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University of Delaware
Delaware’s K.C. Keeler is the first repeat winner of the Maxwell Football Club’s Tri-State Coach of the Year award. Keeler won the honor in 2003 when he led the Blue Hens to the NCAA Division 1-AA championship and he earned it again this season when he took Delaware back to the title game.
This time the Blue Hens lost the championship game, 49-21, to Appalachian State, the same Appalachian State team that upset the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor earlier in the season. The Mountaineers became the first school to win three straight national titles in the 30-year history of Division 1-AA, but Keeler was just proud of his team for clawing its way to the final round.
“You want to take it to the very end,” Keeler said, “and we took it to the very, very end. Only two teams in America out of 117 were still playing and we were one of those two teams. God knows we wish we would’ve won that thing, but we still walk away saying, ‘Wow, it was remarkable.’
“We played a very good opponent, as good as we’ve ever played, who played very well, who was on a roll and we just didn’t play as well as we needed to and maybe didn’t get some breaks early in the game that we needed to stay in that thing. It got away from us a little bit, which is a shame.
“I want to make this perfectly clear,” Keeler said. “It was not, ‘A great season, but...’ It was a great season. I’m so proud of our kids, our staff, what we did. In 28 years of 1-AA football at the University of Delaware, we’ve played for three national championships. This was one of them.”
Keeler guided the Blue Hens through an 11-4 season which included a 59-52 upset of 1-A Navy at Annapolis and a 37-34 win over James Madison, another NCAA qualifier, in consecutive weeks. Delaware finished the regular season with back-to-back losses to Richmond (62-56 in overtime) and Villanova (16-10), but rallied in the post-season.
Keeler’s team routed Delaware State, 44-7, in the first round of the playoffs, upset top-ranked Northern Iowa, 39-27, in the quarterfinals, then knocked off Southern Illinois, 20-17, in the semifinals before finally losing to Appalachian State for the championship.
The Blue Hens had several outstanding players, including All-American tailback Omar Cuff, tackle Mike Byrne and quarterback Joe Flacco, who likely will be selected in this year’s NFL draft, but it was the 48-year-old Keeler who led the way.
“This is a great team that’s going to go down in the history of this school,” Keeler said. “I was very proud of how we conducted ourselves and how we played. I couldn’t have been happier except for the fact I wished they could have gotten a national championship ring on their finger. That’s the only disappointment.”
Keeler knows all about the rich history of Blue Hen football. He was a 6-0, 210-pound linebacker on the squad that routed Youngstown State, 38-21, in the Division II title game in 1979. He is only the fourth head coach at Delaware since 1940, following in the footsteps of Bill Murray (1940-50), Dave Nelson (1951-65) and Harold “Tubby” Raymond (1966-2001). His six-year record is 52-26 with three NCAA playoff appearances.
A native of Emmaus, Pa., Keeler began his coaching career at Amherst (Mass.) College. He joined the staff at Rowan in 1985 and became head coach in 1993. He had nine consecutive winning seasons as head coach at Rowan, compiling an 88-21-1 mark. Keeler took his teams to the national semifinals seven times and played in the national title game (Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl) five times.