When high school football players took to their fields Monday they were more than likely under the watchful eyes of experienced coaches. Players at Dunkirk High School were no exception, and perhaps had more experienced eyes coaching them than some other area players.
The DHS coaching staff, headed by Tim Majka, is joined this year by recently retired Gowanda native Bob Palcic. Palcic comes to the Marauders after a year at Southern Methodist University that capped some 20 years of coaching at both the college and professional level.
How and why the 1966 graduate of the former Cardinal Mindszenty High School is helping the DHS program is a story of love for football and this area. It starts with his love for the Dunkirk and Gowanda areas and a recognition that, "there's so many people that were great to me throughout my lifetime."
OBSERVER Photo by Jeremy Izzio
Gowanda native Bob Palcic, recently retired from coaching at the college and professional level, is an assistant this season at Dunkirk High School. According to Palcic, he is coaching to help as his teachers and coaches did for him.
Palcic's coaching career included a seven-year stop at Ball State under head coach Dave McClain. Palcic said when he was recommended for a job at Ohio State in 1985, he called McClain, a former assistant for legendary OSU coach Woody Hayes, looking for a favor.
"I know what you want, I know what's going on," McClain told Palcic. "You want me to recommend you for Ohio State, don't you?"
"Coach, I really do because I think if I can get there I'll become a head football coach in college or get into the pros, which I did," Palcic recalled. "He said, 'I understand. You did a good job for me for seven years. Even though you'll be coaching against me I'll make the phone call for you.'"
After making the call to Hayes, McClain got back to Palcic with news he had a good shot at the job. Palcic thanked McClain, only to receive a call an hour later that McClain had died.
"He was like a father to me, he was the one who really gave me my start in coaching," Palcic said. "So one of the last things he did before he died was call Ohio State for me."
Palcic ended up with the Ohio State job and after getting on campus was soon summoned to meet his new boss. Palcic, then 45 years old, said he was lectured on a variety of topics and eventually told Hayes the story about McClain.
"I said, 'you know coach, the thing that bothers me the most is I'll never ever be able to repay Dave McClain for what he did for me," Palcic told Hayes. "He hopped out of his chair, he walks over to me and pokes me in the chest and he goes, 'young man, let me tell you something, you don't pay back, you pay forward. Make sure you do what your coaches and teachers did for you.'"
"So on that day I vowed that when I finally get out and retire that I was going to come back home and volunteer my services to one of the high schools."
With his retirement in place, Palcic talked to his high school coach, Bob Muscato, and others, eventually leading to a conversation with Majka.
"It worked out so I'm here for three months, August, September, October, and I'm just going to volunteer my services to Dunkirk High School and I'm going to coach the offensive line and really, I want to be a consultant," Palcic explained. "I'm just throwing a lot of ideas off Coach Majka, who I think is a real sharp guy. He's organized, he has a plan, he has a vision, and I think he's capable of coaching at the next level and I'm going to help him get there if that's in fact what he wants to do."
Palcic brings a background marked with success; in addition to Hayes, he has worked for Hall of Fame coaches Terry Donahue, Bobby Ross and Earl Bruce.
"It's been a great ride, I loved my 42 years of coaching and I'm excited about doing everything I possibly can do to give the kids at Dunkirk High School a positive experience," he said. "I've told everyone, I'm not up here on vacation, they're going to get my best shot."
Palcic said the school administration and board have welcomed him.
"I appreciate that because maybe some people wouldn't want someone like me, I'm 65 years old. Maybe they wouldn't want someone like that coming in but these people around here welcomed me with open arms and I appreciate that," he added. "I can only promise them that I'm going to give them my very best shot and I'm going to give them everything I know about coaching to help the program."
Palcic, who attended the NFL Hall of Fame induction of former player Jonathan Ogden on his way to Dunkirk from his Missouri home, said he was impressed with the DHS facilities but it was too early to talk about the players. He does know DHS football has had its struggles over recent seasons, including a long losing streak to Fredonia.
"I hope that I can contribute enough where I can help turn this program around. I know Dunkirk has a rich tradition and I hope I can help Coach Majka and his entire staff. I'm impressed with all the coaches, they're good guys and good football coaches," he stated. "These kids in this town, they deserve better. They deserve better and I tell those players all the time, listen, I didn't come up here for three months to get beat. We're going to get after it, we're going to do these things right and I'm excited about the upcoming season as much as I've ever been in any place I've ever coached, to be honest with you. I'm determined, and I will give this school and this city my best shot."
Palcic said he has not spent this much time in the area since his graduation from CMHS in 1966 and is looking forward to catching up with old friends and seeing the leaves change color.
"I've been totally consumed by the game forever and so it's good, it's fun. I was going to retire a year ago but my old boss from the Atlanta Falcons, a head coach named June Jones, called me up and said, 'I hear you're going to retire," he stated. "Well, you're not ready yet. You're going to come down here and help me at SMU."
So Palcic spent last season at Southern Methodist University, and the team finished its season beating Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.
"That was my last game. I knew I was going to walk away at that point but I've left the door open if something happens," he stated. "I've known Jon Gruden for a long long time, since he was 8 years old, and if he gets out of broadcasting and gets back, there may be an opportunity for me. But if not, I'm OK with what I've done and I'm ready to move on and right now my focus is just on the Dunkirk Marauders.
"I have had so many friends and coaches and teachers that have been such a positive influence on my life I'm taking heed of what Coach Hayes said. I'm not paying back, I'm paying forward."
Dunkirk's first game is Sept. 6 at Alden.
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