Champion of Character: Pilmore Leaves Lasting Legacy On and Off Football Field

Champion of Character: Pilmore Leaves Lasting Legacy On and Off Football Field
April 18th, 2024 | Joel Janecek

Only one man could’ve been more popular than Tom Osborne in northeast Nebraska in the mid-90s. Gordon Pilmore.

Pilmore, who passed away in August at the age of 89, was the head football coach at Dodge High School from 1966 until 1998. He led a dynasty of Pirate football teams that won four consecutive state championships from 1994 through 1997. He also coached four undefeated teams in 1970, 1973, 1994 and 1997.

He was named the Nebraska Coaches Association Coach of the Year for the 1997-1998 season, and finished his coaching career with an overall record of 196 wins and 92 losses.

For his efforts, Coach Pilmore was inducted into the Nebraska 8-Man Football Hall of Fame in 2019.

During a 2019 interview, Coach Pilmore said his success was not measured in the wins, but rather by the students and players he was able to help.

“Believe it or not most of the memories, there were so many of them as far as teams and the games that we played, but I think that most of the memories going back were with individuals more than games. I had a good time with the kids,” Pilmore said. ” I think my main purpose there was to get along with the kids and I enjoy the fact that some of them come back and want to talk about the old days. That’s my favorite times.”

When a team has success at the level that Dodge did in the mid and late 90s, the bulk of the credit deservedly goes to the head coach. But Pilmore was always quick to pass praise on to his assistants. One of those assistants was Craig Schmidt, who coached with Pilmore from 1985-1997.

Schmidt gives his perspective of Pilmore as a head coach.

“He was a teacher first; he always was interested in educating kids. He didn’t like the limelight much. I think sometimes he didn’t like to be the center of attention,” Schmidt said. “He gave his young assistant coaches, which we were during those years, he gave us a lot of responsibility at an early age. But Gordie knew how to take advantage of their athletic ability and was a great person who studied the game. He actually was always trying to learn, and was just a great person to be around.”

Gene Uher attended Dodge from 1966-1970 and was a part of Pilmore’s very first football teams there. Uher shares what the experience was like.

“Well, it was quite different than it is now days. You know back then we never had any junior high football or anything, so when we got up there as freshmen, we were pretty green recruits. Coach Pilmore had to teach us a lot, but as I remember he was pretty patient,” Uher said. “It took a while. It took a couple years. That was Coach’s first year there in Dodge also, so I feel like it took a couple years to get to know each other and get used his system.”

Andy Ortmeier played for coach Pilmore from 1979-1983. He said one of Pilmore’s best attributes was that he played no favorites and everyone was given a fair chance to compete.

“No matter who you were, you had a chance with him. He gave everybody the same opportunity to do things. And if you had a question or a problem, he’d help you solve it. He was just that type of guy,” Ortmeier said. “So, it was great watching him when he did win all the championships. You just knew it was going to happen because he was a good coach. I knew that when we were there, and we really got to see it when they started winning championships.”

Clint Eikmeier went to Dodge from 1996-2000 and was a part of Pilmore’s final two seasons as the head coach. While Eikmeier easily recalled Pilmore’s abilities and talents as a football coach, he said that his off the field interactions with coach were more meaningful.

“He was super friendly. He was one of the nicest guys around. You know, could always have conversations with him, and I remember after high school having those conversations were much more, I guess, meaningful just because you’re a little bit older at the time. Went through high school and experienced that and whatever, and then now we got to kind of talk as, you’d say friends, outside of football,” Eikmeier said. “But we always brought up football. It always came back to ‘I can remember when this was happening’ or he could remember when this was happening. I sure enjoyed always visiting with him any chance that I did have after and away from the football field.”

Author Mark McGinty wrote “a man should not measure his success in life by the type of work he does, or by the medals he has won, but by the impact he has had on those around him.”

Four state championships, four perfect seasons, nearly 200 career wins and a Hall of Fame induction will certainly be Coach Pilmore’s legacy in football. But to everyone who had the fortune to know him, his legacy is much more.

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