ALLIANCE (News Talk 1480 WHBC) – It is a warm summer afternoon in early September of 2013. A young, long haired, bright eyed freshman sideline reporter for the school radio station speed walks to the Dom Capers Press Box, hours before the kickoff of the first college football game of the season.
He ignores the numbness in his shoulders from the heavy broadcast equipment he was forced to carry due to being the “new guy.” It is just too exciting of a day to let anything bring him down. It’s the start of the Mount Union football season. And it is the start of a new era.
A few hours earlier and a few hundred yards away from the Mount Union press box, walks another man who is also feeling the “first day on the job” excitement. He enters a locker room that he has been in thousands of times. However, for the first time in his life, he will be the main guy in charge of it.
Finding a new head coach is normally a tough task for any program. Adding in the fact that the man being replaced is an 11 time National champion and a future member of the college football hall of fame certainly doesn’t make things any easier. Yet, when legendary Purple Raider head coach Larry Kehres called it quits after winning a Stagg Bowl in 2012, his replacement was about as obvious as ever: his son, Vince.
That afternoon, Mount Union and their new head coach escaped an opening day upset over 19th ranked Franklin, winning by a final of 30-27. An important first step in an important year for the Mount Union football program.
While Vince Kehres was far from a stranger to “Raider Nation”, some wondered if he would be able to follow the same, celebrated path that his old man had paved. Just seven years, six OAC titles and two National championships later, the college football world found out that Vince was not interested in following anyone’s path. Instead, he is creating his own.
In a move that sent shock waves throughout all of Division III football, the reports surfaced Monday afternoon that the Purple Raiders head coach was leaving the town he had called home for his entire life to pursue an opportunity at the Division I level.
Kehres will be joining an old friend and former assistant coach Jason Candle at the University of Toledo. The specifics on his role have yet to be released. All we know is that it will be on the defensive side of the ball, an area of the game where he is no stranger to. The only difference is the color purple will be nowhere in sight.
Vince Kehres is set to go through some major changes. The same could be said about the football team that he is no longer the head coach of.
Assuming Larry does not create even bigger shock waves and come out of retirement, a new chapter of Division III football will begin on September 5, 2020 at 1:30 PM at Mount Union Stadium. It will be the first Purple Raider football game coached by someone without the last name Kehres since 1985.
Back then, just one OAC championship belonged to the Mount Union College football team. Since then, many important moments took place that allowed the program to reach the level where it currently stands. Now, as the guard changes, the next man up will have one job: making sure it stays there.
Whoever takes over as the next head coach at Mount Union enters at a very unique time. The Purple Raiders are coming off of their earliest postseason exit since 1994, after suffering a shocking second round defeat to eventual National Champion North Central at home by a final of 59-52.
The thirst to get back to the Stagg Bowl will be mighty. Add in the fact that the game will be played at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, which is all but 17 miles from Mount Union’s campus, and the pressure more than doubles.
For Mount Union, a trip to the National Championship game is always the expectation. But this year, it is more than just that. It is a need. For the first time since the Reagan administration, the program is in uncharted waters.
Purple Raider fans saw the head coach of the team’s two biggest rivals Lance Leipold (Wisconsin White Water) and Tom Arth (John Carroll) leave for Division I jobs. Since their departure, neither program has reached the same level of success. Mount Union fans might not say it out loud, but internally all of them have at least pondered the idea of something similar occurring in Alliance, Ohio.
Missing another trip to the Stagg Bowl would by no means be a death blow to the Mount Union football program. It would, however, be a step down to the likes of which it has not experienced since 1994-1995. That was the last time the Purple Raiders went two straight years without competing in the DIII National Championship game.
For most programs that is normal. However, normal isn’t a word that applies when describing Mount Union football. At least that was the case during the Kehres era. Mount Union’s next head coach will undoubtedly know this. More likely than not, they will hire from within. Someone who knows how the machine operates and who can keep it running.
Every other team in the nation has been waiting for that machine to break down. A large majority of those people also believed that wasn’t going to happen with Vince Kehres running the show. But the time has come for someone else to have their “first day” on a September afternoon. Two large pairs of shoes will have to be filled and a new challenge will begin.