REGGIE HAYES: Former DeKalb High School football coach Ron Kock left legacy of positive thinking

DeKalb quarterback Brad Weber confers with head coach Ron Kock during the semi-state game against Lowell in 1994. (File photo by news-sentinel.com)

DeKalb quarterback Brad Weber confers with head coach Ron Kock during the semi-state game against Lowell in 1994. (File photo by news-sentinel.com)

Ron Kock was a heck of a high school football coach. He won 78 percent of his games at DeKalb, coached three teams to undefeated regular seasons, reached the 1994 state finals and wound up in the Indiana Football Hall of Fame.

That’s the least of his legacy.

Kock, who died Sunday at 63 after a battle with cancer, will be remembered far longer for the way he lived.

We’ll remember his easy smile. We’ll remember his genuine interest in students. We’ll remember his devotion to making high school sports a great experience.

Kock could be fiery – the best coaches are – but that was limited to practices or games. The rest of the time, which was most of the time, he was one of the friendliest, most upbeat people I’ve encountered in more than three decades of sports writing.

“As a coach myself, one of my top responsibilities is that kids know they are cared about and appreciated,” former DeKalb standout Jeremy Sassanella said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ll remember about him. He was an incredible educator.”

Kock grew up in Garrett and played football at Garrett High School for coach John Hutton, who lived four doors down.

“He was one of the smarter kids I had,” Hutton said. “A good player. He was pretty sharp. He knew his responsibilities and did them. The kids all respected and liked him.”

Kock went from Garrett to Purdue University for a two-year degree in civil engineering before pursuing his education degree at Ball State. He later earned his master’s from Indiana.

His calling was teaching and coaching, and he later became one of the best athletic directors in the area.

The football years were great ones. Kock was an assistant coach to Dale Hummer when the Barons won the Class 4A state title in 1986 and he stepped into the head coaching role in 1990. He finished with a 67-19 record for the most wins and highest winning percentage in school history. The Barons were unbeaten in regular season games in 1994, 1995 and 1996. They lost to East Central in the 1994 Class 4A title game.

But as Kock taught the game of football, and obviously taught it well, he imparted other lessons.

Adam Crozier was a lineman during that three-year regular-season unbeaten stretch. He later went on to play at the University of Saint Francis.

He remember Kock’s acumen with X’s and O’s, but also the greater lessons.

“He genuinely cared about his players and how they lived, and how to go about living well,” Crozier said. “He had a catchphrase, one that stayed with me and I believe it still: Good things happen to good people.”

Crozier said Kock used the phrase a time or two as a reminder to his players not to do anything stupid at the county fair, but also as a reminder of the best attitude to have.

He made a point of pushing his players as hard as he could so they could reach their potential, former DeKalb defensive end Rick Frye said. Kock maintained a balance between being tough and loving.

“He treated us like family, and he did that with all the players, not just the starting guys,” Frye said. “He was just a genuine, good person.”

Greg Moe coached against Kock a few times when Moe was at Garrett. Because of the proximity of Garrett and DeKalb, there was a natural rivalry. The battles could get heated.

But, again, Kock’s intensity during the game quickly dissipated afterward.

“He was the kind of guy that no matter what happened – win or lose, and we never beat them, although we came really close – he was always there to help you,” Moe said. “He was never arrogant about anything. He always downplayed everything and was respectful to you, no matter if he was better than you.”

When Garrett and DeKalb quit facing each other regularly in football, Moe remembers spending time with Kock and learning some of DeKalb’s schemes, and how to make them effective.

Later, Kock would call Moe to hire him to officiate wrestling.

“He always had a smile on his face and had something good to say,” Moe said. “I can’t ever remember him talking negative about another person. He was a fantastic person.”

Sassanella, who played in the Detroit Tigers minor league system and now coaches Brebeuf High School baseball in Indianapolis, remembers quitting the football team early in his sophomore year at DeKalb because he was worried about injury.

“Coach Kock just left me alone and had the team give me some space,” Sassanella said. “I came back to my senses a few weeks later. That exemplified to me where his heart was. He was always incredibly good to me.”

Tom Crist was the athletic director at Garrett when Kock was in high school and later became the athletic director at East Noble. Crist was at East Noble when Kock was at his finest coaching DeKalb. The two schools are fierce rivals.

Kock became an athletic director just as Crist was retiring, but Crist was around the schools enough to see how Kock continued to excel in that role, too.

“Ron was an advocate for all his athletes and students,” Crist said. “He wasn’t a ‘me’ person. He was a ‘What can I do for you?’ person. ‘How can I make this better for all the kids?’ We are all going to miss him.”

Kock and his wife Kathie had three sons: Aaron, Alex and Adam. The boys all excelled at sports, with Alex earning the Trester Award in at the basketball state finals in 2003.

His family was a huge part of who he was, say those who knew him best.

“It wasn’t that long ago, they called us about his cancer, and we went down to see him,” said Dave Wiant, who coached Koch in football and golf at Garrett. “He still had the greatest attitude. I was shocked how upbeat he still was.”

When Crozier reflects on his high school football days, he remembers how Kock developed the Barons into a cohesive unit rather than a group of individuals.

“High school kids all have different agendas,” Crozier said. “Some kids play because their dad expects them to. Some just love to play. Some have aspirations to play in college. Ron was able to set the expectations of ‘It doesn’t matter why you’re here, you’re here, and we’re going to get as much out of you as we can.’ ”

Kock would then point them in the right direction: the positive one.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com.

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