Tom Thayer

Player Story

I think the key for any coach to be successful is respect. The coach should be an authority figure, perhaps be a little intimidating to the player, but he must also earn the respect of the player. Two coaches who personify this idea of respect are Mike Ditka, with whom I’m very close, and Gordie Gillespie, who had so much respect that he was almost god-like.

When I was in grade school at Saint Raymond’s I saw all the enthusiasm and excitement players had playing for him. I couldn’t wait to be on his team. The whole city of Joliet took pride in Gordie and Joliet Catholic football. Every kid wants to be a part of that.
Gordie’s record speaks volumes. He won practically every game he coached. He had an aura of success that made you want to play for him.

The two teams I remember the most are my high school football team and the 1985 Bears team. Each team had a great coach who knew how to get the most out of every player.

Gordie took the kids from Joliet and molded us into a great team. Kids would come to school with assorted talents and Gordie would figure out what each kid needed to do to best fit into his program. Once he decided what position was best for us, he would develop us individually and as a team. When we ran onto the field we knew we were going to win. Many of the schools we played were bigger than Joliet Catholic and they had more talent than we had, but we knew we were a better team than anyone. Gordie made us believe in ourselves.

Our ’85 Super Bowl team was a lot like that, except that we knew we had the most talent in the league. Mike Ditka also made us believe we could beat anyone. A team can have a lot of talent but not play together. Under Mike, we knew we had the most talent and we knew we had the best team.

With each of those teams, our coach gave us the ultimate confidence in our ability, both as individuals and as a team.
One of Gordie’s great strengths is his ability to get everything out of every player. Take Joe Carnesecca. He was a hundred forty pound kid who Gordie put at outside linebacker. Every kid he played against was bigger than he was. But Gordie saw his drive and determination and Joe became the best linebacker in the league. Joe would have run through a wall for Gordie.

Gordie gets everybody on the team involved. Everyone has a role and everyone is excited about contributing to the team. Other coaches play the star players all the time and ignore the others. Gordie would find something for everyone to do. This is the way he got us to play like a team. There were no prima donnas; everybody felt like everyone on the team was equal. He would take players of lesser ability and create an opportunity for them to be successful on the team. He would instill desire and determination in them that would make them develop into excellent ballplayers. Everybody knew they’d get to play and contribute. This makes you want to play your heart out for Gordie and for everyone on the team.

Actually, Gordie made everyone feel like a star.