Oliver Gibson says he was overwhelmed when he attended the funeral service for the late Steve King, the former assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for Evanston’s football program.
What impressed Gibson most was the number of lives King touched in the community before he passed away unexpectedly back in June.
Gibson is one of those people King touched. Now he’s making the same commitment King made to the ETHS program and will take charge of the defense in his second year at Evanston.
Gibson, out of respect to his late predecessor, isn’t listed as the defensive coordinator by the school. Instead, the Wildkits are using the term “Defensive Leader” because there’s really no replacing what King brought to ETHS since he joined the coaching staff back in 2005. And he actually recruited Gibson to join the staff last year, even though coaching high school football wasn’t exactly the career path Gibson had in mind.
After focusing on coaching the defensive linemen for last year’s state playoff qualifier, Gibson was all over the field on the first day of official practice Monday at rainy Lazier Field. The scoreboard reminded coaches and players from Evanston’s feeder programs, who were special guests, that “Coach King” was still on the minds of everyone who knew the personable coach.
Gibson’s resume is more than impressive. He was an All-American linebacker at Romeoville High School and was named the national Defensive Player of the Year by USA Today as a senior. He played at the University of Notre Dame and also had a nine-year career in the National Football League with Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers before injuries cut short his playing career.
From there, he served as a volunteer coach at Miami Northwestern High School in Florida, at Proviso West High School back in Illinois, and helped Arizona Western junior college reach the national championship game as an assistant there.
“At that point I had the coaching bug, but I was thinking about coaching at the collegiate level or maybe doing some scouting for the pros,” Gibson recalled. “After I stopped playing I tried to get away from football, like a lot of guys in the NFL, but no matter what, football was still my passion.”
He met King while helping train college players for the NFL Combine and that meeting helped keep Gibson’s passion for the game alive.
“Steve kept telling me all about the high school team, and he was just so knowledgeable about the game, and so organized that he made it seem more like a collegiate program,” Gibson said. “I was apprehensive at first, but he stayed after me. Finally I said OK.
“He was really open to my suggestions. I grew to love the kids I was working with and football was fun again for me. Now I feel I’m a part of the Evanston family. The thing that bothered me the most last year, even with all the stops I’ve made other places, was that I felt like we let the fans down when we lost in the playoffs (to Barrington). The parents and the community are so connected to the football program and that was the most disappointed I’ve ever been. I couldn’t look them in the eye.
“Steve King was a people person and he always had a kind word for somebody. He affected a lot of lives, and now it’s time for me to step up and do the same thing. He gave me an opportunity and now I feel I owe him something.”
Gibson accepted a challenge that would have been difficult under most circumstances. But add in the fact that Evanston doesn’t return a single starter on defense this fall and the task seems even more daunting for a new coordinator.
Gibson said he plans to continue King’s platoon philosophy, employing as many players as possible in the defensive rotation. “Part of Steve’s philosophy was that you’re only as good as your weakest link, and it’s our job to ‘coach up’ the No. 2 and No. 3 guys at all of the positions, too.
“Steve gave me the keys — maybe not to a Ferrari — but to a high end sports car that just needs a little work. I’m making more of a commitment and taking on more responsibility — and I’m definitely ready for it.”
Source: ETHS Sports Information