Winnacunnet's Jack Ford dies, leaving legacy on, off court

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By Mike O'Neil and Mike Zhe

Hampton Union, Tuesday, February 16, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- As dedicated as he was to the X's and O's as the head coach of the Winnacunnet High School boys basketball team for more than three decades, Jack Ford's true drive always seemed to be producing quality people.

The beloved — and successful and quotable — former coach died Sunday at Exeter Hospital at the age of 66. He'd been battling a leukemia-like blood illness for the last few years, and his health took a turn for the worse last week.

"It is sad news," said Chris Coates, one of Ford's all-time best players at Winnacunnet, who went on to star at Keene State and in Europe. "I talked to Jack six or seven months ago and from what I saw and heard he was feeling better. But he's one of those guys who will downplay how bad things are."

In 31 years roaming the sidelines at Winnacunnet, Ford led his teams to the Class L final six times. He won one championship — in 1991-92 — and three times was named Class L Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the NHIAA Coaches Hall of Fame in 1999.

But to those who knew him best, the wins and losses — his record at the school was 385-310 — only scratched the surface of the man he was.

"I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to not only play under him, but be with him as an assistant," said current Winnacunnet coach Jay McKenna, who succeeded Ford after the 2004-05 season. "There was nobody better in terms of motivation or preparation. He taught us all that if you worked hard, you would be successful, and it wasn't just in basketball."

"What made Jack different from a lot of other coaches was that he really was the consummate worker," said Winnacunnet girls basketball coach Ed Beattie. "He just outworked a lot of people, and that always seemed to extend onto the floor. It was an extension of who he was."

Ford's coaching career began in 1966 at Xaverian Brothers in Westwood, Mass. From there he would spend six seasons at St. John's Prep in Danvers, Mass. There he coached with Bryce Beattie, Ed's father, and the two developed a lasting friendship.

"He was an assistant at St. John's while my father was there, and they were the best of friends," said Beattie, who has coached Winnacunnet to three straight Class L girls titles. "It was a different time then. After the games, all the coaches would go over to a restaurant out in Salem and you would have all the coaches there: Danvers, Beverly, St. John's, Peabody. They would all be there, coaches and officials — just the great camaraderie between all of them. It really was a North Shore of Massachusetts thing."

Ford came north in 1974, and went about turning Winnacunnet — specifically, cozy Dodge Gymnasium — into one of the toughest stops on the Class L schedule. Every Tuesday and Friday night, Ford's teams would play a full-court, in-your-face style. That style often made Dodge Gym look and feel a lot smaller than it actually was.

"The court was 84-by-50 wide. It is a regulation-size high school basketball court," said Beattie. "The only difference was the 10 feet to the circles on either side of half court. That, plus the fact that the walls were so close, everybody that came in really thought it wasn't a regulation-size court.

"So Jack and I decided to keep that going. If people thought it was a smaller court — fine, we played it up. That meant a couple more points for us each night."

"It was definitely a special place," said McKenna, who graduated in 1993. "The walls were right up against the baseline, and we pressed. It was run-and-gun. That was his style."

Winnacunnet won its first — and only — Class L championship under Ford in 1991-92. The championship in 1991-92 kicked off a run that would see the Warriors reach the Class L final five times in nine years.

But beyond the wins, Ford was molding young men with a coaching style that was disciplined, but also compassionate and sometimes downright humorous.

There were former players like Mike Daboul, who was part of that 1992 title team, attended Ford's alma mater — Merrimack College — and later got into teaching and coaching. Daboul has been Winnacunnet's baseball coach for a decade and — like Ford did — teaches there.

"He was 100 percent my mentor," said Daboul. "He was intense. He wanted the best out of everybody. When you weren't doing what you were supposed to do, he let you know. But it was always a teachable moment."

Other coaches would tell Ford he was innovative, and his response was that he had to be. Coaching at a school with one of the smallest enrollments in Class L, he used an up-tempo style to gain advantages on the court. Off the court, he would arrange for trips to play in offseason tournaments, and even took some teams overseas.

"He outworked every one of us," former Manchester Central coach Mike Fitzpatrick told the Herald after Ford announced his retirement in 2005. "We'd see his teams in Haverhill, Burlington (Vt.), Lowell — everywhere."

With Ford's coaching style came the patented one-liners that so many times made players laugh, think and learn — often at the same time.

Gems like, "You can shoot or you can shower, but you can't shoot and shower"; "Heave and hope"; or "Tommy Tunnel Vision" were all common in reporters' notebooks.

Even McKenna, the point guard, earned himself a spot on the list of "Fordisms." He was referred to by the coach as the "Fastbreak Killer," a reminder to keep the game moving at a quick pace.

"He would come up with them right on the spot," said McKenna. "Sometimes it was hard as a player not to laugh. I was talking to (JV coach) Don Lamprey about it today. We all had nicknames, and any time we get together they all come back out. "

When McKenna was a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, Ford asked him to help coach as an assistant. After 11 seasons as an assistant, McKenna became just the fourth Winnacunnet head coach in 2005-06.

"I learned a lot of things about basketball and a lot of things about life from him and how to be successful at it," said McKenna. "I can't thank him enough. I can't put into words what he means to me or what he means to a lot of guys.

"Next to my own parents, he's the most influential person in my life," he added. "Things I learned from Coach Ford, I use every day as a parent, as a coach and as a teacher."

Around the Seacoast Monday, a lot of people who knew Ford were thinking the same thing.

"Jack definitely left a legacy," said Coates. "Everyone knows who Jack Ford is. Even after he retired, people would say, 'Who did you play for?' I'd say, 'Jack Ford,' and everyone would know him."

"That's his legacy," said Daboul, "what he created and what he meant to so many people. People don't do it like that anymore."

(See also, Coach Ford Stepping Down; and Legendary Send-off for Jack Ford; and Obituary of Jack Ford and other tributes)
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