High school coach Jack Gilbreath has been involved in several Claremore-Catoosa football games during a long, respected career.
During the 1970s and early '80s, he served as an assistant and head coach for the Indians.
For the first time, he will see what it is like to be on the Zebra side of the field in a game between the two Highway 66 Rogers County neighbors.
Claremore will host Catoosa in a District 5A-4 contest starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Lantow Field. Each team must win to keep any playoff hopes alive.
While Gilbreath has many good memories of his stay at Catoosa, he will be doing his best Friday night to coach the Zebras to victory.
After a pair of "retirements," Gilbreath returned to the coaching ranks this year.
"It wasn't hard to talk him into coaching again," said Zebra offensive coordinator Rob Gilbreath, Jack's son. "Dad loves to coach and I like having him here. It has been fun."
Rob Gilbreath has guided the Zebras the past three weeks in place of head coach Keith Bell who remains out of state with his 17-year-old son, Thomas.
Living with his wife, Dorothy, at their home on Grand Lake, Jack Gilbreath drives to Claremore from Langley each day. He serves as defensive ends coach and helps with the offensive backfield.
Gilbreath has been around football a long time. A graduate at Vian High School, he attended Connors Junior College at Warner and later graduated from Northeastern State.
He started his coaching career at Shidler and served as assistant to Benny Kiger. When Kiger was hired as head coach at Catoosa in 1969, Gilbreath made the move with him.
“At that time, we were a Class B school and were playing schools like Chelsea, Berryhill, Owasso, Union and Haskell," Gilbreath said. "We were all about the same size then, but then we jumped up to Class 2A."
When Kiger moved to Collinsville a few years later, Catoosa school superintendent Watie Twist turned the football program over to Gilbreath.
"The depths Catoosa football had sunk to at that time was unbelievable. Jack Gilbreath was able to restore it to a respectful level," Gus West said this week.
The former Catoosa Times-Herald newspaperman spent countless hours with Gilbreath — as a friend and as a reporter.
Rebuilding the program meant scheduling better opponents, Gilbreath said.
"Some of the people wondered why we wanted to play Claremore," he said. "Frank Mobra was tough to beat."
While the Zebras usually defeated Catoosa, one year does stand out.
In 1985, the Indians surprised Claremore with a win of their own. The quarterback that night was a senior by the name of Rob Gilbreath.
Shortly after his son's graduation, Jack Gilbreath left Catoosa to coach at Panama and later at Wagoner. In 1995, he left Wagoner and thought he was ready to retire.
Not so. The Gilbreaths moved to Arkansas City, Kan., where he coached nine more years.
What is it going to be like coaching against your former team Friday night?
"It will not be any different from any other week," Gilbreath said. "With the exception of Mike Mobra (Frank's son), all the ones I knew are now gone. Two of their players are sons of two boys who played for me. We scouted their game last week and each came up to visit. That was nice."
Mike Mobra is a longtime coach with Catoosa.
Gus West's family has been friends with the Gilbreaths since their time in Catoosa. One year, West and the Catoosa Times-Herald produced a football preview with the picture of two players on the cover. The boys were Rob Gilbreath and Lance West, son of Gus, now athletic director at Claremore Sequoyah.
Now living in Broken Arrow and having been away from Catoosa several years, Gus West will probably be pulling for the Gilbreaths to win tonight.
Regardless of the outcome, Gus West hopes Jack Gilbreath doesn't repeat an incident that occurred more than 30 years ago.
"We are playing this team we were not supposed to beat and as time is running out, our quarterback, Timmy Martin, breaks loose for a long winning touchdown carry," West said. "We are all going crazy and running down the sideline when I look back and there's Jack down on his knees choking and unable to get his breath.
“He had swallowed his tobacco."