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Mike Gottfried
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Mike Gottfried: Coaching the Fatherless

The 700 Club Mike went to Morehead State University in Kentucky on a football scholarship. He is thankful for the example of his coach there who lead a Bible study on Sunday nights—he was a coach who talked the talk and walked the walk. Mike started coaching right out of college at Roseville High School in Ohio and realized the influence he could have on his teams.

Mike’s journey through life eventually led him to national prominence as a college football coach. He spent 12 successful seasons as head coach at Murray State, Cincinnati, Kansas, and Pittsburgh. During his four years at Pittsburgh, he won 26 games and defeated NCAA powerhouses Notre Dame, Penn State, and West Virginia. He finished his coaching career with 77 victories and parlayed that success into a job as lead college football analyst for ESPN for whom he travels and covers 18 games each season.


The middle of three boys, Mike was raised in a loving home in the little town of Crestline, Ohio, where his father, Fritz, offered his family all of his love and joy. Fritz was a railroad engineer and often away for two or three days at a time. But when he was home, he was involved with his sons’ athletics – teaching them how to play baseball, basketball, football, and bowling. He was friendly, gentle, and generous. Wherever he went, a group of boys always followed. Mike says his father may have lacked the title, but he was definitely a coach. Fritz loved his boys and everyone in Crestline knew it. Mike says they could do no wrong in their father’s eyes, but that didn’t mean he overlooked their times of misbehaving.

Sometime around 3:30 a.m. on the night of April 3, 1956, when Mike was 11, he heard his parents talking. His father said he wasn’t feeling well and was going to get out of bed. Then there was a loud thump in the bathroom – the family found their dad on the floor. While Mike’s brother ran to a nearby house for the doctor, his dad remained on the floor with his head in Mike’s lap. He moaned and groaned with his lips turning blue. Feeling totally helpless, Mike talked to his Dad and prayed. The doctor arrived and immediately recognized the symptoms of a massive heart attack. At 41, Fritz Gottfried died – either in Mike’s arms or a few minutes later.

Mike’s life was shattered into a million pieces. There was still a family, there was still love, but there was no Dad anymore. The day after the funeral, his mother told them there was no insurance, that the rent was due, and she couldn’t pay it. They all had to live with others for three months before their mother found a job and made enough to rent a home for them. For months after his father died, Mike would cry himself to sleep.

Sister Kathleen, a nun at school, told Mike not to give up. She gave him the verse Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Mike realized Sister Kathleen had given him a choice: he could go on living in bitterness and letting the loss of his father claim him, or he could decide to trust God’s plan for good in his life. As an adult, Mike made a total commitment to Jesus Christ.


Mike never forgot that after his dad died he was at a disadvantage to the boy next to him who had a father. So in 2000 Mike founded Team Focus, which helps fatherless boys age 9 to 17 by providing them with leadership skills, guidance, and an ongoing relationship with a mentor through summer camps and other events. There are no costs for the boys or their mothers.

Team Focus is currently in 26 U.S. states with more than 1,000 boys involved. It helps build character and create an environment that fosters self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence. Mike remembers that he could ask his dad anything, but after his father died, Mike felt like he couldn't ask anyone anything. Now Mike and Team Focus tell boys answers – like how to tie a tie, how to be a team leader, how to deal with peer pressure, how to apply for a job, and how to pick out a suit and tie. At summer camps boys are taught to read the Bible and pray. They have a full schedule from 7 a.m. to midnight and the sessions are held in a variety of ways, from small groups to large group outings to individual mentors. Mike tells boys that every day will get better; it may not be great or good, but it will get better. 

Mike takes personal responsibility for more than 1,000 boys who all lack a functional father. He knows them by name and they know him. They live all over the country and they all have his cell number and his toll-free office number. They all know they can call Mike any time of the day or night and he will answer. He always takes their calls because if they had dads, their dads would answer. But since they don’t, he answers. Mike says you simply can’t replace a father. It’s too broad a gap, too immense an absence. And while no living human being can take the place of a father, a good substitute is better than a bad one any day. 



Mike has a few suggestions of how to be a good father:

1) Affection – kids need a touch, a hug that conveys love beyond words. 

2) Attention – kids need their father’s time and total concentration and the sense that their father likes spending time with them.

3) Affirmation – a kid needs to know he is a valuable person and has a unique destiny. Speak words of blessings.

4) Authority – proper authority from a father grounds kids in confidence and lays the groundwork for taking risks.

5) Acceptance – Mike says through his actions and words his father communicated to Mike that he was part of something bigger.  Mike was his kid, his boy, a part of his family.  They were on a team; his dad was the coach and they were in this thing together.

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