Harry Gamble, coach of Penn football from 1971-80, died Tuesday morning. He was 83.
Gamble is perhaps most well-known for his time as team president and chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Eagles from 1985 to 1995. Gamble’s son Tom is currently the Eagles’ vice president of player personnel.
In 1962, Gamble got his coaching start at Penn as a line coach under then-head coach John Stiegman and also served under Stiegman’s successor Bob Odell, who Gamble replaced in turn in 1970. Since 1954, only current head coach Al Bagnoli has won more games for Penn than Gamble.
“It was an honor for me to play for him,” said Jack Wixted C’76, who was a leading running back under Gamble from 1973-75.
“He was always true to his roots and a humble man.”
Gamble went 34-55-2 in 10 seasons as Penn head coach, tying George Woodruff (1892-1901) as the second-longest tenured coach in Quakers history at the time behind George Munger (1938-53).
“We are saddened to hear of Harry’s passing,” Penn Athletic Director Steve Bilsky said in a statement. “Most people around the city of Philadelphia remember Harry’s tenure with the Eagles, but he had a solid decade as head coach of the Penn football program before he made the move to the pros. He impacted a lot of young lives here at Penn, and we know many of our alums who played for him are in mourning today.”
Gamble resigned after the 1980 season, taking a job as an unpaid assistant coach working for Eagles head coach Dick Vermeil. He was named general manager of the franchise in 1985 and team president and COO a year later.
“On behalf of the Philadelphia Eagles, we were saddened to learn of the passing of Harry Gamble today,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. “Our sincerest condolences go out to his wife, Joan, his sons, Harry and Tom and the rest of the Gamble family.
“Harry is a legendary football figure in the city of Philadelphia and South Jersey. He was an excellent football coach, executive and philanthropist, but he will be remembered most for his warm personality, his strong character and his love for his family. He will be sorely missed.”
As Eagles team president, Gamble presided over the Buddy Ryan era in franchise history, in which coach Ryan led the Eagles to three straight first-round playoff losses, and the Rich Kotite era, in which coach Kotite led the Eagles to a 36-28 record from 1991-94. The Eagles went 96-78-1 overall during Gamble’s tenure with the team.
Gamble’s football life began at Pitman High School in South Jersey, where he played high school football. After playing college football at Rider, he coached at two South Jersey high schools — Clayton and Audubon, leading the latter to an undefeated 1960 season and Group III Championship. From 1967-70, Gamble was the head coach at Lafayette.
Outside of football, Gamble was also valued by his players off the field as well.
“I’ll never forget… when he made a visit to my house when I was being recruited,” Wixted said. “He went through his recruiting pitch and after he left, my father, whose opinion I valued highly, said, ‘he’s the kind of person I would want my son to play for in college.’
“What struck me is that my father didn’t say he was the type of coach but rather he was the kind of person. That who Harry was. He was an individual with a high degree of integrity and that’s what was important at the end of the day.”