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Football coach active in sport over 50 years

jack n. hepinstall, sr., 1922-2011

Jack N. Hepinstall, Sr., who coached high school and college football for more than five decades, including a stint at Hillsdale College, died Oct. 3 in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 89.

A recent fall required surgery, and he suffered a heart attack during recovery.

Born and raised in White Cloud, Mich., Mr. Hepinstall was an Army officer during both World War II and the Korean War, before starting a lengthy career teaching and coaching football. Most of those schools were in Michigan, including Hillsdale.

"I think he just really enjoyed being around his players and the relationships he had," son Jeff Hepinstall said. "He really thought coaching football brought out some good values."

The Hepinstalls' was a football household and Mr. Hepinstall was "coach." Sons Jeff and Jack, Jr., played as quarterback and center, respectively, on their father's Hillsdale High School team in 1972 that was declared Michigan's Class B State Champions.

Jeff Hepinstall, who quarterbacked the University of Toledo in the 1970s, said he was at football practices as early as kindergarten.

Mr. Hepinstall was meticulously prepared, be it for games, practices, or player recruiting trips. His teams always had detailed scouting reports on their opponents. Jack, Jr., said his father constantly analyzed the game; although his father slept easy the night before games, he was restless the night after because he went over plays in his head.

His sons said he preached the importance of repetition, insisting that players practice plays and techniques until they got them right. As both a teacher and a coach, Mr. Hepinstall installed values into his players. He taught them to work hard, to be respectful, and to recognize the importance of teamwork.

One of the few times he stepped out of his coach's role was when he would watch son Jeff play wide receiver and quarterback for UT. Jeff Hepinstall said his father avoided criticisms of his play after games and instead focused on being supportive.

During the 1976 season, when UT was winless, Jeff Hepinstall told The Blade his father taught him to expect to shoulder the blame.

"I knew when I started at the position the two who get blamed for losing are the coach and the quarterback," he said. "My dad told me that right away."

Mr. Hepinstall retired from high school teaching in 1979, worked a year at the University of Toledo, and then was hired as an assistant coach of linebackers for the Hillsdale football team. He spent 20 years with the team, which tied the University of Central Arkansas in the 1985 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championship game.

Always a constant in his life, football helped ease the pain of losing his first wife, Phyllis, who died in 1984, his sons said.

Mr. Hepinstall coached until 2000, retiring at 78. His career garnered him induction into the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame, Michigan High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame, and the Blissfield Hall of Fame. Former players continued to visit him long after his retirement.

Mr. Hepinstall moved to Fort Myers with his wife, Marilyn. He his survived by his wife; sons Jack, Jr., and Jeff; daughters Linda Gragg, Susan Risk, and Amy Glock; 13 grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

A memorial is scheduled Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Hillsdale Community Senior Services Center, 320 West Bacon St. The family suggests tributes to the Jack McAvoy Scholarship Fund at Hillsdale College.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: or 419-724-6086.

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