MNU news

Influence Lives on After Passing of Coach Gordon DeGraffenreid

Left, Coach DeGraffenreid circa 2018. Right Coach DeGraffenreid with football team.
University News
Left image: Coach DeGraffenreid in recent years. Right image: With Pioneer football as head coach.

Pioneer football’s first Head Football Coach, Gordon Dean DeGraffenreid, 77, passed to his heavenly home on Saturday, August 8, 2020. Coach D is credited with planning, recruiting and beginning football competition in 1978 at MidAmerica Nazarene College. He was head coach, also serving as offensive coordinator, working at MNU from 1975 to 1991. 

During Coach D’s era, the team rose from a fledgling team to a Heart of America Conference Champion Title in 1985. A favorite memory of early football alums was the team’s victory in 1982 over No. 1 ranked, arch-rival William Jewell College of Liberty, Missouri. Coach D’s program produced six NAIA All American’s for the Pioneers. 

Players and fans alike have fond memories and expressed their gratefulness for Coach D’s influence.

“It was in my early years at MANC that his influence motivated me to become a teacher and coach,” says Mike Ellis (’81). “He stayed in touch and remained supportive of my teaching and coaching endeavors.”

Jim Couchenour (’82), Pioneers’ Hall of Famer and first football All American, added his thoughts. 

“My friend and coach, Gordon DeGraffenreid, was a man of vision, courage and conviction. He taught me the importance of surrounding myself with strong Christian brothers and sisters to provide strength, encouragement and, at times, course correction,” Couchenour says. “Coach D's positive contribution to my life will never fade away.”

Coach D continued to impact MNU after his retirement through several football alums who are now on faculty and staff at the university. 

Roger Alexander (’82), development director at MNU, was on the 1979 and 1980 teams. “Investing in money is easy,” he says. “Investing in people is hard. Coach D, and his wife, JoAnn, invested in my life and I am grateful and better because of it.”

Dr. Neil Friesland (’92), professor of special education at MNU, remembers the care Coach D showed his players. 

“As a freshman in 1987, I was not the best, the fastest or smartest player on the team, but Coach D was encouraging and accepting, making me feel part of the team,” Friesland says. “He poured his life into the MANC Pioneers and each player. Coach D’s impact will continue to influence the young men that become part of the Pioneer nation.”

“Coach D. has had a tremendous impact on my life. His wise counsel went well beyond the football field and my time on campus, and has helped guide me over the years,” says Dr. Jon North (’92), vice president for university advancement. “The legacy of his influence reaches all over the country and now touches countless lives.”

One may wonder how many doctors, lawyers, executives, entrepreneurs, coaches, educators, husbands, fathers and sons can trace their success back to their days on the field with Coach D. 

“The last time Coach D and I spoke, we talked about the decades of young men involved in the football program, and the many coaches and administrators who supported the ministry,” Couchenour added. “He was most proud of the Pioneers who are active in their local church, encouraging others in the faith and reaching the lost.”

DeGraffenreid was an athlete and loved all sports having started more than six sports for the university.

“Gordon DeGraffenreid invested heavily in the growth and expansion of the athletic department with numerous sports,” says Todd Garrett (’94), athletic director. “Much of what we see today is a result of dreams and aspirations from individuals like Gordon who saw potential in young people and in a bright future for our university.”

An educator at heart, Coach D taught school prior to his tenure at MidAmerica and taught coursework here while coaching the Pioneers. He spent 43 years of his life as an educator and coach of multiple sports. His last 15 years of teaching were in the Olathe Public Schools where he taught math and coached football.

Coach D and his wife JoAnn have been faithful members of Olathe College Church of the Nazarene since 1975 where they served as greeters for 40 years. He and JoAnn celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary in May 2020.

Apart from football, education, and church service, DeGraffenreid was an accomplished woodcarver of Santa figures, snowmen, cowboys, and animals. Although he sold many of his works of art, he got the most enjoyment when making a carving as a gift.

Coach D is survived by his wife, JoAnn (’79), son Jeff (’96) daughter-in-law Paula (’92), son Jed (’99), grandchildren Faith, Isaac, and Grace, and his sister, Sheryl Sloan.

Services are at College Church of the Nazarene, 2020 E. Sheridan Road, Olathe, August 14, 2020, with the funeral at 11 a.m., and visitation afterward from noon to 1 p.m. A graveside service will be at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens (Olathe) at 1:15 p.m.

Summer 2020 Accent Cover image
This Issue

Summer 2020

This issue features alumni who’ve committed themselves to serving others through healthcare. They comment on work during a pandemic as well as their motivation to serve. We hope you’ll be inspired by these few who represent many.

need help?
Office of News & Public Relations
Carol Best, Public Relations Manager
2030 E. College Way
Olathe, KS 66062-1899