K.C. Keeler understood the challenge he faced in succeeding Harold “Tubby” Raymond as head coach at the University of Delaware. Keeler played for the Blue Hens under Raymond, so he knew the standard by which he would be judged.
Raymond coached the Blue Hens for 36 years and was only the ninth coach in college football history to win 300 games, so he was a tough act to follow. But Keeler, 44, was up to the task.
In only his second season as head coach, Keeler guided Delaware to a 15-1 record and a 40-0 rout of Colgate in the NCAA Division I-AA championship game, earning the Maxwell Football Club’s sixth annual Tri-State Coach of the Year award.
(Photo courtesy of Dan Cook, University of
Delaware Athletic Media Relations)
More than 5,000 Delaware fans made the trip to the championship game, which was played in Chattanooga, Tenn., on December 19. They saw the Blue Hens dominate a Colgate team that had won 21 straight games led by tailback Jamaal Branch, who set an NCAA record by scoring 29 touchdowns during the regular season. Keeler’s defense held Walker to 55 yards on 20 carries and posted the first shutout in the 26-year history of the I-AA title game.
The 40-point margin of victory was the largest in a I-AA final and it reflected the dominance the Blue Hens had shown throughout the 2003 post-season as they outscored their four opponents by a combined 149-23.
“We talked all week about how it’s been a great season, but you need to finish it off,” Keeler said. “That’s what these kids did. It was just a great win for the University of Delaware and very rewarding to give such a special bunch of kids a chance to wear that national championship ring.”
It was Delaware’s sixth national football title, but the first since moving up from Division II to Division I-AA in 1980. Keeler played on the last championship team in 1979. He was a 6-0, 210-pound linebacker for a Blue Hen squad that compiled a 13-1 record and routed Youngstown State 38-21 in the Division II title game in Albuquerque, N.M.
“As a player, K.C. was a very aggressive guy, an emotional player and a good leader,” Tubby Raymond said. “He’s a natural for the job (as head coach). He is a Delaware man from our football family.”
Keeler is only the fourth head coach at Delaware since 1940, following in the footsteps of Bill Murray (1940-50), Dave Nelson (1951-65) and Raymond (1966-2001). He is the first Delaware alumnus to head the football program since Joseph Rothrock in 1928.
A native of Emmaus, Pa., Keeler began his coaching career at Amherst (Mass.) College. He joined the Rowan staff 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.