February 23, 1926—May 21, 2020
It’s almost as if it all happened in Hollywood, scripted and released on one of those old 1940s black-and-white movie reels.
How else to explain the tremendous career of William Jewell College’s longtime coach, Darrel Gourley?
You see, he was a high school freshman when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and then was forced to wait to enlist – which he did during his junior year. When he returned seaside later to play football for what’s now Truman State University, little did he know that molding young people’s lives as a coach would be his calling.
“I went in with the idea I was going to go into dentistry,” Gourley said, before joking, “After I didn’t do well in chemistry, I decided to go into coaching.”
What a coaching career he enjoyed, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Gourley with the Class of 2017.
Beginning in 1958, Gourley carved out a tremendous, 32-year run at William Jewell in Liberty, including 24 years as the head coach of the track and field program and 18 years as assistant football coach. Among his football players were longtime Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder and three future college presidents.
His track teams won five consecutive track and field conference championships, never finished worse than third in the league and produced two individual national champions. Gourley also coached golf for eight years, winning five conference championships, and spent time coaching wrestling, cross country and intramurals.
He handled everything else, too, it seemed.
Gourley administered college and high school athletic meets on the district, conference and state levels, plus chaired the Coaches Association for the NAIA District 16 and Heart of America Athletic Conference in both track and golf. In addition, Truman State inducted Gourley into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989.
All the while, Gourley taught a full course load every semester, teaching physical education as an associate professor. He also trained pilots.
“I enjoyed working with young people,” Gourley said in 2017. “That’s how I made it to 92 years old.”
Gourley’s life journey took him from a three-year tour with the Army Air Corps to Truman State and then to the University of Missouri, where he earned a master’s degree. He attended Indiana University until a stipend was delayed. He then coached at various schools in Iowa and northern Missouri, including Fulton, before reaching William Jewell.
In his time at William Jewell, Gourley mentored thousands of athletes, including at least 100 who went into coaching. Some he coached by accident, simply because he had a big heart for William Jewell’s student-athletes.
“One time, they said, ‘We’re going to need a wrestling coach, and I said, ‘You’re talking to the wrong guy,’” Gourley said with a laugh. “Two weeks later, I signed the contract to coach wrestling.”
For Gourley, he employed a style much like that of his high school and college football coaches. (In fact, his high school coach followed him into the military.)
At times, Gourley could be a disciplinarian but also could relate to athletes’ experiences. He had been an all-conference football player at Truman State, where one of his greatest games happened in Springfield as Gourley scored three touchdowns and ran back a kick for another against then-Southwest Missouri State.
“I never kept track of wins and losses,” Gourley said. “I was coaching the total person, not just the sport. I felt like I was being a positive influence. I coached golf just like I coached football.”
His humor kept players upbeat, especially in lean years.
“I told them, if you want to be in the coaching business, you’re better off being an assistant,” Gourley said. “The head coach gets fired.”
Gourley enjoyed quite a great life in Liberty. It’s where he and his wife of 59 years, Margaret, called home until she passed away.
Their children went into coaching – Marilyn at various stops, Mark as the head track and field coach at Park Hill High School and Jeff as a longtime high school football coach, including leading Olathe South (Kan.) High School to a 2011 state title.
Gourley in 2007 married Vonda Johnson, and the couple lives on the William Jewell campus, attending most games.
“I had the best job anybody could have. It was a lot of fun,” Gourley said. He later added, “I had a rewarding career. I stayed on the job because I wanted to be an influence for kids.”