I have been characterized as a “sports junky.” So be it as today my topic is Emporia State football and with no apologies.
Yesterday former Emporia State football coach Jerry Kill addressed my Rotary club.
Kill coached here in 1999 and 2000 before heading to Division I Southern Illinois followed by Northern Illinois and finally Minnesota in the Big Ten. He has been named National Coach of the Year 3 times and recently was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Just over a year ago Kill was forced to retire from coaching – walking away from an $8 million three year contract for health reasons. He’s now an Assistant AD at K-State.
Kill was only at ESU for 2 years winning and losing 11 games, but he played a significant role in the success of Emporia State football today.
You see, Kill replaced Manny Matsakis after his Hornets were 9-2 in his last of 4 years here - the Brian Shay years.
What Kill found upon arriving at Emporia State was program with few players, footballs or scholarships. Matsakis knew he would leave after 4 years and bled the well dry!
Kill’s leadership restored the program in a hurry and inspired a fund raising campaign known as the “Difference Makers” that still functions today.
In his talk yesterday Kill lauded the fund raising suggesting the program could have been set back 25 years without it!
My opinion is the three coaches most important in the history of ESU football are Larry Kramer who did the dirty work of laying a foundation for football here.
Kill who provided needed leadership and knowledge and inspired many even though his stay was short.
And Garin Higgins who now leads the best NCAA Division II program in Kansas.
Higgins efforts are magnified when you consider the obstacles he has to overcome.
ESU plays in the toughest Division II conference in America with second lowest athletic budget. Recent efforts including the Now and Forever campaign have increased the budget, but other schools are raising money too.
Higgins took the job knowing that he would have fewer toys in his toy box than schools like Northwest Missouri, Central Missouri and Pittsburg but he has overcome.
ESU athletics across the board employs an attitude of “Doing more with less.” The school may be at the bottom of the MIAA in budget, but is way better than that in results.
Congratulations to ESU football and Coach Higgins on a great season and a great future.