Edited by: Tommy Parrill (@DearTommy)
When most people think of college football powerhouses in Ohio, they think of Ohio State. While Ohio State might be the bigger name with more nationwide popularity, there is another school in the Buckeye state that has dominated the college football world, the University of Mount Union. For the last 27 years, the Mount Union Purple Raiders have been legitimate national championship contenders at the Division III level of College Football. Over that period of time, there has been one coach. One man that compiled a record of 332-24-3, 21 undefeated seasons, 23 Ohio Athletic Conference Titles, the highest winning percentage in college football history, and oh yeah, 11 Division III National Championships. That man is named Larry Kehres, and after 27 seasons at the helm of the Purple Raiders, he has officially retired as the Mount Union Head Football Coach, but will remain as the university’s athletic director. Larry’s son and defensive coordinator, Vince Kehres, will take over the coaching duties for the Purple Raiders.
When I received this information yesterday, I didn’t know what to think. When you think of Mount Union Football, Larry Kehres is the first person that comes to mind. From the time he took over the reins in 1986, Mount Union has been almost untouchable, and I know this because I had spent the last four years of my life in the Ohio Athletic Conference. Spending many of my Saturday’s in the fall covering Otterbein University Football, I had a chance to see some amazing football players. Mike Preston & Germany Woods (who is now a Mount Union Purple Raider) from Heidelberg, Dominic Jones, Trey Fairchild and Colton Coy from Otterbein, Kirby Harris from Marietta, and Cecil Shorts III from Mount Union. Even though all of the teams in the OAC have tremendous athletes and coaches, there was always something different about watching Purple Raider football. It seemed as if Mount Union was running the game at a faster rate than other teams could keep up with, and for the most part, they were always clicking on all cylinders. The offense was always making plays, and the defense was about as lock down as you can get. Didn’t matter what year it was or who the players were, that was how Mount Union played football. That all comes back to coaching and recruiting, two things that Kehres did so well. The rumor had always been that Kehres would recruit the players that weren’t quite good enough to play Division I Football, but were good enough to win a national title at the Division III level. If that rumor is true, then you can’t help but respect the man. He found a way to get the best players he could on his team, got the best out of them every week, and came away with 11 National Championships out of it. Not bad Larry.
I had a chance to meet Larry Kehres at the 2011 OAC Media Day at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I thoroughly enjoyed the speech that he gave that day, and when I had a chance to meet with him and ask some questions about the upcoming season, the man treated me with respect and answered my questions as good as anyone ever has. After winning 10 National Championships and pretty much becoming the king of Division III College Football, he could’ve ignored me and claimed to have not had enough time for me, but he didn’t. He was very appreciative and respectful the entire time, and from that point on, I had a different view of Mr. Kehres. I respected the man, and now I knew why he has been so successful over the years. As head football coach and Mount Union Athletic Director, he expects a winner and builds a winning atmosphere around the university. He respects the people and the people respect him. All in all, getting talent is one thing, but coaching it to 21 undefeated seasons is another.
Since Kehres is staying on as athletic director and not leaving the school altogether, I’m guessing that the championship influence will still be in Alliance. Whether that is the case or not, the University of Mount Union and Division III Athletics saw something special over the last three decades. It all started with one man at his alma mater, and 27 years later, he is one of the most winningest coaches in college football history. Congratulations Larry, I will continue to root for my Otterbein Cardinals, but I will always respect you.