Blaine native Kirch accepts football post

FL’s new head coach, 27, won nine-man state title in South Dakota last fall

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

Forest Lake’s new head football coach must have done something right at his old gig, because his efforts earned a decree of praise from no less than the State of South Dakota itself.

Senate Commemoration No. 18 of the 87th Session Legislative Assembly lauds the “dedicated leadership” of Billy Kirch and the “extraordinary unity and team spirit” of his Waverly-South Shore squad.

Billy Kirch

Kirch on Friday accepted the head coaching position at Forest Lake High School. In his lone season as a head coach, the Blaine native’s team went undefeated and outscored opponents 668-112 on the way to the school’s first state championship.

“When the Forest Lake job opened up, it was almost too good to be true,” said the 27-year-old. “To have the opportunity to be there and be head coach is a humbling honor. It’s a dream job.”

Making History

It’s safe to say Kirch had done all he could where he was at. Since he joined the staff at Waverly-South Shore, a small, nine-man program near Watertown, the team has improved each year. The Coyotes went 5-4 in 2008, 6-3 in 2009 and 8-1 in 2010 with Kirch as the defensive coordinator and 12-0 last fall, his first year as head coach.

The team was thoroughly dominant in 2011, led by a pair of star twin brothers. One threw for 2,176 yards, ran for 711 and set a nine-man state record with 51 combined touchdowns. The other is South Dakota’s all-time nine-man leader in career receptions, receiving yards and touchdown receptions. The Coyotes also set 10 single-season national nine-man records.

“I had great assistants and kids that really believed,” Kirch said in a phone interview on Monday. “We created an environment where the kids had a chance to be successful.”

Billy Kirch, right, guided the Waverly-South Shore (SD) Coyotes to the Class 9B championship last fall. The 27-year-old accepted the Ranger head coaching position last week. (Photo by Rich Remmers/Watertown Public Opinion)

Though not a bottom-feeder, Waverly-South Shore had not won a conference championship in 30 years before Kirch arrived. They won two in his time on staff. Last fall, Kirch was named the Eastern Coteau Conference Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the South Dakota High School Coaches Association Coach of the Year award. The Coyotes were the South Dakota Sports Writers Association Prep Boys’ Team of the Year.

“We would qualify [for the postseason] regularly but would usually be a one-and-done team,” said Waverly-South Shore athletics director Jon Meyer. “He brought a whole new level of professionalism among the students. There was a new level of dedication we hadn’t seen before. They had always liked football, but they really became dedicated to the sport.”

Local Roots

Kirch starred for Blaine Senior High under Dave Nelson, the current Minnetonka head coach. Upon graduating in 2002, went on to play linebacker for South Dakota State University. He led the team with 78 tackles and was named defensive MVP as a senior in 2005.

He served as a student coach for the Jackrabbits in 2006, and that year also played for the Nebraska Lawdawgs of the North American Football League.

In 2008, Kirch coached linebackers at North Iowa Area Community College in Mason City, IA before moving for the position at Waverly-South Shore. He had met his wife at SDSU and wanted to find work closer to Brookings while she finished up her schooling. Once married, they kept an eye out for a chance to return close to Blaine, where his parents still live.

“I always thought I’d go to SDSU and come right back to Minnesota and teach and coach around the area, but God had different plans for my life,” Kirch said.

Game Plan for FL

Despite jumping from South Dakota’s smallest division to Minnesota’s largest, Kirch expects a “seamless transition” in Forest Lake. He is slated to meet with players and coaches here this week. As a physical education teacher and an assistant track and field coach, he will wait until the school year there ends before coming to Forest Lake for good.

Kirch assures he will look locally first in the process of putting together a coaching staff.

“I want to see if there’s anyone who wants to be part of the staff in any way, whether it’s taking stats or coaching, and go from there,” he said.

He will emphasize connecting to the program on a personal level before delving into X’s and O’s.

“I’ve got to gain the trust of the players, that’s No. 1 for me,” he said. “Once you keep each other accountable, you go from there. I think Forest Lake is full of good athletes and great kids.”

On the field, Kirch preaches simplicity and execution.

“We’re going to be really good at what we do,” he said.

Kirch feels his experience at the nine-man level taught him lessons he could not have learned any other way, and emphasizes that he has plenty of experience at higher-level divisions – his Blaine team went to the Class AAAAA title game, and SDSU plays in Division I-AA.

“[Nine-man] forces you to look at the game at a different level, forces you to look at fundamentals and angles,” he said.

Ringing Endorsements

Forest Lake was left looking for a head coach after Paul Kendrick chose not to come back for the 2012 season. He stepped up from within the program to lead it to a 2-7 record last fall following the sudden resignation of Matt Cleary last spring. Cleary went 20-35 in six years at the helm.

Seeking stability, the appeal of Kirch has as much to do with his make-up as his on-field success, Forest Lake activities director Joel Olson feels.

“We are tremendously excited to have Billy become our next head coach,” Olson said. “His experience both as a player and a coach speaks to a person who is not only a great coach, but more importantly a man of character who will develop our kids into men of honor and pride for our community.”

Olson and a panel of administrators, teachers, coaches and parents interviewed eight candidates in late February. Administrators trimmed the field to four before offering the position to Kirch.

Rod Bierman, a Ranger parent who is active in the program’s booster club and was part of the interview panel for the first of two rounds, said his impression of Kirch was of someone who could command the attention of his players.

“The moment he started talking and delivering what his ideas are for a football program, you just felt as though this kid has got unlimited potential,” Bierman said.

“…It came down to what I viewed as character, honesty and enthusiasm. I see a magnetism to him, and that’s, at the end of the day, what we need.”

Meyer, the Waverly-South Shore athletics director, said Forest Lake is getting a coach who leads by example.

“He is not a shouter or an in-your-face coach,” Meyer said. “He has a quiet confidence about him and is humble.”

At this point, Kirch has been hired solely for the coaching position and not as a teacher. If he does end up joining the district, Meyer said Kirch is a winner from that regard, as well.

“He has just been a top-notch individual in the classroom, on the football field and in his personal life,” Meyer said. “He is a leader in our system. He was key in us getting a [Fellowship of Christian Athletes] chapter and is really active in getting the students involved.”

Bierman was glad to see administrators agree with his top choice.

“We really had four good candidates, but in my mind, Billy was a notch above,” he said. “There’s a man who wants to build something.”