This past Saturday (originally published on December 20, 2012), did you watch ESPN and see the best college football coach in the country lead his team to another National Championship? What, you say? Nick Saban had the weekend off . . . Alabama didn’t play. I am not talking about the Crimson Tide or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish or any other BCS team.
No, I am talking about coach Larry Kehres and his Mount Union College Purple Raiders. They won their 11th NCAA Division III National Championship to complete their 20th undefeated season.
I had been working on this post for a few days, but apparently I was scooped by Grantland.com (the former “Page Two” on ESPN.com). Author Michael Weinreb is a former Akron Beacon-Journal writer (the major newspaper that would cover Mount Union). I can’t believe that someone else (a professional writer on a website with millions of readers, no less) would dare write an article saying the same thing. Actually, they aren’t saying the same thing. They say that Larry Kehres is the best coach you’ve never heard of (which is, no doubt, true).
What I am saying is that he is the best football coach, period (whether you’ve heard of him or not). The other difference between the two posts (mine and Grantland.com’s) is that theirs is better. I love reading Grantland.com. It is always intelligent; often humorous. But, you’ll have that…maybe you’ll enjoy my perspective on Coach Kehres, as well.
In 2003, ESPN personality and former Boston Globe writer, Norman Chad, said that Mount Union was the best college football team in the nation. All they’ve done since then is to continue that success. Let me say it again, Mount Union College is the most successful college football program in the nation. If you don’t believe me (or Norman Chad) that Larry Kehres has made the Purple Raiders into the best college football program in the nation, then take a moment and check out these facts:
- They’ve won 11 National Titles (first one occurring in 1993) and runner-up 5 times. 16 National Championship game appearances in the last 20 years.
- He has a 332-24-3 career record for a .924 winning percentage (read that again…he’s won 92% of his games he’s coached). Ten of those losses came in his first 4 years (1986-1989).
- He is one of only 11 college coaches at any level to win more than 300 games in a career.
- He is the active wins leader at any level (DI, DII, DIII, NAIA)
- He’s lost only 2 regular season games since the 1992 season. In other words, in the last 20 years, he’s only lost a regular season game in 1994 and 2005! In other words, he only loses in the playoffs (if then).
- They’ve won 21 straight Ohio Athletic Conference Championships (The OAC is one of the strongest conferences as league schools other than Mount Union have won 13 national playoff games since 1993).
- This year, going into the National Championship game, they outscored their opponents by an average of 55-9. In the first four rounds of the national playoffs, they scored 72, 55, 72 and 48 points…against other nationally-ranked teams.
One of the best things about this year’s championship is that it came after a three year drought. Mount Union College had underachieved and struggled the last three seasons. After all, doesn’t every great program go through struggles and down periods in their program’s history? So, this year’s Purple Raiders persevered through the 2009, 2010, and 2011 UNDEFEATED REGULAR SEASONS and NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP RUNNER-UP FINISHES to win this year’s NCAA-III National Championship. They avoided becoming the first four-year entering class to leave Mount Union without winning a national title since 1989’s entering class. Most of this year’s players weren’t even born yet. That’s right, Mount Union’s down period was being the second-best team in the nation! That is how good they are.
In 1993, I was a backup wide receiver at Hiram College. We travelled to fellow Ohio Athletic Conference member, Mount Union College, to play a game. I was excited because I would get to see a couple of big-time college players up close and personal. Ed Bubonics was a wide-receiver that was on his way to 102 catches and 1,769 yards en route to another All-American honor. The guy throwing him the ball was Jim Ballard, who would go on to be on the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills roster, before being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Obviously, Mount Union had a potent offense, but they could score in many other ways. Since I was a backup (waaaayyy back), I was on the kickoff team. Yes, I saw first-hand how explosive they were as I had a hand in screwing up covering the kickoff and watching them go for a touchdown. They beat us 50-0. That year they went on to win their first NCAA-III National Championship. That is my only Mount Union story. Well actually, I have another one about me visiting the school and falling asleep in my 1-on-1 admissions meeting, but we’ll save that for another day.
Mount Union couldn’t defeat Alabama. They wouldn’t have a winning record if they competed in the Big Ten. They don’t send player after player to the NFL (though Pierre Garcon plays for the Washington Redskins and Cecil Shorts III currently plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars). Coach Kehres doesn’t self promote himself or look for the next big job. He seems to be content where he’s at. However, I’d be willing to bet that if he coached at the big-time level, he win and he’d win big. He can coach and that translates everywhere.
Division III is certainly not the SEC, but he oversees nearly 200 players every year (he doesn’t cut anyone), and manages a football program at the college level. It may not be at such a high level, but he does it without scholarships and does it with infinitely fewer resources and staff as a Division I coach does it. In the coming weeks, when commentators and fans rave about Chip Kelly, Nick Saban, Brian Kelly and Mark Richt, I challenge you to think about all the success Larry Kehres has had.