Longtime Bears football coach, Robert “Bob” Jackson, 64, died unexpectedly March 31 at his White Bear Lake home. Jackson won more than 200 games in 35 seasons as a football coach. He coached at White Bear from 1993 to 2011, also serving as athletic director from 1999 to 2011, taking the helm of the Bear football program after successful coaching stints at Spring Lake Park and Mable/Canton. Sunrise Middle School math teacher, Travis Littlefield, played for Jackson at Spring Lake Park in the early '90s, later becoming one of his assistant coaches at White Bear.
“Coach Jackson used football as a means to teach life lessons of discipline, work ethic, TEAM, winning and losing like a champion and fighting through adversity,” Littlefield said. “He demanded a great deal of his players in the weight room and on the field. Many would have thought him to be 'old school.' He practiced what he preached by having class in victory and defeat, not making excuses and never wanted any attention on himself.”
Even after Jackson retired, Littlefield kept in touch, talking on a weekly basis with the man he considered an invaluable mentor. “I followed him here to learn from him. He has many former players who coached for him later,” added the sixth grade teacher, who was offensive coordinator for the Centennial High School football program last fall. Littlefield noted another White Bear grad, Lambert Brown, is now head coach at Wayzata.
“Bob told me once that you could tell the quality of your program by how many guys came back. We wanted to carry on his coaching methods.”
As a coach, Jackson led three different programs to state, including White Bear Lake. Littlefield described Jackson's methods as “very blue collar. His approach was that's how you win, by working harder than anyone else.”
An associate principal at South Campus, Brian Leonard, was an assistant under Jackson. He remembered the coach as someone who cared about his players and coaches. “He was extremely loyal to his staff and he kept a lot of extended relationships over time with his kids. But he kept his private life private.”
The Bear coach was also meticulous about the grass turf. “He was the grounds crew at White Bear,” Littlefield recalled. “He was always pulling sprinklers around early in the morning, fertilizing the grass and planting seed. There was always one field we called 'the Promised Land.' We couldn't go on it until late October. It was the field that hadn't been beat up.”
Jackson left White Bear Lake as the leader in coaching wins with 123, according to Littlefield.
When Jackson retired in 2011, he had been on a leave of absence from his teaching position for health reasons. The cause of death has not been determined but Littlefield speculates it was a heart attack. A buddy found Jackson deceased at home when he didn't show up for an outing.
Bob was born Dec. 29, 1953 to James and Josephine Jackson in Winnebago, Minnesota. He attended school in Winnebago and graduated in 1972. This is where his passion for sports began, read his obituary. He then attended Mankato State College and earned his degree in education. On July 13, 1974, he married Joan Stordahl and to this union, daughter Lisa Jo was born. Bob had a lifetime career as a teacher and coach spanning several school districts.
He is survived by his daughter, Lisa Jo Jackson (Ryan Stevens); sister, Kate (Ron) Severson; sister-in-law, Mary Jackson; nieces and nephews, Michael (Sue) Jackson, Patrick (Sarah) Jackson, Sherri (Hugo) Silva, Christine Jackson and Sharon (Mike) Egan. He will also be missed by many other relatives, friends and former students.
He was preceded in death by his parents and brother, James “Jim” Jackson.
Visitation is 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 7 at the Spencer-Owen Funeral Home, 345 Sixth Ave. SE, Winnebago. A private family graveside service will follow.
In lieu of flowers, consider donating to a Memorial Scholarship fund that will be set up in Coach Jackson's name.