Keeler answers critics at Delaware
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Newark, DE (Sports Network) -
A game-time temperature below the freezing mark may seem to have a head coach wishing for a hot seat.
Of course, that isn't such a coach-friendly term.
Being on the hot seat isn't necessarily the beginning of the end. Some coaches who might have been on it before this season are now on the short list of Eddie Robinson Award (sponsored by Fathead.com) finalists, like Alabama State's Reggie Barlow, Indiana State's Trent Miles, Lehigh's Andy Coen and Southeast Missouri State's Tony Samuel.
Considering Delaware's K.C. Keeler has won a FCS title and taken another team to the national championship game, it should have seemed hard to imagine before this season he could have been on a seat even remotely warm. But many in Blue Hens Nation - a demanding fan base, to say the least - probably would have been quick to pull the trigger on Keeler if the Blue Hens didn't have a banner season.
Delaware's ninth-year head coach has answered his critics in a big way. After a 16-3 victory against New Hampshire in a FCS quarterfinal Friday night, the third-seeded Blue Hens stand one more home win away from making a third national championship appearance during his tenure.
Coach K.C. Keeler has a 10-2 record coming into the FCS playoff at Delaware.
Senior quarterback Pat Devlin helped pave that possibility by passing for 261 yards and second-half touchdowns to Nihja White and Mark Schenauer, while the FCS' lowest-scoring defense kept an opponent out of the end zone for the fifth time this season.
Delaware (11-2), a one-point loss to William & Mary and an overtime loss to Villanova away from being unbeaten, will host Saturday's Georgia Southern- Wofford winner in a national semifinal next weekend. New Hampshire ended its season, and seventh straight appearance in the playoffs, with an 8-5 record.
And Keeler keeps moving on ...
"When I came here, I knew exactly what I was getting involved in with the pressure," he said. "That's fine. At the (introductory) press conference, I came out and said I wanted to win national championships, and I think we're going to win sooner rather than later. I remember my poor president put his hands on his head because he had just asked me not to do that.
"You come here with a mentality that you strive for excellence. And our kids understand here. I'd be disappointed if our fans don't expect that."
After being hired in 2002, Keeler delivered on his goal in less than two seasons when his '03 squad captured the FCS (then Division I-AA) title. He guided a national quarterfinalist in '04 and the Joe Flacco-led squad of '07 to a national runner-up finish, but the other five seasons (including three of the last four) were 6-5 or worse and brought out detractors.
Coaches are judged by wins and losses, and that can be unfair on the college level, where graduation rates and the molding of young minds should be held in high regard even by fickle fans. Keeler's outspoken ways can rub some people the wrong way and at times his play calling can annoy Delaware fans.
He has supporters in high places, too - presumably in the Delaware administration and definitely with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. The former U.S. Senator from the First State was on hand Friday night to watch the Blue Hens defeat their fellow CAA Football member.
If anything, Delaware fans should be guarding the door instead of opening it for Keeler. The 51-year-old would seem to be a natural fit for a Football Bowl Subdivision program, either as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, though he has said he doesn't want to be an assistant coach anymore.
It would seem Keeler is perfectly placed, and content, to be coaching his alma mater. Having succeeded legendary Blue Hens coach Tubby Raymond, whom he played linebacker for before graduating in 1981, he is one of the highest-paid coaches in the FCS, pocketing an annual salary and bonuses well above $300,000.
His FCS playoff success is top notch. Friday night's win improved Keeler to 10-2, including 7-0 at home, in the playoffs. He's 73-41 overall at Delaware.
New Hampshire had won the last three meetings. On this frigid night that drew Delaware Stadium's smallest crowd (8,770) in over 42 years, both offenses relied on safe runs and throws in a matchup of two of the elite defenses of the FCS.
Neither offense was going to run away and hide from the other, but the Blue Hens could not have liked when New Hampshire scored the game's first points on freshman Mike MacArthur's 23-yard field goal with 2:35 left in the first quarter. The Blue Hens had lost their only other two games in which they did not score first.
But Delaware tied the game on Mike Perry's 25-yard field goal with three minutes left in the second quarter. The Blue Hens then took their first lead on Devlin's 24-yard touchdown pass to White, who ran an up-and-out pattern, with 7:10 left in the third quarter. Perry missed the PAT, however, keeping the Blue Hens' lead a worrisome 9-3.
Devlin, who completed 27-of-38 passes, then fired a nine-yard touchdown strike across the middle to Schenauer with 13:04 left in the fourth quarter to provide some breathing room.
Clearly, it's been a season for all Delaware fans to exhale with a smile. K.C. Keeler is getting the job done.
"We're excited," he said. "Final Four, with a chance to play at home. You didn't want it to end because it's just so much fun to coach this group of kids."