the scenes.
“His longevity is most impressive to me. This is a very difficult business in terms of the demands on your time.”
Kaiser knew that Gaddis was putting in the time when it came to facing his teams.
“In my mind, he was one of the more prepared coaches that we ever faced,” Kaiser said. “He always was so organized, so prepared. His teams didn’t beat themselves.”
Dick Dullaghan, a former Ben Davis head coach and now the owner of Bishop Dullaghan Football Camps, agreed with Kaiser.
“Bob paid meticulous attention to detail,” Dullaghan said. “He was extremely organized, and he had a very simple offense that was executed to perfection most of the time. If you had a weakness, he was going to find it.
“He has brought his players to our camps through his entire career, and you always could see that he treats kids right and cares about them. He is tough on them but fair. He retains his assistants because he cares about them. He should have been in the Hall of Fame years ago.”
Creating a legacy
When Gaddis began his coaching career at Columbus East, Joe Goodman was leading the conference powerhouse, Seymour. Goodman, who was inducted into the Indiana Football Hall of Fame after a 30-year career at Seymour, talked about Gaddis working at seven different high schools.
“The guy can’t keep a job,” Goodman said.
Goodman retired after the 2003 season just as the Olympians were hitting their stride.
“I remember one time not long ago that Bob and I were sharing a laugh,” Goodman said. “I said that we had won the conference three years in a row.
“He said, ‘Well, we’ve won it 10 years in a row.’ He put me in my place.”
Goodman and Gaddis have built their friendship working with the IFCA, and Goodman will serve as the master of ceremonies on Saturday.
“Bob is total organization,” Goodman said. “How in the world can you be an athletics director and a head football coach? Think about it. High school football is like a corporation. You have employees going here and there, and you have stockholders in the fans. It’s a pretty big occupation, and Bob always looks like he is not doing anything.”
Eddie Vogel has been along for the ride as an East assistant since 2002.
“From that first year, I admired how Bob operated,” said Vogel, who is East’s defensive coordinator. “I try to take all those things about how to coach, how to treat players, and carry that stuff with me.
“The thing about Bob is that he lets coaches coach. I’ve been around coaches who micromanage. He has confidence that we are going to do what’s best for the team.”
Vogel said Gaddis has one very good attribute that people probably don’t notice.
“He is a good listener,” Vogel said. “A lot of times you can see when you are talking that somebody is really thinking about what they are going to say. Bob really listens.”
Just like Gaddis wants his players to do the little things right, he has expected the same of his assistants.
“He expects us to put a lot of time in, and he does the same,” Vogel said.
Those around Gaddis have seen his role as football coach expand.
“He is a leader in our community,” Vogel said. “He has been good for Columbus athletics in general. And so many coaches in the state regard him so highly. It speaks to the kind of person he is.”
Support at home
Gaddis said he couldn’t have been the kind of person and coach that he has become without his wife, Karen. They have been married since 1978.
“Coaching takes a team behind you, and Bob has Karen,” Kaiser said. “She is just tremendous, and she has been wonderful over the years. My wife, Linda, and I have had some get-togethers with Bob and Karen over the years, and it’s been something we have treasured.”
“If you don’t have a great wife behind you, forget it,” Dullaghan said. “It just doesn’t happen. There aren’t many wives who understand that they need to dive in themselves.”
Goodman added, “All coaches’ wives are saints.”
“I will tell you this and I mean this 100 percent,” Gaddis said. “Until someone has lived it, they don’t know how much time we spend away from our families. I don’t know how many players I’ve coached, but it has been a lot. We know our athletes pretty well, and that takes time.
“Karen’s support always has been phenomenal. Things go on, and Dad is not there. Luckily, she has always been involved.
“She was always in charge of our live-in camps and the meals and all of that. She’s always willing to take care of the coaches’ wives. She provides the food and entertainment at the coaches meetings. This job is all about the relationships you build, and Karen has had a lot to do with that. I don’t think she has missed more than two or three games in all the years. We would go live-scout a game, and that would be a date for us.”
Bob and Karen Gaddis had three children. Alisha Gaddis, who is 32, is married to Lucky Diaz, and they have a daughter, Ella, who is 10. The family lives in Los Angeles. Their son Grant Gaddis, who is 26, is married to Sandy, and they have a 2-year-old son, Knox. They live in Atlanta.
Their son, Brock, passed away when he was 6.
“I was coaching three sports, and Karen had to watch three children, including one who was special needs,” Bob Gaddis said. “We made it through all that.”
Putting it together
Gaddis almost didn’t make it past his first three years as a head coach. He took over at Tri-County when he was 24, and they were talking about dropping the program.
“I wasn’t ready to be a head coach,” Gaddis said. “Over the next two years, when we were 2-18, I probably learned more about what I was not going to do.
“Then at South Putnam, we were 2-8 that first season. That was 4-26 those first three years. It was very humbling.
“It was tough. I asked myself, ‘Is this really what I want to do? Could I have taken a different career path?’”
But he went forward, and things turned around.
By the time Columbus East won the state championship in 2013, Gaddis already had cemented a spot in the Hall of Fame.
“It was what I thought it could be, incredible,” Gaddis said of the 4A title. “But had we not gotten it done, I never would have had a second thought about my decision to be a high school coach. I wanted to be a coach in middle school.”
Gaddis said he might have gotten some of his organizational skills from his parents, Max and Betty Gaddis. Max Gaddis owned a tire store, while Betty Gaddis owned a flower shop.
“I think I picked up their work ethic,” Gaddis said.
But it was his middle school (seventh through ninth grade at the time) football and wrestling coach who pointed Gaddis in a career direction.
“It was Jim Burress who made me decide I wanted to be a coach,” Gaddis said. “It was just the way he ran his teams.”
Now it’s Gaddis that drives others into the profession.
“He always has been a great mentor,” said Lewis, who is the head football coach at Henderson County High School in Kentucky. “He is the reason I got into football coaching. He taught me a lot of great football lessons and a lot of wonderful life lessons.”