Seven honorees led teams to numerous title games, hundreds of wins
After Kansas State University head coach Chris Klieman kicked off the Kansas Football Coaches Association's Annual Clinic on Friday night at the Hyatt Regency in Wichita with an hour long address detailing his philosophy for developing a college football program, current KFBCA president Justin Burke welcomed the first class of former Kansas high school football coaches into the new KFBCA Hall of Fame.
The seven-member class was voted into the new Hall of Fame by KFBCA members during their annual All-State meeting last December and six were on hand Friday night to accept plaques while Burke outlined their career achievements for the estimated 475 coaches, friends, and family, in attendance. Roger Barta, Gary Cornelsen, Marvin Diener, Dick Purdy, Chuck Smith and Tom Young joined Burke on stage each in turn, and Pete Kriwiel was on-hand to accept the award for his late father, long-time Kapaun coach Ed, and joined the group as the room delivered a standing ovation.
Former Garden City Telegram sports editor Brett Marshall provided a snapshot look at each coach's career highlights for Burke to use in his speech and Marshall takes a complete look at the career of each coach below. Marshall has enjoyed a 20-year career covering high school sports while working on newspapers in Fort Scott, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Salina and Garden City. In addition to Marshall's interviews, information for these stories also comes from the book, “Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs,” and are used with permission from the Kansas State High School Activities Association.
All about family for Barta in legendary career at Smith Center
Any successful program in athletics, or any other endeavor, has some specific qualities that exist.
First, leadership has to begin at the top.
Second, providing those who are assisting responsibility and accountability for the way they do their jobs.
Third, buy-in from all the people involved in the program or business has to occur.
Those were all questions in 1978 when Roger Barta, then an assistant coach at WaKeeney in north central Kansas, was hired to be the new head football coach at Smith Center High School.
At the time, the school was more noted for its basketball prowess and off-field nefarious incidents, Barta recently recalled, and said it was a bit of luck that his hiring would be the springboard to more than 30 years of admittedly one of the most successful high school programs in Kansas football history.
“I don’t think I’d have any idea that we would be as successful as we were,” Barta said in a recent telephone interview from his Manhattan (KS) home. “I was just perhaps the luckiest person in the world to have had such good assistant coaches, such good players, such good administrators and such an amazing community who backed up the boys.”
Well, that was all well and good when he took his second team (1979) to a Class 3A state runner-up finish after suffering through a 3-6 record in his inaugural year on the sidelines for the Redmen.
“I wasn’t sure we were going in the right direction there at the start,” Barta recalled. “But we made some determinations on how we were going to do things as much as what we were going to do.”
Hitting the weight room, scouting and using early film to prepare game plans for upcoming opponents were just a few of the methods that were employed to build the Smith Center program from the basement up.
Some of the philosophy employed by Barta sounds simple in today’s world, but at the time it was cutting-edge and for him, it was the way to solidify what he and his coaches were doing with the young men who played for them.
“First, we are going to learn to like each other,” Barta said of his basic principles of success. “That leads to respecting each other as well. After that, we’re going to learn to love each other. That means commitment to the success of others and putting everything above self. Then, we will be a team.”
Well, it worked.
Thirty-five seasons later, when he stepped away from the Smith Center sidelines, Barta had left an indelible mark, not only in Smith Center, but across the Sunflower State, and even nationally.
Thirty-two winning seasons in 35 years. A win-loss record of 323-68 (.826), seven undefeated seasons that paved the way for eight state championships, three coming in Class 3A and five in Class 2-1A.
That’s just part of the Barta story.
His eight state championship teams, tied with Silver Lake’s C.J. Hamilton, are eclipsed only by the nine won by Ed Kriwiel at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic High School. The seven undefeated seasons is a record in the 51-year history of postseason playoffs. His teams played in 11 state title games, finishing runner-up in 1979, 1997 and 2009. Barta’s 65 playoff wins rank second all-time behind Hamilton.
“We had some really good young men playing for us through the years,” Barta said, reinforcing his philosophy of running the ball downhill with a power offense that included portions of the triple-option, and the all-successful belly series of running between the tackles out of the Wishbone formation, now commonly referred to around the state as the Barta Bone. “We had some really big power backs, but we were able to mix that up with some speedy halfback-type players.”
His son, Brooks, was one of those physical fullback-type players who played on the 1986 championship team before moving on to star as a linebacker at Kansas State University and setting up his own successful head coaching career at Holton High School where he has won three state crowns.
“Probably, his secret sauce was that he knew how to relate to kids, motivate kids, and understand how to meet them on their level,” Brooks said in an interview for the book, ‘Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs.’ He got them motivated to be a part of something bigger than they were.”
During the Barta years, Darren Sasse played on the line in the late 1980s and early 90s before going on to play at Bethany College and then returning to his hometown to teach and coach.
Sasse served as a coach at the junior high in Smith Center for most of the remaining Barta tenture, but was front and center in the press box on Friday night high school games, talking strategy with Barta and the rest of the staff.
“He was never one to make a difference between the coaches at the high school and middle school,” Sasse said. “He involved us all because he knew that the youngest kids would eventually be at the high school, so it was just all one big family from the early years to the high school team.”
Sasse indicated he was impressed with the humility exhibited by Barta despite all the success.
“He was always a humble guy,” Sasse said in an early 2020 interview. “If he was unhappy, he might have a slight raise of his voice. But certainly he was serious. If somebody wasn’t doing things the right way, he let the other (assistants) guys take care of those things.”
Sasse described Barta as persistent and consistent in the way he coached and dealt with people.
“The inside/outside belly series that we ran, he’d tell you all about the guys he learned it from and why he felt it would work,” Sasse said. “It’s been a staple for so long you just never really think of doing anything different.”
Barta’s son, Brooks, said that the Wishbone offense was inserted early in part because his father wanted to utilize all the talents of the players he had on the roster.
“For me, we had two really good backs, but he knew he needed an extra blocker, so I was able to get in the backfield and help the speed backs,” Brooks said of his junior-senior years for the Redmen. “I’d probably been standing on the sidelines on offense watching if he hadn’t made a third back possible in the offense.”
As the Redmen continued to win more and more in the 2000s, the legend of the Redmen grew. In the 2004 Class 2-1A state title game, Smith Center manhandled St. Mary’s Colgan Catholic of Pittsburg, 36-14, to win the title. The big accomplishment of that win, however, was that it brought an end to the Panthers’ then state record 66-game winning streak.
“We had some really great matchups with Smith Center and we always knew we were going to be in for a battle,” said Colgan’s legendary coach Chuck Smith. “They were tougher than nails. You knew you had to play physical if you didn’t want to get run over.”
That 2004 championship began what is now the longest winning streak in Kansas prep history, 79 games. Titles were added in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008. Two more of those championship match-ups were against Colgan and none were close contests. St. Marys and Olpe were the other two title game victims. That winning streak ranks No. 7 nationally.
What would have been No. 80 in a row didn’t materialize as Centralia won a battle of the ages, 20-12, in overtime in the 2009 title game. That would be the final championship appearance for a Barta-coached team.
The Smith Center success garnered enough recognition that New York Times reporter Joe Drape spent the entire 2008 season in the town, chronicling the year in a best-selling book entitled, “Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen.”
When the 2012 football season drew to an end with a first-round playoff loss to Sterling, Barta assembled his staff and told them that he was retiring.
It was time to turn the keys over to a new coach.
“He told us it was time,” Sasse said. “He’d had some health concerns, but I don’t think we thought it would ever end.”
The main assistants then were Mike Rogers and Brock Hutchinson, both of whom had played for Barta. Sasse said after hearing Barta’s plans to step away, they all kind of looked at each other with questions.
“We all just talked after he told us, and each of told the others that we’d be their assistant,” Sasse recalled with a laugh. “You know that nobody wants to be ‘The Man’ after ‘The Man.’”
Sasse said in the final analysis that with Hutchinson being the head wrestling coach and Rogers the head track and field coach, that it made the most sense for him to be in the running to replace the legend.
“I guess they all felt I was the right person,” Sasse said in retrospect.
Even today, Barta said the school made the right decision in hiring Sasse as his replacement.
“The others certainly could have been great head coaches, too,” Barta said in his January 2020 telephone interview. “They (school administration) asked me to help pick my replacement, but I just couldn’t and wouldn’t do that. But I certainly think Darren was a great choice, no doubt.”
Sasse has carried the flag high for Barta’s legacy, notching two state titles (2017-18), reaching the semifinals twice, and then finishing second in 2019 to Centralia.
Brooks Barta said there were so many things that he has learned from his father/coach through the years.
“He was always so well organized and said planning on Saturday and Sunday would always pay off for what you did later in the week,” Brooks said. “He had a way to get the kids to understand what to expect and then how to execute the plan.”
When Brooks won his first 4A state title in the early 2000s, his dad stressed to only look ahead and not dwell on the past success.
“Is the motivation going to be there the next season,” Brooks said his dad would emphasize. “It was always a new season. When they were in the middle of that 79-game winning streak, it wasn’t talked about. It was only about the next game to be played. What’s your record this season? That’s all that mattered.”
In the rear-view mirror of the incredible 35 seasons at the same school, both head coach Roger Barta and son, Brooks, have difficulty putting it into perspective.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Brooks said. “In hindsight, I don’t think anybody fully comprehended what was happening, and how it would look in the future.”
The head coach, himself, said he just looks back with many fond memories of his coaches and players, and to see how successful they’ve come in life after football.
“To me, it’s those players becoming good husbands, then good fathers, then good people on a day-to-day basis,” Roger Barta reflected on his career. “The football was a vehicle to teach young people responsibility, accountability, how to treat people with respect, and then how to love those closest to you.”
Sounds simple, but certainly it isn’t. But for sure, Roger Barta knew all the right ways to mold young boys into young men to be successful on and off the football field.
“He always enjoyed the success of his former players,” Brooks said. “To establish the culture that still exists in Smith Center is so clear – parents, players, administration – that’s the real trophy for him.”
Cornelsen’s drive, focus sparked Liberal’s memorable run
When he arrived in Liberal for the 1980-81 school year, Gary Cornelsen had already been assistant coach at two Texas high schools – Randall and Tascosa – both of which were in the Amarillo area.
He came to Liberal as an assistant to then Redskins head coach John Kendall and in his one-year stint, helped the team to a Class 5A state championship.
Cornelsen would then depart Liberal only to return again in 1989 as an assistant to Alan Haskell, in an effort to resurrect a floundering program.
Little did anybody know just how much that move back to Liberal would change Cornelsen’s coaching future, but also the fortunes of the Redskins football program.
In his first season at the LHS helm, Cornelsen guided his 1991 team to the Class 5A runner-up finish, going 10-2 in the process.
“I think we all knew when Coach (Cornelsen) took over things were going to be different,” former LHS standout tight end Jerame Tuman said in a 2019 interview for the book “Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs.” “The culture changed immediately and the expectations changed right away.”
Tuman played on three state championship title game teams, winning one in 1992 sandwiched between two runner-up finishes. Tuman remains the lone Kansas prep star to also have played on an NCAA National Championship team (Michigan) and a Super Bowl Champion (Pittsburgh Steelers).
Cornelsen himself lavishes all the praise and credit on his assistant coaches and the players, rather than on his skills as the master of the ship.
“We were blessed with many great athletes,” Cornelsen said. “I’ve had some outstanding assistant coaches who knew a lot about the game, a lot about how to get the most out of young men.”
For a little more than a decade, Cornelsen roamed the LHS sideline, taking his team to a record seven consecutive state championship games (most by any single coach in any class), winning four of those (1992-1994-1995-1997) while finishing second in 1991-1993-1996, and reaching the semifinals two other times.
Perhaps one of the most telling statistics for Cornelsen-coached teams at Liberal is the fact they never lost more than two games in any one season and when he walked away following the 2003 season (he didn’t coach in 2002, but did from 1991 to 2001), his teams had won an astonishing 118 games against just 17 losses, a winning percentage of .944. He went 21-7 in the playoffs en route to the four titles.
Nobody would know Cornelsen and his coaching exploits better than his son, Ryan, who played free safety for him in the 1996 season.
“His players and assistant coaches fed off his work ethic,” Ryan said recently. “His attention to detail was as good as anybody I’ve been around. He worked hard every single day.”
The younger Cornelsen, who also has seen his share of success in the high school coaching ranks at La Crosse, Hays, Hutchinson and now Gardner-Edgerton, said he and his teammates just had a high level of trust and respect for the head coach.
“The players could feel that from him,” Ryan said of the confidence exuded by his father and coach. “You knew he always had a plan, and a good plan, and that’s how he gained the respect of the players. There was great camaraderie on the teams. The kids wanted to play hard for him.”
One of the early traditions established by Cornelsen was summer evening runs for the team to increase stamina for preseason practices.
“We’d all get together, go for the runs and he’d somehow try to make it entertaining and fun for us,” Ryan Cornelsen said. “The kids wanted to win and wanted to please him. It was just the way everybody fed off him.”
Another tradition, one in which the younger Cornelsen emulates his father, is the Game Day “Quiet” time. Each player remains silent on Friday game days until the team begins to dress and prepare for warm-ups prior to kickoff.
“It’s kind of like the ‘Silence Before the Storm,’” the younger Cornelsen said. “There’s no talking in the locker room. It’s all I know and my teams still do that today.”
Ryan Cornelsen said by the time he reached the varsity level, the program had been well-established and success was ongoing every season.
“By the time I got there, it’s what the program was about,” Ryan Cornelsen indicated. “I didn’t know exactly why they had been successful, but it was working for him.”
Looking back more than two decades to that pinnacle of Liberal’s football success, Ryan Cornelsen said he now feels fortunate to have played for his dad.
“Being a coach now, I realize how great it was growing up wanting to win state championships and how unique that time was,” Ryan Cornelsen said. “It was certainly extra special that is was my Dad.”
The younger Cornelsen said his dad rarely look back during the season or at the end of each season to reflect on what had transpired.
“He’d win one and then just go on to the next (game),” Ryan Cornelsen said. “When a season would be over, he’d just start working on getting ready for the next one.”
One would anticipate that a father-son, coach-player relationship would carry over to the home front and dinner table.
“He did a good job of balancing the conversation between family, school stuff and sports,” Ryan said. “We didn’t talk as much (about sports) as you’d think.”
A native of Texhoma, Okla., the now retired coach Cornelsen honed his athletic skills in football, and track and field.
Cornelsen also saw his coaching skills revealed by handling track and field teams at most of the schools where he worked.
His two-year stint at Pampa, Texas, saw him guide the girls track team to a pair of state championships. At Liberal, the Redskins track and field program became legendary.
His Redskins’ boys won 14 consecutive Class 5A state team track championships while he then added the girls and guided the Lady Redskins to 10 state titles in 11 years.
“I always felt it was imperative to build speed and no better place to do that than on the track,” Coach Cornelsen said. “We were fortunate to have some great ones, but certainly the track program had a lot to do with our football success, and vice-versa.”
In total, he won 30 state championships (4 football, 14 boys track, 12 girls track).
Nearly two decades after leaving the field of coaching, Cornelsen was honored with an induction into the Oklahoma-Panhandle State University Hall of Fame where he starred in football and track; and in 2017 Liberal honored him by naming its athletic facility “The Gary Cornelsen Sports Complex.”
In late 2019, he was announced as part of the newest class of inductees into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame.
With the success he enjoyed later in his college and professional career, it was Tuman who perhaps summed up best what made Cornelsen such a great coach.
“I don’t know if he gets enough credit for the things we accomplished,” Tuman said. “The way he set the bar and how things are supposed to be done. His intensity and focus to never say die was more than anyone I think I’ve been around.”
Salina Central’s Mustangs were riding high with Diener at the helm
When Marvin Diener arrived at Salina Central to become the new head football coach, nobody thought much about what success might be possible.
After all, the Mustangs had not had much to jump for joy about related to their exploits on the gridiron, and Diener had a less than glittering three seasons as the head coach at Hoisington (10 wins, 16 losses).
“All I was trying to do was to establish some level of consistency to win games,” Diener recalled of his initial goals at Salina Central. “Never would I have imagined what we ended up doing.”
Diener-coached Central teams had an inglorious beginning, posting losing records in his first two seasons before enjoying a banner 1989 campaign where they finished runner-up in Class 5A to Washburn Rural.
He had graduated from Haven High School and then attended Southwestern College where he played for another legendary coach in Dennis Franchione. He would take many lessons from the future major college coach.
That early success was short-lived, however, as the Mustangs failed to win a game the next year and followed that with a 5-4 mark in 1991.
“I guess the one year of success gave me a little bit of rope to work with,” Diener said of his early years at Central.
Following a 1992 season in which they went 9-2 and were knocked out of the state playoffs in the semifinals, Diener said he spent one day in the summer of 1993 with then Lawrence head coach Dick Purdy.
“We spent a whole day together and it was an incredible experience for me,” Diener said of the legendary LHS, Shawnee Mission West, Lee’s Summit, Mo., football coach. “He’s an amazing person and I’m so lucky to have had the chance to spend time with him and learn from him.”
That 1992 season became the launching pad for what would become one of the greatest runs of any high school program in Kansas football history.
From that season through Diener’s final year of 2005, the Mustangs reached the state championship game nine times, winning six of those (2 vs. Liberal and Gary Cornelsen). Four other years, the Mustangs reached the semifinals and only once did his team lose an opening round playoff game.
In his 19 seasons at Central, the Mustangs won 171 games against just 42 losses and in his final 14 seasons they were 150-15. In the playoffs, the Mustangs won 32 times against just 9 losses.
After capping off his illustrious career at Central, Diener opted to head to the eastern edge of Kansas to take on the head coaching position at Gardner-Edgerton. His teams there went 73-53 in 12 seasons and made the state semis three times and were state runner-up to Hutchinson in 2009 behind standout QB, and current Kansas City Royal, Bubba Starling.
When he hung up the coaching whistle at Gardner-Edgerton following the 2017 season, his record stood at 253 wins and 111 losses with his playoff teams posting a 42-17 won-loss mark.
It was the tenure at Central, though, that stands out.
Stars such as Terrence Newman (Kansas State/Dallas Cowboys) and Jake Sharp (University of Kansas) were among the top players to be molded by Diener.
Sharp, in fact, operates an athletic performance business based in Salina, recalls an incident when he was just a fifth grader and living on a farm across the highway from the Diener family farm.
“I lived on the correct side of the highway and was drinking the Central Kool-Aid,” Sharp recalled. “I went to a football clinic in the fifth grade, and remember he told me that I’d be his starting running back some day.”
That prophecy was fulfilled and it was Sharp and others who played in the Mustang heyday of the early to mid 2000s.
Diener confirmed Sharp’s story from those early years.
“We were drafting kids for a youth football team, and he (Sharp) was the same age as my son (David),” Diener recalled. “The first time I saw him on the field, he was the best looking player I’d seen at that age.”
Sharp’s level of respect and admiration for his prep coach doesn’t need any clarification.
“I’ve never met a guy who loves football more than coach (Diener),” Sharp said. “He’s a passionate guy. He’s all-out, full-tilt. You best bring you’re A-Game every day. If not, there’s hell to pay.”
Sharp said that mindset developed toughness in the Central players and that was demonstrated in the way they played on Friday nights.
“He’s one of the old school but fun coaches,” Sharp said. “He’d cut grain with you. He’d rub a little salt in and he had tough kids. Coach could spot a guy, put him into the system and see the position where the player could succeed.”
The Mustangs won three state titles in Class 5A under Diener in the 1990s and three more in the 2000s. His 1999 squad had completed a perfect season with a win over Fort Scott, but it will be his final team in 2005 that stands above most of his other teams.
“We were ranked No. 1 in all classes at the start of the year and finished there,” Sharp said. “We beat Hutchinson that season (42-14) and they won Class 6A. It was extra special to know that people consider your team to be one of the best ever in Kansas.”
There wasn’t anything his players would not do for their head coach, Sharp said.
“They’d run through a brick wall if he asked them to,” Sharp said with a laugh. “We had a lot of fun, and he was the most motivating coach I played for. He’s certainly a character, but you could always tell what kind of coach he was by how hard his teams played. You played whistle to whistle. If you didn’t, you didn’t play.”
Like many successful coaches, Diener said he was fortunate to have had many outstanding assistant coaches and blessed to have talented players.
“One of the lessons I learned at an early age because I wasn’t a star player in high school (at Haven, Kansas),” Diener said, “is that when your coach plays you, then prove them right to have played you. That’s what I did, and that’s the kind of player I wanted on the field. Kids will prove you right almost every time. I had a lot of good high school players, and had some great ones, too, but one of the things that contributed to our success is that our really good players were always fresh.”
During that decade of dominance in Class 5A, Central and cross-town rival Salina South had many a battle on Friday nights at sold-out Salina Stadium. South was coached by Ken Stonebraker at the time, himself that school’s winningest coach and a two-time state championship winner.
“I had very little success against Central,” Stonebraker said in the book, “Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football History.” “But I probably had more than anybody else in the same time period. They were something special and they were the gold standard in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was jump on board or get run over. Their teams were working hard and Marvin had built a really strong program.”
Marvin’s son, David, played linebacker for him on that special 2005 team and after playing college football went on to serve as his offensive coordinator for seven seasons at Gardner-Edgerton.
“Not everyone can experience coaching with and playing for their dad,” Diener said via text message Saturday morning. “I enjoyed every opportunity to be on the sideline with him, from pulling his headset cords, to taking the field beside him as a player and coach. He set an incredible example for me and will always be a mentor and my best friend.”
The younger Diener currently serves as assistant head coach and offensive coordinator at Winnetonka High School in North Kansas City, Mo., and continues to rely on lessons learned from his father/coach.
“I am very thankful for the chance to learn from him, and hope to be able to influence my own players as he has done for me and so many other student-athletes over the last 30 years.”
Ed Kriwiel: Quiet strength, simplicity, a 1st and 10 kind of coach
The numbers speak for themselves, but they don’t even begin to tell the complete story of one Edward Kriwiel – football coach, golf coach, teacher, mentor, father, husband.
In the 2019 book entitled, “Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs,” long-time Wichita Eagle sports writer Bob Lutz described Kriwiel, who passed away in 2008, nearly two decades after retiring, as “a legend who kept things quiet, but whose teams played with precision and order, much like the coach himself.”
That characterization of Kriwiel, who stands atop the Kansas high school football coaching list with nine state championships at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic in Wichita, appears to be the appropriate way the coach himself might have wanted to be remembered.
Kriwiel’s son, Pete, who quarterbacked the Crusaders to the 1975 Class 3A state crown over Parsons, said there were just a few important items in the coaching philosophy of his father.
“First, he’d let the other guy make the mistakes,” Pete Kriwiel said of how the Crusaders played. “He rarely had plays that went for losses or his teams always had few penalties. He was a first and 10 kind of coach – getting the next first down was always important. He would incorporate a play-action pass and catch the defense off balance.”
Before he ventured into the coaching profession, Kriwiel played quarterback for an undefeated Tilden High School in Chicago, leading his team to the City Championship his senior season. He then served two years in the armed forces before enrolling at Wichita University (now Wichita State University). Playing quarterback, he led the Shockers to a pair of bowl game appearances.
Following graduation, he served one year as an assistant at Wichita East where he worked under head coach Ron Mayo. In 1953, he was named the Wichita West head coach, and for the next 14 seasons, he guided the Pioneers to their most successful seasons in program history – winning 93 games against just 26 losses and 7 ties, earning six Wichita City League titles and leaving in 1966 with a 33-game winning streak.
A brief intermission at the college level with Wichita State paved the way for him to take the reins at Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic in Wichita in 1969, the first year of the Kansas state high school playoffs.
His teams thrived in those first two decades of postseason play, capturing six Class 3A titles in a span of eight seasons (1970 to 1977). The Crusaders played in one other title game in that stretch, losing to Shawnee-St. Joseph in 1971. His teams beat the Steve Grogan-led Ottawa squad in 1970, Kingman, Fort Scott, Parsons, Shawnee-St. Joseph and DeSoto during their reign.
“He just believed in keeping things simple,” Pete Kriwiel said. “The game-planning was precise. I’ve been on some other staffs where they didn’t keep it simple enough, but he believed in doing a few things, but doing them well.”
According to Pete Kriwiel, practices were noticeably efficient.
“He didn’t let mistakes go in practice,” Pete said. “If we messed it up, we had to do it again. And again. At the time, it didn’t seem like he was asking too much of us.”
Conditioning was another area that Kriwiel seemed to keep in simplistic terms, Pete said.
“We didn’t run long workouts,” he recalled. “It would be like eight 40-yard dashes at the end of practice. You had to run them hard to keep the players’ attitudes right, but I think he preferred to keep athletes fresh.”
When the state expanded to six classifications, Kapaun moved up to Class 5A in the second biggest class, and it took just three seasons there for the Crusaders to find their way back to the throne room.
They defeated Emporia and Bishop Miege in 1981 and ’82 to claim titles Nos. 7 and 8 for Kriwiel before dropping championship games in 1983, 1984 and 1985 to Pittsburg, Paola and Washburn Rural. Kriwiel would claim his final championship, No. 9, in 1987 over Pittsburg. In his final two seasons, Kriwiel saw his teams just miss title game appearances, losing to Salina Central and Buhler in the 5A semifinals.
His teams made the playoffs 17 times in 22 seasons, compiling an impressive 41 wins and just 8 losses, a winning percentage of .837 that ranks No. 1 for all coaches with more than 20 playoff game appearances.
Incredibly, the Crusaders never lost a first-round playoff game under Kriwiel, another testament to how well his teams were prepared.
“Dad also had a way of separating the coaching stuff when he was at home,” Pete said. “I think he was just a well-rounded person who cared about his family, his players, the people he worked with and he did it in a gentlemanly way.”
In his 22 seasons at Kapaun, Kriwiel’s teams went 204-41 (.833). Of his 36 seasons of coaching at the prep level, 34 of them produced winning seasons. Only once at each of West and Kapaun did his teams dip below .500. His career record, upon his retirement at the end of the 1990 season at the age of 61, was 297 wins, 67 losses and 7 ties (.801). His teams had 7 undefeated seasons, four at West and three at Kapaun. His 1981 to 1983 teams compiled a 26-game winning streak.
“If Dad had been in better health, there’s no way of knowing what his record might have been,” said Pete, citing his father’s two heart attacks for his decision to retire early. “While the game had started to change with the advent of spread offenses, he still believed in keeping his philosophy simple.
“He would tell you he didn’t change much,” Pete indicated. “It was the middle trap and counters and the play-action pass and play tough defense. That’s what he believed in and it worked for him.”
Kriwiel was invited to serve as an assistant coach on the 1982 Kansas Shrine Bowl West team and then was its head coach in 1983.
His career, which also included 24 state golf championship teams, was recognized by inductions into the Wichita State University Hall of Fame (1981), the Kapaun Mt. Carmel Catholic Hall of Fame (1992), Kansas Golf Hall of Fame (2000), Kansas Sports Hall of Fame (2004) and the KSHSAA Hall of Fame (2009).
“He had a way of motivating you without getting too emotional,” Pete Kriwiel said of his father. “He rarely raised his voice, but if he did it was because there was not enough effort. There was just a quiet confidence developed over the years. Most of the time, we just felt we were better prepared. I think a lot of it was the players didn’t want to disappoint him because of the reputation he had built.”
One legend follows another to success with the Lawrence Lions
To some, taking a head coaching position at a school that was in the middle of a decade-long run of dominance might be a bit daunting.
But Dick Purdy was never one to shy away from a challenge, so when he accepted the head football post at Lawrence High in 1990, he knew the shoes he had to fill.
Bill Freeman had coached the Lions to five state titles from 1979 to 1989 while playing in one other state title game during that stretch.
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to leave (Lee’s Summit, Mo.), but I thought Lawrence High was going to be good forever,” Purdy said in 2019 in the book, “Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs.” “I told myself if I were to get the job, I was going to give it a try and do everything I could. It was a good move.”
Indeed it was.
Starting with his first campaign in 1990, the Lions swept through Class 6A like a, well, roaring Lion.
His teams defeated Manhattan, Garden City twice in back-to-back, low-scoring slugfests, and then capped the run of five straight titles with wins over Washburn Rural and Derby in 1993 and 1995 sandwiched around a loss to Derby in the 1994 finale.
“Coach (Purdy), he’d like it when we’d bring the house (on defense),” former Purdy assistant, and recently-retired Lawrence-Free State head coach, Bob Lisher said in the “Under the Lights” book. “If we gave up a long play on defense, that was OK. He loved his offense. He’d just want to go right down and score. He was more an X’s and O’s guy, but coach Purdy would always be trying new things.”
Purdy, who now lives in Green Valley, Ariz., was born and raised in Kansas City, Mo., attending Southeast High School. He attended and graduated from Baker University before earning a master’s degree at Pittsburg State University.
An opportunity to coach fresh out of college was made available when Purdy took his first job at Chetopa, a small town in southeast Kansas. He used a version of what he called the “Missouri Valley Spinner” of the Single-Wing on offense.
His two-year stint at Chetopa was uneventful, finishing 7-8 before moving on to Chanute in 1958. A school with not much success in football wasn’t able to completely turn the corner under Purdy, who produced four winning seasons in his nine years there.
“I think I picked up so much from people I coached against,” Purdy said in a recent telephone interview. “My high school coach was unique in that we never practiced defense and we never scrimmaged. I just thought that’s the way you did it when I began coaching.”
In those early years before there were state playoffs, Purdy began exchanging films with one of his Southeast Kansas League rivals.
“He told me it was time to get out of that (Single-Wing) offense, so I did,” Purdy recalled. “It had run its course. Defenses had definitely caught up with it. I started using the quarterback like everybody else.”
A nine-year tenure at Chanute came to an end after the 1966 season and saw Purdy depart with a 31-48-2 record. Somehow, he said, he was hired at Shawnee Mission West, a large school in the Kansas City Metro area on the Kansas side of the state line.
“Things were tough in Chanute, but I certainly learned so much in that time,” Purdy said.
He said he was blessed to have outstanding coaches on his staff at Shawnee Mission West, and it paid off in big dividends with assistants such as Tony Severino (legendary Rockhurst, Mo., coach who recently retired).
After a stutter-step beginning at SM West (3-4-2 and 4-4-1 in 1967 and 1968), Purdy’s West’s teams heated up and would have a three-year run of two Class 5A runner-up finishes (1971 and 1973) sandwiched around a championship in 1972.
In six of his final years at West, the Vikings only had one season under .500. His 1976 team finished 10-1 and was state runner-up in 5A and his final 1980 squad was 9-2 by reaching the state semis.
In 1981 and 1982 he worked on Don Fambrough’s University of Kansas staff after leaving a West program that produced 92 wins against 43 losses and 3 ties.
“It seemed like a good move at the time, but like many things in coaching, things don’t last forever,” Purdy said of his short stint in the college ranks.
When things unraveled at KU, Purdy was offered the job at Lee’s Summit High School on the Missouri side and his run of seven seasons provided a 56-22 won-loss record.
“We had a heckuva time beating Rockhurst, or the record would have been a lot better,” Purdy joked. “The one time we were able to beat them we made it to the 5A semis.”
The move to Lawrence High proved to be Purdy’s final curtain call in a legendary career.
Adam Green, a two-time all-state running back for Purdy, recalled the new coach’s first speech to the team.
“We all sat down in the gym,” Green said. “He asked us what the longest winning streak was in Kansas. There was not one person who knew, but it was understood that was the goal for the program. We were like, ‘Whoa, this guy’s not messing around.’”
And it was that way from 1990 to 1995, with five state championships, a runner-up finish and then an 8-2 record in 1996. Then, the biggest decision ever to impact football in the city of Lawrence was made when citizens voted to add a second high school, Free State, for the 1997-98 school year.
With the talent pool divided, neither school thrived for many years, and Purdy’s final two seasons saw the Lions struggle to 4-5 and 5-5 records.
“You don’t win without good players, and we had plenty of them when I first got to Lawrence,” Purdy said. “Lawrence had good players, but when you split them up, it impacted both programs. It took a long time to build up a respectable program at both schools.”
Purdy’s departure opened the door for one of his assistants, Dirk Wedd, who also just recently retired and now the Lions are coached by highly-regarded Steve Rampy, who coached four state championship teams at Blue Valley and most recently served as the offensive coordinator at Pittsburg State.
“I consider myself to be very lucky to have been surrounded by good assistants,” Purdy said. “I was just really fortunate.”
Fortunate enough to carve out a Hall of Fame career with 270 wins, 138 losses and 5 ties in 41 seasons. Six titles puts him into the rarified air of being tied for No. 5 all-time for most championships and his four straight at LHS is tied at No. 4 on the all-time list of consecutive championships.
When he picked up the phone recently to talk to the KFBCA, he was stunned to hear the news about his upcoming induction.
“I was shocked and pretty excited,” Purdy said. “I’m up there with some guys who have won a lot more than I have. But as I’ve said, I’ve been blessed throughout my coaching career with great people around me and with great players.”
Colgan’s Smith: Family for Football, Football for Family
It seemed inevitable that one day Chuck Smith would be coaching football on the sidelines.
He just never dreamed it would turn into an illustrious career filled with outstanding players, knowledgeable assistant coaches and state championship teams.
He also could not have dreamed that he would have all four of his sons play quarterback for him at St. Mary’s Colgan High School in Pittsburg, a place he roamed the sidelines for 37 seasons compiling a record rarely exceeded in the high school ranks of Kansas football.
His Colgan Panther teams won five state championship games, and played in six other state title contests. They also won 66 consecutive games from 2000 to 2004 before falling to the next great small class power, Smith Center, in the ’04 title game.
That 66-game winning streak is now only exceeded by Roger Barta’s Smith Center team’s 79-game streak, tops in Kansas high school history.
Smith stepped off the gridiron after the 2016 season having finished his amazing career with 347 wins (344 at Colgan), while losing only 81 (75 at SMC) after a one-year stint at Topeka-Hayden (1979) when his team there posted a 3-6 record.
“I’ve been overly rewarded for what I’ve done,” Smith said in an early 2020 interview. “First and foremost, it’s been an extra blessing. I’ve been privileged to coach many outstanding young men at a school that honors tradition and respect for individuals.
“I’ve been able to coach my four sons (Nick, Mark, Jeff and Chas) and they all played quarterback (the three oldest played on the Panther teams during that 66-game winning streak). It was incredibly special with so many memories.”
Smith said while growing up in the northeast Kansas community of Atchison, it became apparent to him that he wanted to coach when he finally finished his collegiate academic and athletic career.
“I chose this profession because of my high school coaches,” Smith said. “Football was a way for me to express myself without talking. I just knew I always wanted to do that (coach). It was a good thing for a boy to grow up and learn how to deal with success and failure.”
Smith’s second oldest son, Mark, quarterbacked the Panthers from 2001-2003, guiding the team to three Class 2-1A state crowns. He said one of his dad’s greatest attributes as a coach was adapting to the talent pool with which he had work.
“We didn’t always have the biggest, or the fastest, players,” Mark said of his teams at Colgan. “But Dad found a way to implement an offense that allowed us to get the ball into the open fields, and that’s one way that we could play with teams who were bigger than us.
“He always played to his team’s strengths, and he had a great relationship with his players. They would run through a wall for him.”
In his discussion about his nearly four decades at Colgan, Smith said he was fortunate to have stepped into a culture of winning that was already there.
“Coach (Frank) Crespino had already won a championship, so that was always the goal to make it to the championship game,” Smith recalled. “Lon Farrell also had enjoyed success there. The kids had high goals way before me and it was embedded in them.”
Among the many highlights on the field for Smith was his team’s 2000 championship in which they defeated Claflin to end that school’s 51-game winning streak, ironically, a team that had beaten Colgan in the 1999 title game.
“There were some tremendous battles through the years against some of the best coaches,” Smith said. “It was always exciting to see how we could match up with these teams and their coaches.”
Mark Smith, who now coaches at nearby Frontenac, one of Colgan’s biggest rivals, said his dad was always gracious no matter whether his team won or lost.
“My first year at Frontenac, we played Colgan in the fourth game of the year,” the younger Smith recalled. “We were 0-3 and they were 3-0. They missed a PAT kick and we managed to win the game by a point (26-25). When the family gathered at home, it was kind of strange because I felt badly for him. But he came up to me and said, ‘Congratulations. You snuck one out there!’ It was just like him to find the right words.”
Mark Smith described his dad as a very competitive person, reflective perhaps of his prep exploits at Atchison and then taking those to Pittsburg State University where he was a standout not only in football but also baseball.
“The thing was, though, that he wanted to do the right things, on and off the field,” Mark said of his dad. “His players wanted to be pushed hard and didn’t want to let him down.”
There were no Game Day superstitions for Chuck Smith, his son said. But the traditions of Singing to the Nuns after victories reflected a deeply held conviction of his religious beliefs.
“On occasion, he would do some unorthodox things,” Mark Smith said. “One game when we had a long winning streak going, we played at Frontenac, and it was very hot. So we didn’t show up to their field until 6:30 p.m. (7 p.m. kickoff) and had a brief warm-up and then played the game. He had that ability to be flexible and change things. There were times where he just told his players to be loose and go play.”
For a coach to walk the sidelines for nearly four decades, there certainly was an affection for the game, his son Mark said.
“He loved the game, much more than the practices,” Mark related. “He went into government and politics (state representative in Kansas) and worked so hard for his family. He was able to go out on his own terms, and showed what great leadership is.”
Coach Smith himself said other rewards in coaching was having his daughters serve as cheerleaders while they were in high school, so the Friday night experience was truly a family affair.
“Where else could you know your entire family was and what they were doing on a Friday night of football,” Smith quipped. “It was just special the entire time I had my family involved.”
His son Mark said that after serving as head coach himself now for several seasons (2012-present), he understood the responsibility that a head coach holds.
“He (head coach) sets the tone for an entire program,” Mark said. “The head coach sets the plate that is on the table.
“I find myself in certain situations asking myself, ‘What would Dad do?’” the younger Smith said. “I think one of his best attributes is that his teams would do all the little things right. His teams would not beat themselves.”
Tom Young stands alone in Kansas football playoff history
Often times, when there is a transition in coaching in any sport at any level, there are periods of adjustments, especially with an entirely new staff.
That was what faced the McPherson High School football coaching staff in 2006 when veteran prep coach Tom Young was named to build the Bullpups gridiron program.
A traditional basketball power, McPherson had enjoyed little success on the football field, and it was Young who was hired after a brief, unsuccessful two seasons at Leavenworth High School, to bring the ‘Pups into a competitive atmosphere in Class 5A.
When he showed up for his first meeting with his new staff, it was nine entirely new coaches at McPherson High, and then assistant (and now head coach) Jace Pavlovich said the initial gathering was unlike any that he and his fellow assistants could ever have imagined.
“That first time we met, it wasn’t like we thought it would be,” Pavlovich recalled of that meeting in 2006. “He was humble, soft-spoken, and just an overall nice guy. I think all of us thought of having someone else in mind, but he set all of us at ease.”
The method that had helped Young win state championships at three different schools (Hanover, Wellington, Derby) in three different classes (2A, 4A, 6A) in three different decades (1979, 1984, 1994) would propel the newly-minted Bullpups into a Class 5A postseason regular with deep runs into the playoffs.
“First, what stands out is how he treats his players, his coaches and anyone else,” Pavlovich said of Young, who after nine years at McPherson (72-25) completed a 44-season career with 343 wins against 112 losses. “He never raised his voice, and he always accentuated the positive. He told us never call out a kid in front of others.”
Pavlovich would also cite the precision care Young gave to running practice sessions.
“His practice scripts were meticulous,” Pavlovich said. “They would usually be 10 pages of details, very specific. Every minute we knew what we would be doing.”
In games, Pavlovich and his fellow assistants would look on in amazement and awe at Young’s ability to analyze the on-field happenings.
“He had this amazing ability to stand on the sidelines and watch all 11 players,” Pavlovich said, “and then evaluate each play and know where a breakdown had occurred. He could do that for every play of every game.”
Pavlovich also had high praise for the way Young taught his assistants and then gave them specific responsibilities for their area of the program.
“He coached his coaches in a way that we could become better coaches,” Pavlovich said. “He had this one mannerism – he’d pick up some grass and toss it into the air – you knew you’d be in trouble if he reached down. You’d hear about it later.”
Pavlovich also cited Young’s ability to reach out to some of the school’s standout basketball players to come and play football, encouraging them to be multi-sport athletes and not focus on just one sport.
“He was able to get the athletes out, motivate them and found a way to piggy-back on the basketball program,” Pavlovich said.
While Young’s Bullpups never won a Class 5A state title in his nine-year stay, the program consistently made the playoffs in one of the toughest districts in the state. His teams never had a losing season there, but had to contend with perennial powerhouses Salina Central, Hutchinson, Buhler and then Andale in Class 4A in his final seasons.
“One thing is for sure, if you were an assistant for Tom, your chances of being a fantastic coach were greatly enhanced,” Pavlovich said. “I got lucky because I learned so much from Coach Young.”
For a coach born in small-town Nebraska (Adams), and then attended Nebraska Wesleyan, the future success was certainly not on the radar screen for Young.
“When I think back to the three schools, I think I was fortunate to just have had some good kids who had great work ethic,” Young said when being interviewed for the 2019 book, ‘Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs.’ Every piece of those groups is important to be able to build a winning program and a winning tradition (hard work, good fortune and buy-in from coaches, players, administration and community.”
His early tenure at Hanover saw the program improve from 2-7 and 3-6 seasons in his first two years into his final two seasons in which the Wildcats went 11-2 and 12-0. The 1978 team lost in the 2A semifinals to state runner-up McLouth and then the breakthrough of 1979 was a 6-0 slugfest in miserable weather conditions over Douglass, a team that had won Class 3A the previous year.
That opened up his move to Class 4A Wellington, where his first squad of 1980 went 2-7 and he was able to survive to coach another season, he said.
“All I can say is that I went 2-7 and survived, didn’t get fired,” Young said with a laugh. “There’s a lot of pride in the school’s football program. The next year we got things turned around, but we lost to Baldwin in the championship game.”
The Crusaders would follow that disappointment with its 1982 championship, a 27-8 convincing win over Santa Fe Trail on yet another weather day in which Young said he didn’t think the ducks would want to fly.
“The temperature was about 30 degrees, there was ice everywhere on the trip up there,” Young said. “It was just miserable. I think we threw the ball twice, but they were both in key situations for us.”
It was then on to Class 6A Derby where he began the 1983 season by going 8-1, losing the season finale to miss the playoffs when just one team advanced from each district.
While building a consistent winning program from 1984 to 1992, Young’s Panthers failed to make the playoffs five years and were eliminated in the first round of the postseason five other times. There had been no deep playoff runs for his teams in Derby.
Then, 1993 arrived and the Panthers swept through the regular season again with an unblemished record, reached the 6A championship game. The Panthers had narrowly won early playoff games against Dodge City and Manhattan before coming up short in a heartbreaking 27-23 loss to Lawrence, which was in the midst of a decade-long dominance of the state’s largest classification.
“It was maybe one of the toughest losses of my coaching career, but I knew we were headed in the right direction with the program,” Young said. “I knew we belonged playing at that level.”
The veteran coach used that disappointment as a motivating force for the 1994 season, and his Panthers culminated a perfect season (12-0) by toppling Lawrence in a rematch, 21-0.
In the three playoff wins that season, the Panthers yielded no points while dispatching Wichita Northwest (31-0) and unbeaten Dodge City (19-0) before the shutout over Lawrence.
The same teams met again in 1995, with Lawrence winning that title game, 20-0. It would be seven more years before the Panthers returned to the 6A title game, and that one was a 41-12 setback to another powerhouse team in Olathe North.
“We played against some of the best teams of that era, and we competed pretty well I think,” Young said.
What was thought to be a good opportunity for his coaching and teaching career by moving to Leavenworth in 2004 turned out to be one of the toughest experiences of his otherwise incredibly successful career. His teams there went 4-14 and that enabled him to look elsewhere, and thus his venture to McPherson, where his final nine seasons were nothing but success after success.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished at McPherson,” Young said in retrospect. “They had not enjoyed much success before we got there. I think we changed the culture. The kids certainly worked hard. We made a couple of good runs, but just couldn’t get over those final hurdles to get to a championship game. Still, I consider it a success during the time I was there.”
As for goals that changed through the years, from that raw rookie coach of 1971 to the grizzled veteran he was in 2014, Young never changed much.
“Winning state championships is not the end-all accomplishment,” he said. “I had a lot of teams that were successful just by making the playoffs, or just by having a winning season. I think you judge teams and individuals on how close to your potential did you get? That’s as much what makes people successful.”
Brett Marshall is a retired sports writer living in Garden City, Kansas. He enjoyed a 20-year career covering high school sports while working on newspapers in Fort Scott, Dodge City, Hutchinson, Salina and Garden City. Excerpts for this story came from the book, “Under the Lights: 50 Years of KSHSAA Football Playoffs,”and are used with permission from the Kansas State High School Activities Association.