Prep Football

Bob Thurness: "He was a football coach"

Former Marion High and Coe College coach was Hall of Famer at both schools

Bob Thurness
Bob Thurness

It was a Saturday afternoon in 1980 and Marion High School had just earned the biggest football win in its history, a 28-14 state Class 3A playoff semifinal win over Benton Community in a meeting of two 10-0 teams.

So what did Marion Coach Bob Thurness do immediately after the game? He went to Benton’s locker room to congratulate the Bobcats on a great season and great effort.

“That’s the kind of guy he was,” then-Benton Community Coach Reese Morgan said Monday. “He respected our toughness and the way we played the game.

“They were the better team. We felt very honored to have the opposing coach come talk to us afterward.”

Morgan is the University of Iowa’s defensive line coach and has been on the Hawkeyes’ staff since 2000. He was a high school head coach from 1978 to 1999 at Benton and then Iowa City West. Morgan and Thurness, who died last Saturday at 79, are members of the Iowa Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Marion went on to defeat Atlantic 12-6 in the 3A championship in 1980 for what remains the school’s lone state title in football.

“I have a lot of people to thank for this season,” Thurness said after the game, “and it wouldn’t be right to go without mentioning them.

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“I have the good Lord, to thank, my wife, my kids, the coaching staff, the team, and the Marion community which supported us. We couldn’t have accomplished this without any of them.”

Thurness coached at Marion from 1974-1980, going 57-13. His last three teams were a combined 31-3. Morgan was a 30-year-old head coach whose Bobcats surprised a lot of people in getting to the 3A semis in 1980. He said he got to know Thurness after their two teams squared off. He and his assistants would work at some of Thurness’ Marion football camps and he became personal friends with Thurness.

“He had a gruff exterior, but he had a twinkle in his eye,” Morgan said.

In 1980, Benton had an all-state fullback named Wade King, who rushed for 200 yards in the Bobcats’ 3A quarterfinal win over Fairfield. He also played linebacker.

I’m told by another friend of Thurness that instead of worrying how to tailor his defense to slow King, Thurness instead focused on offense. He ran the ball at linebacker King’s way early and often to wear him down and make him less effective on offense.

The irony is, Blairstown’s King then went to Coe College and played for Thurness when Thurness became the head football coach there in 1982. King was one of many former Thurness players who went into coaching. He has been the head football coach at Davenport Assumption since 2002.

“He was tough-minded,” Morgan said, “but he really cared about his football players. The guy would do anything for his players.”

Thurness’ record in eight years as Coe’s coach was 43-21-2. He also coached the Kohawks’ softball team to five conference championships. A West Liberty native, he was a 1962 Coe graduate and a multisport athlete there.

He is in the Coe Athletics and Marion High School Athletics Halls of Fame.

“He was a football coach,” Morgan said, emphasizing those final two words. “That’s the highest honor I can give him.”

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“I saw an awful lot of young men mature,” Thurness said when he announced his resignation at Marion after that 1980 championship season, “and I guess that’s what coaching is all about.”

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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