The five best small-college football coaches in Kansas

When it comes to football, the Sunflower Slate/small-college beat encompasses, primarily, four schools from the NCAA Division II MIAA (Fort Hays State, Pittsburg State, Washburn, Emporia State), 10 schools from the NAIA-based KCAC (Friends, Tabor, Bethany, McPherson, Ottawa, Southwestern, Sterling, Bethel, Kansas Wesleyan, Saint Mary) and eight schools from the NJCAA-based Jayhawk Conference (Butler, Hutchinson, Independence, Garden City, Dodge City, Coffevyille, Highland, Fort Scott).

So that’s the framework for what I’ve done here, which is rank the Top 5 football coaches from those schools. I owe a big tip of the hat to Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel, who did something similar last week. Although Mandel did a Top 10 and Bottom 5 for Division I, which I won’t do, because making a Bottom 5 seems somewhat unfair to these coaches because their budgets and facilities are so vastly different, whereas with Mandel’s picks, those guys are all playing on a (somewhat) even playing field.

This Top 5 isn’t based on lifetime achievement (see Friends’ Monty Lewis not making the list) but instead on who the five best coaches are right now. A good track record over the last 2-3 seasons is the key, but the overall body of work is definitely taken into account.

So here you go:

1. Troy Morrell, Butler Community College. Who else could it be? Morrell has won three national championships (2003, 2007, 2008) with the Grizzlies and played for the national title four other times (2001, 2004, 2010, 2012). Morrell has dominated in-state recruiting to the point where the league has had to adapt new rules in order for other teams to be competitive, and produced a steady pipeline of Division I and NFL players out of El Dorado since he took over. His overall record of 137-17 in 13 seasons is just ridiculous.

2. Tim Beck, Pittsburg State. I know the Gorillas absolutely fell apart last season, dropping from No. 1 in the national rankings to out of the national playoffs entirely, but that 2011 national title carries a whole lotta weight. Beck is only in his fourth season as the head coach but it’s hard to argue him not being one of the top NCAA Division II coaches in the nation and this year’s team could be the MIAA preseason favorite. Will be interested to see how Beck was able to develop quarterback Anthony Abenoja in the offseason.

3. Kent Kessinger, Ottawa. Kessinger and the Braves have dominated the KCAC as of late, winning titles three of the last four seasons including back-to-back crowns in 2011 and 2012. Also, the Braves have been the only team from the league that has shown they have any ability to compete on the national level in recent years. With the KCAC making a big push to compete on the national level by relaxing their rules regarding scheduling and spring practices, Kessinger could one day compete for a national title should he choose to stay at Ottawa.

4. Rion Rhoades, Hutchinson Community College. No, Rhoades has never won a Jayhawk or Region VI title. And he’s never beaten Butler. But that doesn’t make what he’s done with the Blue Dragons any less amazing, and you have to think if he stays there long enough, he’ll get one back from the Grizzlies someday. Hutch is always ranked nationally and the players he’s put out on the Division I level have been as good as any coming out of the Jayhawk in recent years.

5. Craig Schurig, Washburn. Schurig always has the Ichabods in the mix in the MIAA — Washburn has been the league runner-up three times in the last six seasons and he should have had a Harlon Hill winner in 2011 with quarterback Dane Simoneau, an in-state quarterback. Is there another level for Schurig to reach? Definitely. Would he be someone that almost every other Division II school in America would want as their head coach if they had an opening? Definitely.


Hope everybody is having a great summer. TA