Late Chillicothe (Mo.) coaching legend made giant impact in hometown not only in game of football, but lives
As Chillicothe, close associates, and his family prepare to say their last goodbye to late Chillicothe High School football coaching master Bob Fairchild Saturday (Nov. 2, 2019), effectively a generation of Chillicotheans – particularly those whose school years have included strapping on shoulder and thigh pads and pulling over them the red-and-black CHS Hornets uniforms that Fairchild was chiefly responsible for making one of Missouri’s most revered and feared – have no first-hand recollections or experiences of how he made that happen.
Some percentage of those who have lived in Chillicothe and, especially, worn the football Hornets uniform likely have seen “the numbers” – his 307 career coaching wins, the 600-plus-and-counting victories the CHS program he largely fashioned now has to its credit, the five state titles, etc.
Due to the fact that, after Fairchild’s retirement, the program’s coaching staff almost exclusively was comprised of former CHS players who learned the game from him and passed it on – virtually letter for letter – to their squads over the next two decades, those players have some sense of what the late coach believed and tried to impart.
However, there is only one “original” – one Bob Fairchild.
Although often showing a gruff or crusty exterior and certainly not willing to give an inch to a gridiron opponent, most players he coached – and many other students with whom he interacted in his duties as 2-plus decades as high school vice (assistant) principal – eventually came to recognize that he viewed the noun half of his “tough love” as preeminent to its preceding adjective.
He always wanted what he saw as “the best” for the young people to whom he’d chosen to commit his life to as an educator, whether that was in the brick-and-mortar classrooms and halls of the school through which he’d passed or on the grass “classroom” of the school’s football stadium. And if guiding young male students who chose to play football to a high level of functionality that produced dozens and then hundreds of scoreboard wins, too, that was all right by him, too.
Many of the “numbers” accomplishments of his 35 seasons at the CHS pigskin helm were recounted in our stories in Wednesday’s print edition of the Constitution-Tribune that reported his death last Saturday (Oct. 26) at age 87. For those too young to have known him or played for him, a recapitulation of not only the “what” of his career, but also a reflection on the “how” and “why” would seem instructive to understand why his final passing – and no, he didn’t hate that word, as a check of some CHS football seasons’ statistics would attest – touches the community and the extended Chillicothe “family” as it does.
In the immediate aftermath of Fairchild’s unanticipated retirement announcement in mid-June 1998, the Constitution-Tribune produced a special section saluting his myriad accomplishments as a football coach.
Here’s a sampling of sentiments a wide array of former CHS players, coaches, and associates, as well as former rival coaches, expressed about the Chillicothe native.
• “The epitome of high school coaching. Even when you lost to him, you didn’t feel that badly because you knew you’d lost to the best.” – 1970s Brookfield coach Bill Olinger
• “His coaching was a masterpiece.” – long-time St. Joseph: Benton coach Don Tabor
• “A real pioneer.” – long-time rival coach Cecil Naylor of then-state-power Marshall
• “He was one of the most-outstanding high school coaches I’ve had the opportunity to work with … a true professional.” – then-University of Missouri head coach Larry Smith
• “A great teacher, a genius at the game.” – Phil Willard, former CHS star and Fairchild’s CHS coaching successor
• “A great coach, a great motivator.” – former CHS player Scott Lindley
• “Nobody did it better.” – John “Butch” Davis, the first star to emerge from Fairchild’s CHS program, eventually going on to star at the University of Missouri and play in the National Football League
However, Fairchild taught more than “Xs and Os,” even though he was a wizard at football strategy and talent discernment.
“He was a teacher of ‘lessons of a lifetime,’” early 1970s CHS player Doug Doughty declared in that 1998 salute edition.
“His greatest victories came in the countless… young lives he touched,” asserted 1970s CHS player David Neal.”Coach Bob took young boys and – if they listened, learned, worked hard, and dared to achieve – transformed them into young men.
“No matter what a boy’s background, no matter how poor their self-image, Coach could create an environment in which they could believe in themselves and in their teammates.”
Shared Ed Martens, a member of Fairchild’s coaching staff for about 20 years, “I came to Chillicothe to teach and coach in the mid ’60s largely because Bob guided me in that direction through a graduate course we were enrolled in.
“That move and that relationship has affected me probably more than anything else. He has done no less to hundreds of students, athletes, and colleagues through the years.”
One of the last top-level players Fairchild nurtured and developed, Jeff Marriott, who eventually got a crack at the NFL, as well, related a sentiment that permeated the community during “the Fairchild years.”
“When you were a boy growing up in Chillicothe, more than almost anything, you wanted to play football for coach Fairchild.
Marriott encapsulated the undercurrent of everyone contacted to comment on the legend’s retirement and, almost certainly, hundreds more who time did not allow to be contacted for the salute, expressing it succinctly then in a way which likely still holds true 20 years later:
“He is Chillicothe football.”