One particular monster loss brought the Bison nation to its knees, cutting much deeper than any disappointment on the scoreboard: the death of long time and popular assistant coach Ron Coleman. “Ron was my right hand man. He was here when I got here and was deeply rooted in the community. Everyone like Ron and everyone respected him. He was just so special to so many people. He taught me so much,” says Gross. “He and I ran the offense together, but I learned so much form him, about both football and people.”
On November 29, 2004, shortly after a heart breaking last second loss in the state finals, a setback that denied the Bison a third straight state title, tragedy struck suddenly. “I was going over to pick up Ron at his house,” recalls Gross, still obviously emotional seven years later when recalling the event. “He was going to ride with me to Lincoln to an awards ceremony. It was on a Sunday. I couldn’t get anyone to answer the door, so I walked around back and that is when I found him.”
Coleman had climbed onto the roof of his house to dislodge some ice that had formed overnight. Somehow, he had slipped and fallen, resulting in serious head injuries. “Ron was still alive when I found him,” says Gross about his 52 year old colleague. “We got him to the hospital, and they airlifted him to Omaha, but by the next day, he was gone.”
The news of Coleman’ death spread quickly and was a punch in the collective gut of the town of McCook. The community went into shock. "I still remember it taking several days for the fact he was gone to settle in. It was like a bad dream,” says Gross.
“We are so close as a town and this was just so tragic and so unexpected,” recalls Max Bordersen. “RC taught elementary PE. The kids loved him, he was a big man (6’5”, 240 pounds), but he was just a big old teddy bear to those kids.” As those elementary kids have grown and moved up to the high school, Coleman’s name has not been forgotten, says Bordersen.
At a mid-season practice in 2011, John Gumb, the veteran of the McCook staff, with almost 40 years of service to the Bison program, recalled his longtime friend and colleague, “If RC were here right now, and he would be almost 60 years old, he would be right over there with the punters, his right shoe and sock off, out kicking everyone. That is just how he was; a big old kid that never stopped being a kid. He was one of those people that everyone loved just being around him. That is why everyone loved him."
As Bordersen noted, many of the current Bison came under Coleman’s influence when they were elementary students. Even today his legacy and influence, seven years after his death, lives on. “I know there have been times coaches have referred to Ron’s memory when challenging our players to meet a problem head on. He had that kind of influence on people,” says Gross.