Don Lee Deal, beloved husband and father died peacefully on Sunday, Oct 25, 2020 in his Niceville, FL home after a brief illness amid complications from liver cancer. He was 83 years old. Born in Alva, Oklahoma and spending his formative years in Corpus Christi, TX, Don had a streak of the South running through his core. Influenced greatly by the Great Depression, his carpenter father and schoolteacher mother were of modest means and instilled in him an appreciation for simple living. He was the King of casual, with a fondness for country music, steak, and deviled eggs.
Don loved football throughout his life, as a player, coach, and avid fan. Serving as a team captain and back for the Ray High School Texans, he continued his playing career by joining the University of Florida Gators in 1957, briefly doing double duty as a sprinter on Florida’s track team. He played on the varsity team earning letters in ‘58-’60 as a star halfback at a time when NCAA rules limited player substitutions and led to “iron man football”, where individual players alternated between offensive and defensive roles. By ‘59 he was a one of the leading scorers on the team and later “the fastest man on the squad.”
Don was instrumental in one of Florida’s greatest wins of the era in 1960 against Southeastern Conference rival Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech had briefly flirted with an AP top-ten ranking before meeting Florida in Gainesville. In the first half, Don recovered a Georgia Tech fumble, later scoring a touchdown to tie the game. Then at the end of the 4th quarter, he caught a 32-yard pass from Florida quarterback Bobby Dodd, Jr, setting up a 3-yard rushing touchdown in the final seconds by teammate Lindy Infante that would lead the gators to the 17-16 upset win. The victory was especially significant since Georgia Tech was then led by legendary head coach and father of Florida’s quarterback, Bobby Dodd.
After college and a brief stint playing semi-pro football, Don began his coaching career in St. Petersburg, FL. He returned to the University of Florida in 1969 to complete his master's degree and joined the Florida football coaching staff, serving in progressive roles for the team including academic advisor, scout, backfield coach, head freshman coach, and coach for varsity running backs. He continued coaching at Southern Mississippi in 1973 before permanently settling in the Ft. Walton Beach area. Don and his wife, Linda, lived in Okaloosa County where Don served as Head Coach and Athletic Director at W.C. Pryor Junior High School, and Assistant Principal and Vice Principal at Choctawhatchee High before retiring in 2000.
Don was a man who knew how to enjoy life. He was an avid golfer, enjoyed frequent travel, and loved outdoor activities. This year, Don was to celebrate his 40-year wedding anniversary with his wife Linda, the great love of his life. He cultivated and maintained strong friendships throughout his life, which was easy for him because he rarely spoke ill of others, and he had a charm that made him a joy to be around.
Don is survived by his wife Linda, son Don Jr., daughter and son-in-law Lisa and Tom Hermann, grandchildren Charlotte and Will Hermann, and the mother of his children and friend, Carolina Kirby-Smith. The family welcomes donations to Semper-fi & America’s Fund at semperfifund.org as an expression of sympathy instead of flowers. A Celebration of Life ceremony is being planned for the summer of 2021 in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. Expression of love and sympathy may be viewed or placed at www.mclaughlintwincities.com.
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