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Marla Ridenour on Sports

Tips for prospective coaches from Mount Union's Larry Kehres

By Marla Ridenour Published: November 22, 2013

Here are some highlights of what former Mount Union football coach Larry Kehres told Jim Tressel’s and Jim Dennison’s “Principles of Coaching” class at the University of Akron on Wednesday night. Kehres, 64, retired after last season but remains the school’s athletic director. He won 11 Division III national championships and 23 Ohio Athletic Conference titles during his 27 years as Mount Union's coach.

  • Kehres said he majored in economics at Mount Union because he found it interesting, but wasn’t enamored with the job prospects when he was interviewing in 1971. He got a phone call from a man who had been his professor, wondering if he was interested in a graduate assistant position for coach Don Nehlen at Bowling Green. "I was going to meet coach Nehlen at 8 a.m. on Saturday. I rode up on Friday evening. I used to arrive for a 6:40 p.m. class at 5:05, so I arrived well before 8 o’clock. I wore my one good sportcoat, a Harris tweed. I was waiting outside his office. A couple minutes after 8 he came out. He reached out his hand and said, ‘Hey, Larry, that is a nice sportcoat.’ My advice to you is to wear your best duds.”
  • After a year at Bowling Green, Kehres said he still wasn’t convinced he wanted to be a football coach. But he took a job coaching at Johnstown Monroe High School in Johnstown, Ohio, in 1973 because his wife was teaching near there. In 1974, Kehres returned to Mount Union and spent 11 seasons as an assistant before taking over as coach before the 1986 season.
  • On his retirement, Kehres said, “The hardest thing is ending a job on your terms. I miss sitting in video sessions with players, miss the planning for success. Really what I miss the most is planning for practice and trying to implement the plan and trying to do the same on game day. The real deal is the interaction with athletes. That’s what you have to love and be passionate about or a lifetime career in coaching might be hard.”
  • Kehres said it is critical for coaches to learn how to handle family situations. He recalled how a player’s sister picked Oct. 7 for her wedding. “I said, ‘Go to that wedding, it’s a once in a lifetime event. We have 10 football games.' When there were commitments due to faith or education that conflicted with practice or games, we had to come in second. Players at Mount arrive late and leave early for classes. Cecil Shorts, a successful receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars, had a class he had to have for his major. Practice started at 3:45 and he didn’t arrive until 4:25. That’s 40 minutes of critical individual instruction time, but that’s the way it works.”
  • Kehres talked about athletes’ behavior and skills. Big on his list is eye contact. “I taught classes for years at Mount Union. I wanted students to make eye contact when I was teaching. The computer snuck in late in my career. Eye contact is critical if I’m going to communicate with a student effectively. There can be a lack of interest or bad attitude if there’s no eye contact.”
  • When he was looking for players, Kehres said he wanted them tough, skilled and smart.
  • He said for each position he identified five key skills he wanted a player to exhibit and listed them in an order of importance. Kehres said everyone on the staff needed to know the five skills for each position because that was what the coaches would try to develop at practice and would set up their individual and group drills accordingly.
  • For quarterbacks, those were accuracy as a passer, good agility, good decision-making skills, arm strength and leadership. “If I was at a Division I school arm strength would probably be higher than fourth. If I was coaching DI athletes I might put speed above agility. I used to say, ‘I’ve never had a knucklehead at quarterback and you’re not going to be the first.’ I didn’t want any dorm incidents or any of that. Leaders don’t get themselves in social trouble.”
  • When he talked of accuracy, Kehres held his arms straight out to his sides and bent them up at the elbows to illustrate the box where the ball needs to be thrown. “That notion if you get your hands on it you should catch it, that’s an old adage.”
  • Mount Union went on winning streaks of 54 and 55 games during his tenure and Kehres remembered a crucial game in one of those 14 years ago that was covered by Lesley Visser of CBS Sports and a reporter from USA Today. “Lesley Visser came, wow, was she pretty. I didn’t even tell my wife I talked to her. The writer from USA Today said to me on the field, ‘Can I go in the locker room and hear your pre-game pep talk?’ I said, “You can go in, but you won’t hear much of a pre-game pep talk. I went from somebody trying to be Vince Lombardi to Donald Duck. There are great pep talks by coaches; I’m not one of those guys. I’m into systematic instruction performed properly in practice. I’m not accepting that until we’re doing this right. That gets men to handle the stress of the game. Nothing I could say in the last five minutes could replace that. He looked at me like, ‘You’re a Donald Duck,’ but we won, we got the winning streak. It might be your strength; it wasn’t mine.”
  • Kehres remembered one year when the Purple Raiders returned to campus from the championship game and didn’t know where the trophy was. “We forgot to take it home. It’s not about those things. If you’re going to spend your career in coaching, you have to enjoy and relish the idea that you’re constantly planning."
  • Kehres said he was driven by a fear of failure. "I was always more fearful than hopeful. ‘How can I avoid this bad event from happening – an interception, a bad block, a loss?’ I was driven to prevent those issues that get in way of success. Don’t fix it after it got broke, don’t let it get broke. I wasn’t driven by money, I worked at Mount Union.”
  • Kehres said when his teams lost in the championship in 2009, ’10 and ’11 he took over the play-calling duties for his final season in 2012. “I didn’t want to leave one thing undone. They’d put tremendous pressure on themselves. They didn’t want to be a group that left without accomplishing their goal.”
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