Now that the initial shock has worn off regarding the sudden end to the K.C. Keeler era at the University of Delaware, attention must turn to who the next head coach will be. The honest answer is that no one outside of school president Patrick Harker and athletic director Eric Ziady has any real idea what kind of candidate the Hens are pursuing. Considering how late it is in the recruiting cycle however (signing day is less than a month away) the Hens cannot let this process linger too long. At the same time, with the need to get the decision right so pressing, Delaware’s brain trust also cannot afford to make any kind of rash decision. It is a delicate needle to thread, but one Ziady and Harker must be confident they can handle since they are the ones that chose to move in a new direction.
What should that new direction look like? Well, in my opinion, above all else the new coach must have one innate characteristic.
First and foremost, he must be able to connect with the fan base.
For whatever reason, Keeler was never able to do this. Despite playing for UD in the 1970’s and always setting the goal for his program to win championships, Blue Hen Nation always seemed to view their head coach with hostility.
Some of the reason for this was obvious: Keeler replaced a legend, and that is difficult for anyone to do successfully. Despite the fact that he accomplished more at the 1-AA level than Tubby Raymond did, fans never truly warmed to the new guy. They expected Keeler to dominate just as Raymond did in the 70’s. Keeler built a program that hit the highest of highs in 2003 and almost did the same again in 2007 and 2010, but failed to enjoy the consistency that Raymond’s teams did during his heyday.
As a result, many never bought into the concept of Keeler being a success. When he spoke often of his program’s accomplishments (partly in an attempt to combat his naysayers, and partly because that’s just who he is) fans found it overly self-serving.
For the record, I always thought the notion of Keeler’s arrogance being overwhelming was a tad overblown. Is he a supremely confident man? Absolutely. But in his defense, he has had a great deal of success during his coaching career to build that confidence up. Also, you kind of have to think you’re the best in order to become the best. So while he certainly could fill a room with bluster, I rarely thought he went too far with it. But that’s just me, and because I’m in the minority, Delaware needs to find a new coach that will not aggravate its fan base in a similar fashion.
The new guy needs to be an ambassador. UD has to find a coach that can sell his program to the First State and give people a reason to come back to Delaware Stadium during autumn Saturdays. It also wouldn’t hurt if he had the energy of former Hens basketball coach Mike Brey, who would go dorm-to-dorm in the late ‘90’s to get students engaged and excited to go to his games.
With attendance dwindling, the university knows it needs someone who the masses will be engaged by. In my opinion, it is the number one reason why Ziady and Harker decided to make a change in the first place. So with that adjustment, they have to find a person who can capture people’s imagination above all else.
Many will say this individual has to have ties to the university, but I do not necessarily think that is true in this case. Normally, I believe colleges should try to hire one of their own whenever possible, but certain positions are too important to restrict the talent pool with such drastic limitations.
I say this, by the way, as a Delaware guy. I was born here, grew up here, went to school at UD and live in the area today. But I don’t think you need strong ties to Delaware to understand it well enough to have success as a football coach here. I’d rather have someone with the characteristics listed above than someone who played for Keeler or Raymond. Now, if you can find a candidate with both, that would be ideal; but unlike last time, one does not pop into my mind immediately.
And remember, Keeler was a Delaware guy. It is the reason he got the job in the first place. Delaware initially intended to hire Harvard coach Tim Murphy, but the faithful wanted a Hen to replace Raymond. That didn’t seem to soothe anyone’s frustrations with Keeler, so why would the next guy’s tenure be any different?
Harker and Ziady must find the best football mind, coupled with the most passion, all wrapped inside of a personality that people can relate to. If he is from Zimbabwe, it shouldn’t matter. He is the guy Delaware needs right now, and is the type of candidate the Hens better find.