WHEELING - For many, Mike Gottfried is known as a successful college football coach and an astute color commentator on ESPN.
But he's an Ohioan at heart.
''I grew up in Crestline,'' he said via cellphone, while returning to his Mobile, Ala. home from a trip to Las Vegas for an event for his organization - Team Focus.
The city, near Mansfield, was where Gottfried's life changed forever in 1956.
''I had a mom, a dad and two brothers,'' Gottfried said. ''Everything was great.
''Then, at 3:30 one morning, my dad got up saying he didn't feel good. He walked to the bathroom and collapsed.
''My whole life changed.''
The death of Gottfried's father had a profound affect on the future coach, but it wouldn't be until year's later that the tragedy promoted him to help change other's lives.
''I knew what the loss of father was,'' he said. ''It was always on my heart.''
Gottfried's mother sent him to live with the Harbaughs. Yes, those Harbaughs.
Jack - father of NFL head coaches Jim (San Francisco) and John (Baltimore) - lived across the the street from the Gottfrieds. The two were great friends and remain so to this day.
''Ohio is still home for me,'' Gottfried said.
Gottfried will be the keynote speaker Friday night when Sports World, Inc. brings its annual ''Choose to Win'' banquet to Wheeling's Oglebay Resort and Conference.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m., with the banquet going from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
''My message will be to give encouragement,'' Gottfried said.
''I want to encourage people.''
Gottfried said he has tremendous respect for Sports World and its mission, along with Devon McDonald. McDonald, the former Notre Dame standout and Indianapolis Colt is also a great friend.
''I went after him and his twin brother, Ricardo, when I was coaching at Pitt,'' Gottfried recalled laughing.
Gottfried got Ricardo, who ended up playing 10 seasons in the National Football League for Cincinnati, Chicago and Denver.
Pitt was Gottfried's final head coaching stop. He also was the head man at Kansas, Cincinnati and Murray State, in addition to assistant roles at numerous schools.
It was during his time as a college coach that Gottfried realized many of his players were experiencing a situation similar to his - no father.
''I was really looking after them and watching them,'' he said.
In 2000, Gottfried and his wife, Mickey, founded Team Focus (www.teamfocususa.org), a comprehensive mentoring program for fatherless boys and young men. It provided fatherless young men ages 10 to 18 with leadership skills, guidance, Godly values and a continual relationship with a mentor.
To date, Gottfried said more than 3,000 men have been assisted throughout the country.
''It really took off,'' Gottfried said of Team Focus. ''We're in 10 cities throughout the country and helping kids from 25 states.''
While in Las Vegas, Gottfried said he visited a camp there.
''We try to teach everything that a father would teach - manners, how to get a job, how to tie a tie,'' he said. ''We try to tell them that no matter what, you can overcome this.''
Gottfried's coaching brethren have come to his aid in presenting his message.
''They've been great,'' he said. ''Urban Meyer's been great. I went to see him about three years ago and he has a banquet for us every year.''
The Harbaugh family, Nick Saban and John Calipari are other allies of Gottfrieds.
So are his former players.
''I've seen and heard so many stories,'' he said. ''I still stay in touch with a lot of my players and I get lots of calls from them.
''Once you're a member of a team you always go through life celebrating those moments and friendships.''
In addition to Gottfried's talk, Fridy's banquet will feature guest speakers, a silent auction, entertainment, dinner and video presentations.
Sports World, which has partnered with the OVAC locally for many years, is a nationally-known non-profit based in Indianapolis. It sends former professional athletes across the nation sharing their personal life experiences with youngsters encouraging them to make positive choices while challenging each student with a message of hope.
Gottfried, too, exudes hope.
Through his own organization.
Complete information about the banquet can be obtained by clicking on the banner at the top of the organization's website at www.sportsworld.org. Tickets are also available by visiting www.wedoauctions.net/choosetowin or by calling (317) 862-7040.
Thorp can be reached at email@example.com