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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

UD Fires Keeler and Trades Football for Finances

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

If Andy Reid had taken the Eagles to three Super Bowls and won one of them, he would still be working in Philadelphia instead of Kansas City. But that kind of success, the kind most football coaches would kill for, wasn’t enough to save K.C. Keeler.

The University of Delaware fired Keeler as coach on Monday, a move that surprised everybody except the people who kicked Keeler out the door after 11 mostly successful seasons.

Like Reid’s Eagles, Keeler’s Blue Hens struggled the last two seasons, and just as Eagles fans were unhappy with Reid, many Delaware fans were unhappy with Keeler. Of course, Delaware fans are going to be unhappy unless their heroes go 11-0 and win the national championship, and even then they’d probably find something to grouse about.

Keeler wasn’t perfect, but his resume is still pretty impressive. Plus he’s a Delaware guy through and through, so it’s hard to understand why he lost his job, especially since we know almost nothing about the guy who apparently made the decision to fire Keeler, new athletic director Eric Ziady. He was brought on board just a few months ago after working at Boston College and Northeastern, and the last time we checked neither of those teams has ever won a national championship or even been to a national championship game.

In fact, if the last two years are going to be held against Keeler, well, the place Ziady just came from, Boston College, was 6-18 the last two years.

But Ziady isn’t about Ws and Ls, at least not the same way Blue Hens fans are. It’s telling that when Delaware president Patrick Harker announced Ziady’s hiring back in October, he didn’t praise the success that Ziady’s teams had or the bowl games they won – he gushed about how Ziady is “a proven revenue-generator.”

And in Ziady’s bio on the Delaware athletics website, it doesn’t list the conference or national championships or bowl games his teams have won – it raves about how he negotiated a six-year, multi-million dollar contract with Under Armour to provide equipment and funding for the athletics department.

Go team!

So, that’s what this is all about – not the success of the program on the field, but the success of the program at the bank. That’s why Ziady was hired and now, for some reason, he has decided that Keeler wasn’t the right fit. We don’t know exactly why, because all Ziady really said about it was that he wanted to take the football program “in a new direction.”

What the heck does that mean? We don’t know, because he wouldn’t say.

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just one person who is affected by Ziady’s surprising decision. Keeler’s staff hasn’t been fired yet, but any new coach is going to bring in his own assistants and that means a dozen more people will be out of a job and have their families and lives uprooted. Of course, that’s part of being a football coach and most of them will work in as many as 10 different jobs over the course of their careers. That’s just the harsh reality of the profession and the coaches who get into it know that.

Still, it just doesn’t seem right to lose your job when you’ve been doing it for many years and for the most part doing it well. And it’s even tougher to swallow when you lose it because somebody new blows into town and decides it’s time to make a change, even though he doesn’t tell us why it’s time to make a change.

Speaking of time – it’s the only thing that will tell us whether this was a good, sound move or whether it was just the whim of somebody who knows a lot more about finance than football.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.


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