Getting to know a Laurier icon

There are few people who can match
the passion and dedication of manager
of football operations and head
coach Gary Jeffries.

The 63-year-old has been a part of
the Golden Hawks for nearly 40 years,
and his enthusiasm is a strong as ever.

“It’s something that I love to be a
part of, so it’s very easy to stay passionate,”
said Jeffries.

“Every summer when I come back
in August the feeling’s still the same.
The time I come back and it isn’t is
when I’ll say ‘that’s enough.’”

Throughout his early life in Burlington,
Ontario, sports played a large
role in Jeffries’ life.

He played football, baseball and
hockey at high levels, including highschool
football at Nelson H.S., one of
southern Ontario’s premier football
programs.

“When I was growing up, I just
went one season to the next; whatever
sport was on at the time was the
one I’d play,” said Jeffries. “I just have
a great passion for sports and I always
had the ability to do reasonably well.”

”Reasonably well” is quite an understatement
in describing the success
Jeffries achieved in his early
sporting career.

After winning multiple championships
at Nelson, Jeffries moved on to
the University of Guelph where he was
a two-sport athlete, playing football
and hockey. At the same time, Jeffries
played professional baseball in
the Detroit Tigers system after being
signed when he was 17.

In 1970, after finishing his time
at Guelph and playing four years in
the Tigers organization, a long-time
friend convinced Jeffries to enrol at
Laurier – then under the name Waterloo
Lutheran University. Jeffries
played two years of football at Laurier
for legendary head coach David
“Tuffy” Knight. After a pair of all-star
seasons, the Toronto Argonauts selected
Jeffries in the 1972 CFL draft.

After taking part in Argos training
camp and later being signed by the
Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Jeffries, a married
man with a child on the way, took
a more stable job at Laurier as an assistant
football coach and director of
recreation.

“I had a very good opportunity in
Hamilton, but it wasn’t meant to be,”
said Jeffries. “I think [deciding to
coach at Laurier was the best decision
I ever made.”

For the next 16 years, Jeffries
worked under Knight, and later Rich
Newbrough, while coaching Laurier’s
women’s basketball team from 1984-
88. In 1989, Jeffries retired from football
and took a job as the head coach
of the men’s basketball team.

In 1994, new football head coach
Rick Zmich convinced Jeffries to come
out of retirement and take over as the
Golden Hawks’ defensive co-ordinator.

He held that position until 2002
when Zmich left the team halfway
through the season and Jeffries took
over as interim head coach.

The next year, after 24 seasons on
Laurier’s football coaching staff, Jeffries
was officially named head coach.

“It was quite a surprise,” said Jeffries.
“It was not something that I ever
expected. If it had ended right there
and I never got the opportunity to be
the head coach, I still would’ve been
happy with the wonderful career I’ve
had here; all this is really just icing on
the cake.”

In Jeffries’ first season as head
coach, he led the Hawks to a Yates Cup
appearance and took home Ontario
University Athletics (OUA) and Canadian
Interuniversity Sport (CIS) coach
of the year honours. Jeffries would go
on to win the OUA coach of the year
award in both 2004 and 2005.

In 2005, Jeffries’ third season as
head coach, Laurier won the Vanier
Cup, CIS football’s national championship,
which Jeffries calls “the greatest
sporting moment of [his] life.”

“I still get chills when I think about
it or watch the tape of the post-game
celebration. It was the thrill of a
lifetime.”

After all the success Jeffries has enjoyed
as a coach and a player at Laurier
– four provincial championships,
a national title and four coach of the
year awards – it’s not the athletic accolades
that he cherishes the most.
“It’s the people,” said Jeffries.
“The people here really keep me
young with the energy and the passion
that they have. These kids are playing
simply because they love the game
and they want to be here.”

But above all things athletic, there
is one thing that Jeffries holds higher
than anything else.

“My children, without question,” he
said. “I have four great children and
six wonderful grandchildren. Family is
the biggest part of my life.”

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