Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Is Larry Kehres the greast coach in college football history?

High school seniors who have decided to play football at Mount Union almost always graduated as a champion.

Some graduated with two titles. Lucky ones captured three.

Coach Larry Kehres ran out of fingers to place his NCAA Division III championship rings. Kehres, who announced his retirement from coaching Wednesday to become the school's athletic director, led the Purple Raiders to 11 national titles. His son, Vince, will replace him.

Vince, the program's defensive coordinator the past eight years, certainly has the pedigree to become a successful head coach. But it's hard imagining the school duplicating Mount Union's sprint under the 63-year-old Kehres.

Mount Union went 332-24-3 in 27 season under Kehres. The Purple Raiders won national titles in 1993, '96, '97, '98, 2000, '01, '02, '05, '06, '08 and '12.

The gaudy winning percentage and titles raise an obvious question: Is Kehres the greatest coach in college football history?

Knute Rockne and Bear Bryant flourished at higher, more cutthroat levels in different eras. But Rockne, Bryant and other Division I coaching legends weren't forced to endure the rigors of a playoff.

Kehres' final Mount Union team meandered a 32-team bracket and played five consecutive weekends, increasing the possibility of a postseason upset. Kehres' teams, though, rarely lost to inferior opponents.

They also won by startling margins. Mount Union defeated Christopher Newport, Johns Hopkins, Widener , Mary-Hardin Baylor  and St. Thomas by a combined 272-89 in the 2012 postseason. The lopsided scores were a staple of Mount Union's championship seasons.

Kehres coached at a level that didn't offer scholarships. Players who don't receive substantial financial aid packages must pay to attend school and play a violent sport. Division III teams don't face the same roster restrictions as Division I programs. Rosters exceeding more than 120 players are common at the Division III level. The numbers are difficult to manage, but they allow coaches to gradually develop players.

John Gagliardi, who retired from coaching Division III St. John's (Minn.) College after last season, won a record 489 games in 60 seasons. Gagliardi led St. John's to three Division III titles.

Eddie Robinson won 408 games in 57 years at Grambling. Robinson led Grambling to two undefeated seasons.

Bryant won six national titles (in a non-playoff format) coaching Alabama from 1958 to 1982. Rockne went 105-12-5 and won three national titles in 13 years at Notre Dame.

Pick a legendary coach from any generation and any level. Finding one whose accomplishments equal Kehres' might as tough as going from fifth- to first-string on the Purple Raiders' depth chart.

-- Guy Cipriano | @newsheraldguy


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