Ramapo Mourns The Loss Of A Legend: Coach Drew Gibbs

Sarah Chagares, Editor in Chief

            On Tuesday, November 16, 2021 the Ramapo community woke up to the stunning and heartbreaking news that longtime coach and faculty member, Drew Gibbs had tragically passed away. Gibbs’ unexpected death left the school, as well as the local community and beyond, shocked and saddened. Ramapo-Indian Hills Superintendent Rui Dionisio authored an email informing the FLOW community of Gibbs’ death, saying he died due to “complications from an aortic dissection and complications from surgery.” He added that, “The passing of Coach Gibbs is a profound loss for our community and his family.” Principal Travis Smith also extended his condolences to the Ramapo community, reflecting, “Coach Gibbs inspired everyone around him to be better versions of themselves, and we are forever grateful for the opportunity to learn from his leadership, presence, and approach to life in a school community.”

            Almost immediately, tributes and condolences began pouring in from near and far including Rutgers University head coach Greg Schiano, former NFL and Ramapo wide receiver Chris Hogan, and former Ridgewood football player and current MSNBC commentator, William Geist. The leadership of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said in a statement: “Today, New Jersey scholastic sports lost a true legend. We are deeply saddened by the passing of Ramapo High School’s Head Football Coach Drew Gibbs. He was an educator, a mentor and a role model, and our condolences go out to all who knew, loved and were inspired by Coach Gibbs.” Even New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy commented, “He was a giant of a coach and a giant of a man.” Certainly, Coach Gibbs’ sphere of influence spread well beyond the halls of this high school. 

            Furthermore, closer to home, Ramapo-Indian Hills District Supervisor of Health, Physical Education and Art, Richard Burton paid homage to his remarkable colleague saying, “We all loved and admired Drew who always brought his A-game to every physical education class he taught. No matter the activity or level (Drew even taught Yoga when I needed someone to step up on periods we didn’t offer it!). He was caring and always positive with his physical education students and inspired them to be their best every day.” Mr. Burton continues to recall the fear that students had during the Adventures-Ropes class and the way in which Coach Gibbs eased their minds, “Kids quickly learned through Drew’s caring and ‘Dad’ like approach to ropes class, that he always somehow succeeded in getting that student to break their fear and eventually began climbing. I am going to miss getting those phone calls sporadically during the fall and spring, ‘Rich, guess whose 20 feet in the air today?’ I would simply say, every time, ‘thanks coach, you are amazing!’” Finally Mr. Burton reflects on the lasting impression that Coach Gibbs left, “I know deep in my aching heart that Drew’s ultimate legacy as an iconic teacher and coach will be left in the hands of the thousands of kids he taught and coached who learned and understood the importance of being kind, helpful, and always showing support for others.” 

            Of course, it is abundantly clear that Coach Gibbs was an icon in gym class, but also in the football community. He led Ramapo High School to seven sectional titles over twenty years, including back-to-back regional championships in 2018 and 2019. To say that Coach Gibbs was a winner would be a massive understatement. As a Ramapo football coach, Coach Gibbs garnered 180 wins and had an outstanding win rate of 78% (NJ.com). Coach Gibbs’ love for coaching football began at a young age when he coached at Ridgewood High School in 1985 and then later became a tight end coach for Montclair State University. Not too long after in 1987, he then became an offensive coordinator for Kean University and then became the interim head coach in 1989. At 27 years old, Coach Gibbs was the youngest NCAA head coach at the time. He left Kean and went back to Ridgewood as assistant coach for eleven years and then made his way to Ramapo in 2001. During his time coaching football at Ramapo, he racked up numerous awards including NJ.com’s 2019 Football Coach of the Year award, 2001 and 2009 North 1 Section 1 Coach of the Year, and many others. In 2014, Coach Gibbs was inducted in the New Jersey Coaches Association Hall of Fame (Sunderraj). Coach Gibbs was not only invested in football, but also coaching  wrestling where he notched over 100 victories over his time at Ramapo. 

            Although many people most closely associate him with the football and wrestling team, Coach Gibbs’ legacy is much broader and much more profound than that one dimensional version of him. He chose to share all of his immense talents and skills with the community here at Ramapo and in doing so enhanced all of the lives of those he touched. At the recent pep rally, his son Brian Gibbs asked the Ramapo community to never forget his father’s values: “It didn’t matter who you were, he just wanted you to be a good person. And as we go on here, and we do life here without Coach Gibbs, if everyone can take that with them, and just try to be the best person they can be every day, this place will be a beautiful place. And it always has been, just try to carry that with you, and know that he loved every single one of you in here, no matter what.” Coach Brian Gibbs captured the true nature of his father and urges that we continue to live out that philosophy, as one, at Ramapo. 

It is obvious to all of his students that he believed in the benefits that fitness and recreation could provide to both physical and mental health. He took an interest in, and was a fan of, every team that the school fielded. He could be seen cheering for student athletes at soccer games, tennis matches, volleyball games and just about every other sporting event or match. He expertly coached the wrestling team. He kept the time clock at basketball games. He attended Gold Masque productions, both as an audience member and as an actor. Most recently he appeared in last spring’s production of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee  as a guest speller. He exhorted the members of the football team to support the Gold Masque performances as well. Kate Fleissner, class of 2021 recalls, “After the marching band performances, he would always tell the band how much of a great job we did.” She also will never forget the memorable performance of Sleigh Ride he conducted at the Holiday Concert.  He encouraged all of his students to embrace and engage in all aspects of life at Ramapo. There was not a part of the Ramapo experience upon which Coach Gibbs did not leave his special and indelible mark. 

            On Saturday, November 20th family and friends gathered to pay their respects to the legendary coach and educator. Some of the hundreds of those attendees included current and former students, players, and colleagues as well as the parents of current and former students. The line at Cornerstone Christian Church snaked around the parking lot as admirers from all parts of the Coach’s life waited patiently to offer their condolences to his beloved wife, Mrs. Sharon Gibbs; his children Ashley, Brian and Caroline; and all the members of the extended Gibbs family. A montage of photos and videos played in the sanctuary offered a unique insight into the beautiful life that Coach Gibbs shared with his family, with his friends, and with his teams. Giant floral arrangements in the shape of the Ramapo “R” were also on display. 

            At six o’clock in the evening a memorial service in celebration of, and in thanksgiving for, his life was held. Speakers included his son and assistant football coach, Brian Gibbs; his daughter Caroline Gibbs; his younger brother Geoff Gibbs; Ridgewood Coach Chuck Johnson; Coaches Matt Occhipinti, Nick Guttuso, and Joe Brislin;  and Ramapo Athletic Director Ron Anello. Each spoke about the extraordinary relationship they shared with Coach Gibbs. All told stories that elicited both laughter and tears from those gathered in the sanctuary and most certainly, from those watching virtually. The common themes that ran through all of the eulogies were that of kindness, integrity, hard work, friendship, leadership and loyalty, all virtues that Coach Gibbs exemplified in every aspect of his life. 

            Prior to his untimely death Coach Gibbs had led his team to a very successful season tallying ten wins and one loss. Coach Gibbs was an ardent proponent of the theory that the Ramapo football team was at its best when all of its members worked “as one” to strengthen a sense of camaraderie and belonging for all of its members. He communicated that philosophy by using the motto, “AS ONE.” Although we in the Ramapo community all grieve Coach Gibbs’ death in our own separate ways, truly, it is “AS ONE” that we mourn the loss of our dear teacher, coach, colleague and friend. Coach Gibbs will be missed at every game, in every physical education class, in every hallway, at every Gold Masque production and in every way by every Raider. May he rest in peace.