A tribute to Chris Koetting: Humble, kind and one heck of a football coach

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Canadian head football coach Chris Koetting recently announced his retirement after 13 seasons leading the Wildcats. Koetting retires as one of the top coaches in Texas Panhandle football history with a record of 165-24 with three state championships. [David Erickson/ Press Pass Sports]
Country singing star Tim McGraw crooned a major hit with the theme being live life by two simple words: Humble and Kind.

McGraw might as well have been singing about Chris Koetting. Only with Koetting, you must add beside those two words ‘one heck of a football coach.’

In 13 seasons as the Canadian Wildcats head football coach Koetting signed his name in capital letters to the tiny list as one the most successful all-time Texas Panhandle football coaches – and, yes, entire state of Texas – with his gaudy .873 winning percentage.

Starting in 2010 following seven years as a Canadian assistant coach Koetting compiled a 165-24 overall head coaching record, a 49-10 playoff record, was 13-0 in bidistrict games, reached at least the state semifinals nine of those 13 seasons and captured three UIL Texas High School football state championships in 2014, 2015 and 2020.

The only other Texas Panhandle football coach laying claim to three state football championships was the late, great Blair Cherry who won titles for Amarillo High in 1934, 1935 and 1936.

With his remarkable on-the-field success, his love for the Canadian community, a school district committed to excellence in all phases of education, with all three of his kids graduated from good ol’ Canadian High, the 54-year-old Koetting just knew, “I’d coach 10, maybe 15 more years. I love it here in Canadian.”

It’s not going to happen.

A week ago, in a stunner echoing throughout the Texas High School football coaching world, Koetting announced his retirement from coaching and all school activities due to early-stage signs of Alzheimer’s.

“My long-term memory is great,” Koetting said. “I can tell stories from 30 years ago. But I might like get up to go do something and I suddenly am like what was I going to do? Just stuff like that. This has been going on for like three years. The last couple years I could get through it. Everything was hard like the paperwork. Finally, before the football season this year I told my wife, Rosemary, I think I need to see a doctor because something isn’t right.”

In his 13 seasons Canadian head coach Chris Koetting led Canadian to UIL state championships in 2014, 2015, and 2020. [Trevor Fleeman/ Press Pass Sports]
Not surprisingly, to those who know Koetting best, he showed his courage and class by not hiding anything when pouring his heart out in a letter to the public last week detailing his condition and his retirement decision.

A week ago, today he also “had to do one of the toughest things I have ever had to do” telling his devoted Canadian High coaching staff and Wildcat players he no longer would be their coach.

“I’ve cried so much this past week,” Koetting said, part of those tears while telling his coaches this was it for him as far as coaching goes.

The football staff at Canadian is rarer than a Texas Panhandle day without wind. For the past nine years the staff has not had a change. That’s right, nine years, no change.

“Absolutely, the main reason we have stayed together was due to Chris,” said Andy Cavalier, who has been at Canadian for nine years as the defensive coordinator and a likely choice to take over as the Wildcats next head football coach. “We have a great community here in Canadian and a great school district and there are a lot of reasons to enjoy being a coach here. But the tip of the spear is Chris Koetting and the work environment he created. The relationships he built with each one of us, and again, I go back to his humility and that’s being comfortable with letting others lead and take on responsibility. As a coach on his staff, you feel like you are in a position where you can grow and where you are appreciated. I think all those things together led to some great continuity on our staff here.”

Cavalier said the final meeting last week with Koetting as their head coach was a tear-jerker and then turned to memories and laughs.

“That meeting he told us was very emotional,” Cavalier said. “It was hard to watch as a friend is telling you something about himself that he would rather not be telling you. But once we got past the finality of the decision to retire and the heartache for his health condition, we sat around and reminisced quite a while about a whole lot of great times. Chris is one of the best all-time story tellers and he shined bright that day.”

Telling Chris Koetting’s story by only spouting out his unreal coaching numbers of winning nearly nine times out of every 10 times his team took the field, is about as fair as a brilliant football offensive mind of a man losing part of his memory.

After all, Koetting nearly never arrived in Canadian 20 years ago.

At that time, he was in Hereford getting ready for his second season as an assistant coach with the Whitefaces. He was in the middle of checking off an item on his Honey Doo list, this one building a backyard playscape type thing that was way more complicated than he ever imagined.

“I just had driven to Amarillo and my wife told me I had to go get a playscape,” Koetting said. “I thought it would be something you put together real quick. But I had to get all this wood and take it back to Hereford. I was in the backyard cutting up wood for that playscape. My wife came out and said somebody wants to talk to you.”

On the phone was Kyle Lynch, head football coach at Canadian High. Lynch and Koetting weren’t close friends like they are today. But they knew each other from things like coaching conferences and word of mouth. Lynch had heard great things about Koetting from people he trusted.

“I knew who Kyle was but had never talked to him much before,” Koetting said. “He called and said he would like me to interview for the offensive coordinator job. What’s crazy, I just almost didn’t do it. When you decide something like that you just never know what’s going to happen. I got very lucky to be with Kyle Lynch. He groomed me to be a head football coach and athletic director. I really admire him and he’s done a lot for me. But I did tell him if I go to Canadian you are going to have to help me build that playscape. And he did. He was a man of his word.”

Lynch quickly breaks into laughter when being told the story of the backyard playscape sealing the deal for Koetting’s departure from Hereford to Canadian.

“When Chris actually interviewed it didn’t take long to know this guy was pretty special,” Lynch said. “We actually spent most of the interview on the board talking offensive philosophy. At that time we were both in the I offense and we had a guy returning named Auston English (who would go on to play for the Oklahoma Sooners). We sure felt like he could do good things out of the I.

“With Chris it was word of mouth and reputation. And then meeting him I knew it was going to work. We hit it off right away. And yes, I did help him build the backyard thing. Whatever it took to get him here.”

Canadian head coach Chris Koetting and longtime assistant Hayden Merket have been on staff together for 20 years. [David Erickson/ Press Pass Sports]
Koetting would call every Canadian offensive play from 2007 until last year when he gave the reigns away to longtime and popular Canadian assistant Hayden Merket.

Canadian won state championships in 2007 and 2008 under Lynch and Koetting was soaking in coaching lessons learned.

So, when Lynch decided to make the move in 2010 from athletic director/head football coach to superintendent for the Canadian ISD, it was a no-brainer who the new head coach would be.

“We didn’t even open it up outside we knew what we wanted to do,” Lynch said. “I was moving into superintendent, so I had some influence there in the decision to make Chris the head football coach.

“What was neat for me was to see Chris grow and evolve as a coach. Obviously, right off the bat just his passion for football and this talent he had as an offensive coach to attack defenses. As he developed and grew you could see his priority of developing young men and young women was his greatest strength. That’s the thing I’m most proud of and that’s thing that makes me most thankful that he coached my own sons.”

Under Koetting, Canadian eventually went NASCAR so to speak. The Wildcats ran a fast-paced offense that would leave defensive coordinators scratching their heads of where the football would go next.

The winning under Koetting has been documented. But there was much more going on.

This guy Koetting no doubt flat out loved football, but man, he was a good dude. Fun to be around. Coaches and players knew 100 percent he was honestly rooting for them to succeed. He let the assistant coaches coach and he made sure players were prepared to succeed.

Ben Arbuckle is the offensive coordinator for Washington State of the Pac-12. Arbuckle played quarterback at Canadian High under Koetting from 2010-2013. He might be Koetting’s No. 1 fan.

“Coach Koetting meant excellence, consistency and accountability to Canadian football,” Arbuckle said. “He consistently held people and players accountable to make them excellent. You can’t get the kid to care until the kid knows you care. And Coach Koetting cared about every player, trainer and coach deeply. He was able to get the most out of everyone because everyone knew that he had their back.”

In fact, Arbuckle thinks he might be in a different profession if it wasn’t for his life-changing high school experience under Koetting.

“If I didn’t have Coach, I am not sure what I would be doing,” Arbuckle said. “He is an example of how you do everything right and be a good person while doing it. He has been a guiding light for me in my career and personal life, always telling me things I need to hear not want I want to hear. I truly value his friendship and mentorship.”

No doubt, people closest to Koetting know he is humble 24/7 365 days out of the year. For example, just ask him about a win and he may expound on the game five seconds, if you are lucky. Ask him about one of his 24 losses and you may get five minutes on what he could have done better and how well the other team was coached.

No doubt, people closest to Koetting knows when the time called for it he could chew some fanny with the best of them. And, like great coaches, his timing was uncanny for making the correct call or correct in-game adjustment. His time spent preparing for an opponent or a Canadian practice session was never in question.

“What made Chris a great coach was his work ethic,” Cavalier said. “Hs is an extremely hard worker. Studied all the time. And then because of the knowledge he developed he was able to become innovative. Add to that his humility. That’s the one thing I’ve talked to people about Chris the last few days and that I can’t imagine a more successful person who spends less time talking about themselves and what they have accomplished.

“Chris is absolutely the most humble and most successful person I’ve come across in my life. And definitely been a great example to me and all the young kids around here in our program.”

Koetting fell deep in love with football as a boy growing up in Panhandle. His dad would drive him over to nearby Groom to watch his high school alma mater play and it was the 1975 Tigers run to the state championship game where his heart grabbed hold of football with both hands and never let go.

Koetting played for Panhandle High coached by the intense Stocky Lamberson and played in the 1984 Class 2A state championship game. He has coached and won state championship games in AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys) and NRG Stadium (home of the Houston Texans).

When one hits retirement age and has to say goodbye to a lifetime love of playing and coaching football, it’s rough. When one has to say goodbye long before retirement age, it’s brutal. Even for those watching it take place.

“I don’t spend time pondering the question why him,” Cavalier said. “Just because I could go on a whole dissertation about the evil in this world and bad things happen. But when bad things happen to people you love it hurts your heart. So I know for Chris this wasn’t the way he envisioned his retirement happening. But I also know he will make the most of the time he has and the opportunity to reflect and make sure he says the things he wants to say to the people he loves. I’ve certainly let he and his family know that I know I am going to still be his best friend.”

Canadian head coach Chris Koetting ended his illustrious 13-year career with an eye-popping playoff record of 49-10. [Ben Jenkins/ Press Pass Sports]
Last season Lynch stood in amazement as he watched and once again was awed by the type of amazing person Koetting is, this scene arriving after a tough 21-20 state semifinal loss to eventual state champion Gunter.

“To this day my favorite memory of Chris, and this may be odd, but was when Canadian got beat by Newton,” Lynch said. “He stood by the Newton coach while they celebrated, while they interviewed him for I would guess 15 minutes, and Chris waited patiently to congratulate him before going back to his team.  When you get beat that’s the last thing you want to do. But I’ll always remember watching him and I’m telling you it had to be 15 minutes. That was a cool moment and summarizes who Chris Koetting is. Just a great guy who did it the right way.

“It’s so tough. You feel a little bit cheated you don’t get to see him continue to do something he really loves. It’s hard to see. But the thing I really appreciated was we had a long conversation last week and he talked about being at peace. Then he talked about the first day they did football at Canadian without him and he just watched. He said, ‘Kyle, I really enjoyed watching our coaches coach.’ That’s Chris. I’ll be honest, I called to encourage him and he encouraged me. If he’s at peace I can be. His priority is his family.”

Koetting said finally letting everyone know what’s up with his memory issues and letting go of the job he loved was a relief, yet, tough. And he was met by a surprise.

“It was nice to get it out,” said Koetting, who stood by a door and hugged every player before they left the room after telling them he was retiring. “I was dreading this week. But it does feel good to get things out. Everybody knows my situation and how things are going to go. More than anything I have coached here 20 years and wanted to go 10 more years. But that just isn’t going to work. I have had some of the greatest memories and thing happen to me from this program.

“When I sent it out. I just couldn’t believe how many people responded to that. It meant a lot to me. I’ve shed quite a few tears this past week. I feel comfortable with the decision I made to get out of coaching. I’m just going to try and stay healthy and spend more time with my kids and things like that.”

Koetting knows exactly what he will miss. And it’s not adding another W to his already eye-opening coaching record.

“The hardest part for me will not being around those relationships with the kids and coaches,” Koetting said. “But I still have a bunch of great memories that I’ll never forget. And I was really overwhelmed by the outpouring. (He pauses and fights back tears). It made me feel like I made a difference.”

And know this about Chris Koetting.

Indeed, he is humble and kind.

Indeed, he is one heck of a brilliant football coach with an incredible resume of victories who impacted the lives of so many young men and so many fellow coaches.

And indeed as he says, “I’m far from dead. Me and my wife ran three miles this morning. I think I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in except for my brain. It is what it is. I’m not going to go around and pout about it.”

 

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