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Health forces St. Joe’s coach Gilbert to step down: 'It's something I have to do.'

What’s the best part of coaching for Dennis Gilbert? It was working with kids and watching how they learned to handle situations not only on the field but in the game of life.

It’s something that has fueled Gilbert for more than 30 years as a football coach. It’s a memory he hopes fuels his return to the sideline someday. Gilbert has stepped down from his post as St. Joe’s head coach due to health reasons.

He informed the players of his decision during a meeting Friday morning.

Gilbert, a full-time police officer for the City of Buffalo, is scheduled to have back surgery in two weeks to help correct an injury he sustained in the line of duty last fall. The ailment has affected his quality of life to the point where he has difficulty sitting, has been limited in the amount of weight he’s able to lift and has had numbness in his fingers.

“It’s something I have to do,” Gilbert said. “It was tough” telling the players. “It’s not something I wanted to happen. It just is. We talk to the kids all the time it’s not what happens, it’s how you respond.”

Gilbert has been the head coach since 2010 when he succeeded legendary coach Bob O’Connor, who was Gilbert’s high school coach when the class of 1984 alum was a St. Joe’s student. Gilbert led the Marauders to a regular season and a postseason Monsignor Martin championship during his time as head coach.

After graduation, he began working as an assistant coach for O’Connor, including 18 seasons as junior varsity head coach. Aside from a short hiatus during the 2000s, he’s been a program mainstay. St. Joe’s has been one of the top programs in Western New York during his tenure.

“Coaching St. Joe’s has always been an honor,” he said. “It was a difficult decision, but – especially with the talented and dedicated players we will have next season – the team needs certainty to prepare for what will be a great season.”

The school now begins the not-so-easy task of finding Gilbert’s successor.

“Dennis Gilbert has unselfishly given so much of his time and talent to our student athletes,” St. Joe’s President Robert T. Scott said in a statement. “Our entire St. Joe’s community will be praying for his full recovery.”

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