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July 31, 2014

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Ron Kantowski:

Easing away from coaching

Final season to hold new thrill: Helping his son’s team in game on national TV

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Steve Marcus

Dave Gerber teaches an algebra class Monday at Green Valley High School in Henderson. A former head football coach who compiled a 118-64-1 record at Valley and Bishop Gorman high schools, Gerber now works as an assistant coach for his son at Green Valley. Gerber won state championships in 1974 and ‘79 with Bishop Gorman.

IF YOU GO

What: Green Valley vs. Bishop Gorman football

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Where: Fertitta Stadium, Bishop Gorman High

Tickets: $5, $3 for students

On TV: CBS College Sports (Cable channel 333)

Sun Blogs

When he started coaching high school football at Bishop Gorman, Dave Gerber probably never imagined a day when the Gaels would be playing football on national TV.

Or that he would still be coaching when it happened.

Even if it will be on the opposite side of the field.

In 1970, the year Gerber moved from his native Kansas to Southern Nevada to be defensive coordinator under fellow local high school coaching icon Frank Nails, Gorman won its first big-school state championship in football. The NBC peacock was still wriggling out of its shell. Color TV was just becoming standard.

The top show on television that year was “Marcus Welby, M.D.” Flip Wilson was No. 2. It has been awhile, Geraldine.

In many ways Dave Gerber is still a low-definition guy in a high-definition world. For years after they became a common convenience, he and wife Dina didn’t own a microwave oven. He still doesn’t own a cell phone. Says he doesn’t need one, that people know where to find him.

For almost four decades, the best place to do that has been the sidelines on Friday night. That’s where he’ll be this Friday, at Bishop Gorman, where he’ll help son Matt, the Green Valley head coach, with clock management and an occasional word of advice as a de facto Gators assistant in a high school game that CBS College Sports will broadcast to the entire football-viewing nation.

There will be a few more Friday nights after that, but then that’ll be it. A Las Vegas coaching — and teaching — career that has spanned 39 years is coming to an end.

Dave Gerber says he doesn’t play golf. He doesn’t hunt. He doesn’t fish. He’s not exactly sure how he’s going to spend his retirement.

Only that it won’t involve shopping for a cell phone.

•••

Dave Gerber grew up in Fowler, Kan., which is sort of close to Dodge City, which conjures images of tumbleweeds and dusty main streets. According to the latest census, 567 people live in Fowler. Turn north from U.S. 54 and cross the Southern Pacific tracks to explore the town. That’s what it says on the official Web site. Under places to shop, it lists the Pit Stop Convenience Store. You get the idea.

Gerber was a three-sport star in high school — football, basketball and track. Everybody was a three-sport star, minimum, at his high school. There were only 19 students in his graduating class. I’ll bet at least half milked cows or pitched hay.

After high school, it was on to Ottawa University — the one in Kansas — where he played football and basketball. His football coach at Ottawa was Dick Peters. A guy could learn a lot about the X’s and O’s from listening to Dick Peters, Gerber said. A guy could also learn a lot by running wind sprints and being lectured in the manner of a drill sergeant.

“Discipline was assumed to breed character,” Gerber said.

Now, it’s assumed to breed lawsuits. But that’s another story.

Eventually, Gerber yearned for the big city. So he moved to Manhattan — the one in Kansas. He finished his undergraduate degree at Kansas State. He spent a year coaching and teaching at Lucky High School in Manhattan, which, no doubt, he took as some sort of omen when his brother, Chuck, who had preceded him in moving out West, said a little Catholic high school in Las Vegas called Bishop Gorman was looking for math teachers and football coaches.

•••

Dave Gerber said there were probably a grand total of four coaches at Gorman in 1970. Basically, there was Frank Nails, himself, Chuck, and another guy. Dave was the head coach when the Gaels won the 1974 and 1979 state championships; Chuck was the head coach when Gorman won state in 1980, ’81 and ’83. Dave says he left his brother a loaded gun when he went to work dealing “21” at Caesars Palace; Chuck begs to differ.

They still argue about it every Thanksgiving.

Said longtime Western and Bonanza High coach and Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association Hall-of-Famer Horace Smith: “All I know is when they turned up the lights on Friday night, and you were playing Bishop Gorman and one of the Gerbers, you had better pull up on your chin strap one notch tighter.”

Matt Gerber thinks they are both overrated, at least in a teasing sort of way.

When his father and uncle moved to Las Vegas, there were only six high schools. Now there are nearly 40. Now, Matt, 35 and in his fourth season as the Green Valley head coach, says he has to win as many games as his old man did in winning state just to qualify for the playoffs.

But that argument doesn’t carry much weight at the dinner table on Thanksgiving. Win yourself a state championship, junior. Until then, you are to return to the card table with the other nieces and nephews and watch the Lions game.

Who knows how many state titles Dave Gerber might have won had he remained at Gorman, had he a little more luck — or a little less tragedy — at Valley High, where he returned to coaching after a two-year respite of dealing aces and eights. The Vikings made it to the state championship game twice during Gerber’s 12 years there, in 1984 and ’87.

The second time was brutally tough. Two weeks before, Paul Wofford, Valley’s gifted running and defensive back, had been killed in an automobile accident. Gerber is a humble man. Had tragedy not intervened, he said, nobody beats the Vikings that year. Nobody.

Dave Gerber’s head coaching record was 118-64-1. He remembers that, because somebody had it engraved on a plaque before Matt became the head coach at Green Valley and dad agreed to help out as an assistant. His self-effacing manner aside, he is proud of what he accomplished as a coach.

“In coaching, you learn values and teach them and want (your players) to be mindful of others,” he says. “But it’s human nature to want to see how you measure up against other people.”

Says Marc Ratner, the longtime head of the Southern Nevada officials organization and an authority on local high school football: “Dave Gerber was both respected (by his peers) and respectful (of the officials).”

Respected and respectful. Those are two words that don’t go together nearly often enough.

•••

It is 1:20 at Green Valley High, Room 326, on a Monday afternoon. At roughly five seconds past 1:20, Dave Gerber demands quiet in his sixth period Algebra II class and gets it. Whether they want to or not, 26 students are about to learn more than they will probably ever need to know about x values and y values and how to chart their functions on a graph, unless they go on to become NASA engineers.

A kid named Grant is sitting in the chair in front of me in the back of the room. I can tell he gets this stuff because when Gerber says “Plot the point, use the slope, put in formula X is less than two,” there is no evidence of smoke coming from his ears, whereas the old guy sitting behind him is on the verge of self-combustion.

Grant pulls out a Ziploc bag of Cap’n Crunch and asks the old guy what he’s doing in Mr. Gerber’s sixth-period Algebra II class, like it was some sort of detention not covered by the statute of limitations.

I told him I was there to do a story on Mr. Gerber, who used to be a pretty good football coach around here.

“Mr. Gerber? Really?” Grant said.

Yup, I said to Grant.

Mr. Gerber.

Really.

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