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Monessen coaching legend dies

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Former Monessen coach, Joe Gladys

Monessen lost one of its true icons Thursday with the passing of Joe Gladys.

Gladys, who served as football coach at Monessen from 1960 to 1982, compiled a 153-64-9 record guiding the Greyhounds. He coached Monessen to its last WPIAL football title, beating Wilkinsburg, 7-6, in 1961.

Gladys, 85, died after a lingering illness.

Known to this day by all his former players simply as “Mr. Gladys,” he was named Big 10 Conference Coach of the Year 11 times and coached in the Big 33 Classic.

He sent eight players to the NFL: Tony Benjamin, Eric Crabtree, Doug Crusan, Julius Dawkins, Sam Havrilak, Jo Jo Heath, Bill Malinchak and one of his sons, Eugene.

Gladys was more than a coach. He was a teacher, a scholar, a family man, a man of principle and an author.

Word of the greatest mentor many of Monessen’s finest athletes had ever known was met with sadness.

“I’m stunned,” said Terry Dzimiera, a 1977 graduate who went on to play football at Indiana State University of Terre Haute. “I need some time to collect my thoughts.

“Mr. Gladys was like a father figure to me. I was like part of the family and spent a lot of time at his house growing up. And if you played for him, you were part of his family. That’s how Mr. Gladys was.

“He was such a gentleman and a motivator,” Dzimiera continued. “I’ll say this: All my life, any coach I was involved with, he was the standard I used to compare them all by. Mr. Gladys was the epitome of what you would want in a coach. He was truly Mr. Greyhound.”

“I can sum it all up real quick,” said Daryle West, a 1973 graduate who played on two of Gladys’ Big 10 champion teams. “He raised champions. Period. Mr. Gladys raised champions.

“His motto was ‘If you can’t be first, don’t be last,’” West added. “What he meant was above all, compete. Even if you can’t always win, don’t ever accept losing. He taught us all life lessons.”

Andy Yartin, a 1976 Monessen grad who played during some of the Greyhounds’ glory years under Gladys, described his former high school coach as a role model for all times.

“He was the kind of guy you wanted to emulate yourself after, not only as a coach, but as a person,” said Yartin, who went on to coach many years at his alma mater. “Mr. Gladys was so easy tempered. He never yelled, yet you always knew when he was upset. He would just talk to you and tell you something that would make you feel bad. Nobody ever wanted to feel like they let him down.

“I was so glad when they had that testimonial for him (in 2012),” Yartin added. “He never liked to take credit for anything. It was always about the players who played for him. It was nice to see him finally get his moment, which he so greatly deserved.”

Andy Pacak, who played for Gladys and went on to serve as an assistant before being the Greyhounds’ head coach for 12 years, said Gladys was a role model for him, not only as a coach, but as an individual.

“Mr. Gladys was the classiest person I have ever been associated with in my life,” Pacak said. “He was a true gentleman and a tremendous individual. He taught you more than just Xs and Os. He prepared all of his players for life. He was about as close to being a father to me as you could get.

“I can say this with all honesty: The greatest honor of my life was being a speaker at his testimonial,” Pacak said. “I will never forget being able to speak in front of that crowd about this man who was greater than all of us, but just like us. And when the event was over, he came up to me and said he wanted to talk to me for about 10 minutes. And we sat there and just talked about football and the things I was doing as a coach.”

“This is a great loss to hundreds and hundreds of people who wore that uniform,” said state Rep. Ted Harhai, who played quarterback for Monessen before graduating in 1973 and going on to play at Carnegie Mellon University. “I knew something had to be drastically wrong when I didn’t see him in church the last couple months. That wasn’t like him.

“Mr. Gladys was a man of great faith. He was a family man who lived a great life. His preparation was just amazing as a coach. I never remember him losing his cool.”

Harhai said one thing he admired about Gladys was that, “He let his players play the game. He molded them and then he just turned them loose on the field. He was a great leader.”

Marvin Davis, a standout running back for Monessen who graduated in 1969, said Gladys was the ideal coach.

“He wanted the best for all of us,” said Davis. “I don’t care if you were a starter or on the bench, Mr. Gladys wanted you to succeed. He cared about everybody. He was genuine. This is such a big loss for a lot of us. I know it is for me.”

The well-respected and civic-oriented Gladys was inducted into several halls of fame, including the Mid-Mon Valley and Westmoreland County chapters of the Pennsylvania Hall of Fame, the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association and the Monessen Quarterback Club.

He was a 1947 graduate of Monessen High School where he was an all-state and all-WPIAL quarterback and team captain his senior season before playing quarterback and earning a bachelor’s degree from Fairmont State College in West Virginia. He later earned a master’s degree from West Virginia University before serving in the Korean War from 1952-54.

Before returning to coach and teach at his alma mater, Gladys began his coaching career at age 20 by serving as head coach of the baseball, basketball and soccer teams at Vienna High School in Maryland.

He rarely returned to Memorial Stadium after his retirement, but when he did he was always greeted warmly by the fans.

“I had him talk to the team a couple times before games,” Pacak said. “He was maybe the greatest speaker I ever listened to.

“I can still remember his talks to us before practice. They were never about football. They were about life. He was always teaching a lesson to us, even if we didn’t realize it.”

Yartin, whose father was an assistant on Gladys’ staff, said coaches like Joe Gladys don’t exist any more.

“They don’t make them like Mr. Gladys, that’s for sure,” Yartin said. “He was so even-keeled at all times. Heck, what coach do you know who takes a nap before games? Everybody is always so pumped up, so excited. And Mr. Gladys took a nap before every game, woke up and grabbed the clipboard and went to the field.”

And the rest was history — some of the greatest history in one of the most storied athletic traditions in the WPIAL.

“There was no one who had a greater love of being a Greyhound than Mr. Gladys,” said Dzimiera. “He passed that on to all that played for him. He taught not only football, but many of life’s lessons to countless young men. He wanted good football players, but better citizens as he taught that football and life drew great parallels.

“I owe a lot of who I became to Mr. Gladys, both for my college career and how I coached after that.”

His life was best summed up by the final stanza of a popular poem Gladys penned, titled “Ode to the Greyhound”:

“Now you who we call Greyhounds

Will leave our merry band

To go to greater glory

With tools at your command

You’ve added to the legend

Of a small but mighty town

They respect the name — Monessen

Because of you — Greyhound.”

Jeff Oliver is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2666 or [email protected].

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