Broncos general manager George Paton remembers late father, Tom: “Pretty amazing guy”

Tom Paton had not coached high school football in 10 years, but his son George’s freshman team in the Los Angeles area needed a leader. Like so many men who will be recognized on Father’s Day, he stepped up.

“We had OK talent, but we went 9-0, were never behind and won every game by 20 points because of his leadership,” said George, now the Broncos’ general manager, during an interview with The Denver Post. “No one thought we were going to be very good, but we were doing stuff nobody else was doing. He went out like a champ.”

Tom, who instilled his family with a love and passion for football, died last November after a long fight with dementia. Sunday in California, the Paton family will have a celebration of life and scatter his ashes in the Pacific Ocean where he liked to sail.

Tom lettered in football at UCLA from 1959-61; George followed from 1988-91.

“He was self-made,” George said. “Only child. Had no money. Earned a scholarship.”

After college, Tom started a successful high school coaching career.

“That’s all I knew growing up,” George said. “We played all of the sports, but football was obviously the main one because we were a big football family.”

All three Paton brothers (Frank, John and George) played college football. John played for Tom in high school baseball, but Tom moved to coach football at a different high school.

“He was always critiquing me, but not coaching me,” John said last summer.

When Tom took over George’s freshman team, George said: “It was nervous to have him coach me because he’s pretty imposing, but it was unbelievable.”

During his NFL career, Paton has worked with coaches such as Nick Saban (Miami), Mike Zimmer (Minnesota) and last year, Vic Fangio (Broncos). Do any remind him of his father?

“A little bit of everything,” Paton said. “He was old school, but he could love the players up. He coached them hard, but they loved him and followed him.”

After his freshman year, George transferred to Loyola High School.

“It was really competitive and hard to jump in and start, but I wanted to be the quarterback,” he said.

As George worked and waited for his turn, his father helped lead his offseason training.

“My junior and senior years, I would come home and I would drag my dad to the park every night at 8 o’clock under the tennis lights and he would catch routes,” George said.

That’s right, Tom Paton, by that point in his 40s, played receiver.

“Anytime I asked him,” George said. “He never pushed me to play football even though he was a football guy. He was always there for me.”

George said his high school memories flowed to the front of his mind while attending his father’s funeral.

“Just thinking about those moments and how he was always there, like him driving me to weight-lifting at 5:30 in the morning, four days a week in the offseason,” he said.

Tom Paton’s dementia had progressed the point that he didn’t realize George was with the Broncos but he said: “I know he would have loved to come to Denver.”

Sitting in his office, George picked up a framed picture of Tom in his UCLA football uniform. Looking at the picture, George paused and said: “Pretty amazing guy.”

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