Clint’s Call

New coach should get a long leash

FLHS regards Kirch as a rising star, so let’s give him time

Clint Riese
Sports Editor

Seven years ago, Forest Lake High School attracted 30 applicants for its head football coach opening. Officials interviewed eight and hired a defensive-minded coach with local ties coming off a state championship at a small school in a neighboring state.

Coincidentally, that exact scenario just repeated itself with the hiring of Billy Kirch, a Blaine native who comes here by way of Waverly, SD.

When Paul Kendrick resigned after a one-year head coaching stint following Matt Cleary’s six-year run, I figured the district would go one of two ways. It would either look for a young, eager candidate who could put years and years into building the program or seek a veteran leader who has a track record of success at a high level and could attempt a quick turn-around.

I would have guessed the latter, so Kirch’s hiring surprised me, particularly given his one year of head coaching experience and the way things ended with Cleary, the product of that similar search in 2005.

New Forest Lake High School football coach Billy Kirch visited town on Friday to meet with his future players and their parents. Pictured above, the Blaine native addresses players during a 20-minute meeting before school. Kirch, who guided Waverly-South Shore (SD) to a 12-0 record and a nine-man state title last fall, preached trust and commitment to the boys and promised they will never be out-coached under his watch. He met with parents that night. Kirch is expected to arrive in Forest Lake for good on May 21. (Photo by Clint Riese)

The more I’ve thought about it and the more I’ve learned of Kirch, though, the more I can see why the search panel rolled the dice.

First and foremost, the guy lives and breathes this football stuff. His dad was a teacher and coach before becoming an athletic director, so Kirch has been submerged in sports all 27 of his years. To no surprise, he ended up as a star football player at Blaine, then went on to be a standout linebacker at South Dakota State. He made coaching and teaching his profession.

“Teaching and coaching is what I’m all about. It’s all I know,” he told his new players upon their first meeting before school on Friday.

No one can question his passion for the sport – he took the post here without the guarantee of a teaching job. I listened to Kirch promise the boys they will never get out-coached. Trust me, he’s champing at the bit to roll up his sleeves and dig in.

Not that anything else would be expected from a new hire, but Kirch is setting the bar high. He’s had success at every level and expects it here. What impressed me is how he backed up his big words with a blueprint, laying out a detailed and reasonable plan that puts the onus on the players to buy in.

Kirch’s experience with younger kids is a minor point but I feel it’s worth noting. In the small school district he comes from, he taught everyone from seniors down to preschoolers. He and his wife also have a 3-year-old boy and a 5-month-old girl. It’s reasonable to believe he’ll put every effort necessary into the youth football program.

Similarly, as a young man who is now close to home, it seems logical that he would be willing to stick around for the long haul, particularly given Forest Lake’s membership in the Suburban East Conference and the newly established Class AAAAAA.

Ranger officials are positively glowing about the hire, sounding as though they found their football coach for a long, long time. They believe they landed an up-and-comer who would have been hired elsewhere in short order. It sounds like Kirch nailed the interviews, and his strong impression was complemented greatly by a host of recommendations from some big-time players in the state’s athletic circles. It’s safe to say he comes highly recommended.

Just as Kirch is shooting for the stars on the field, the administration here is taking a bit of a chance with the hope of hitting it big. There may have been safer choices out there, but likely few with bigger ceilings. And not to be overlooked, Kirch appears to have all the makings of a leader who can develop quality men off the field, as well.

Given the state of the program, I’m on board with that reasoning, with one caveat: Let’s be patient. I ask this not because of Kirch’s small sample size, but because Forest Lake was not exactly knocking on the door of a state title before he arrived.