The University of Mount Union football team is preparing to play for its 14th national title in school history. The No. 1 ranked Purple Raiders (14-0) play No. 2 ranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (14-0) in the Division III national championship Stagg Bowl Friday night. Mount Union is in the title game for the 21st time since 1993. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says their success lies in the Kehres family.
Coach Vince Kehres, in his sixth season, is 2-2 in the Stagg Bowl. He succeeded his father, Mount Union athletic director Larry Kehres, as coach. Larry Kehres' Mount Union teams won 11 of 16 national championship games.
Building a winner
Pluto says in the first couple of years after Larry Kehres took over as coach in 1986, the team would make it to the tournament and lose in the first or second round. "It wasn’t until 1993 when they went to the finals and won." Ever since, winning titles became the standard for Mount Union.
Larry's son, Vince Kehres, was a defensive coordinator for his dad beginning in 2000. “A number of Division III schools had tried to hire him," Pluto says. "And he turned them down. In 2012, he knew his dad was close to retiring, and he wanted his dad to go out with a national title.'
But, just before that 2012 season, Vince Kerhes got a job offer from Matt Campbell, then-coach of Toledo. “He calls up Vince Kerhes and asks him to be his defensive coordinator. Vince stays with his father out of family loyalty. And they end up winning."
A rough transition
Larry Kehres retired after that 2012 championship, and Vince took over. The transition was a little challenging. Vince didn't win a title until his third season as coach, in 2015.
"Vince said he wanted to be himself, but you know your dad's set it all up. Until he won his first title in 2015, that was when he really felt free to be himself. And Larry confessed to me that maybe he was sending Vince too many suggestions in those first couple years, and he’s learned to back off," Pluto said.
Lured away from Mount Union?
Now that Vince Kehres has established himself as a winning college coach, it's likely he'll be getting more offers to leave. But Pluto thinks he'll stay.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a lifer like his dad. Larry turned down chances to coach at Kent State, Princeton, Univeristy of Massachusetts, and I’m sure there were others along the way. Vince interviewed to be Kent State’s coach last year, but didn’t get it. And I’m sure he’s turned down other chances to be a defensive coordinator."
Mount Union plays Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Stagg Bowl Friday night in Shenandoah, Texas. Pluto says Hardin-Baylor is considered a better team. "But if Vince wins, it would be a pretty big upset and a huge win for him."