Whitewater's familiar foe retires

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, May 9, 2013

Lance Leipold knows how Larry Kehres looks from 53 yards away.

And Leipold is the only coach from that distance that has witnessed what a disappointed Kehres looks like on a regular basis.

Leipold, the UW-Whitewater head football coach, stood on the opposite sideline from Kehres during five straight NCAA Division III championship football games.

The Whitewater-Mount Union championship matchup streak—which was at seven years altogether—ended last season, when the Warhawks did not qualify for the playoffs. Kehres guided his University of Mount Union (Ohio) to the 2012 championship game, where the Purple Raiders defeated St. Thomas (Minn.) in the championship game.

No one knew it then, but that was the final football game Kehres will coach at Mount Union.

Kehres announced his retirement as football coach Wednesday after 27 years as head coach. The 63-year-old Mount Union graduate is in his 39th year at the school and plans to remain as director of athletics.

Leipold is one of the few coaches that can bring up his record against Kehres and the Red Raiders. In those five championship game matchups, Leipold and the Warhawks won four times.

Batting .800 against Larry Kehres is noteworthy, if not unbelievable.

Kehres retires with a career record of 332-24-3, or 331-20-3 against everyone besides Leipold.

Leipold was informed of Kehres' decision in various text messages and a phone call from the Canton (Ohio) newspaper Wednesday morning.

"I can't say I was totally surprised," Leipold said Wednesday night. "Maybe with the time of year."

Leipold is spending this week conducting post-season interviews with the 100 players on the Warhawk roster.

The golf course will have to wait.

Only a fellow coach knows how much time goes into building a successful program and then keeping it on a high level.

Leipold can match Kehres' career winning percentage of .924. Even after the non-playoff season last year, Leipold is 79-6, which is just a tad better percentage at .929.

But Leipold has been at Whitewater six seasons. As stated before, Kehres carried that percentage through 27.

It can be argued that Whitewater's yearly competition in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference is tougher than the overall talent in Mount Union's league, the Ohio Athletic Conference.

Leipold dismissed any "conference strength" factors in Kehres' record.

"Even if they don't, you still have to have your team ready to play," Leipold said. "You can't have any letdowns. You can't just roll out the ball, so to speak.

"To play at that level for that amount of time takes great leadership and motivational ability. It truly is remarkable."

Leipold did not take the trip to Salem, Va., to watch this year's championship game. For the first time in his years as Warhawk coach, Leipold began recruiting as soon as the regular-season ended.

After the Warhawks' "disappointing" 7-3 season, Leipold felt being on the recruiting trail was what was needed.

Kehres' announcement made Leipold reconsider that decision Wednesday.

"I know I'll regret not going," Leipold said. "I always said the first year that our streak ended, I would try to go down and watch what people had done."

Leipold said the 2012 season would go down as the year two Division III legends left football. John Gagliardi, who amassed 489 football victories—the most in college football, announced his retirement from St. John's (Minn.) in November.

Meanwhile, Leipold will continue to build on his record.

And if Whitewater and Mount Union should happen to meet in December in the 2013 Stagg Bowl, a familiar name will again be across the field from Leipold.

Larry Kehres' son, Vince, was named as his father's successor.

Tom Miller is a page designer/sportswriter for The Gazette.

Last updated: 10:38 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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