It's tough to untangle where football and family begin and end for Larry Kehres.
Maybe that's because, at first glance, the circle seems small. The former head coach grew up 10 minutes from the University of Mount Union's Alliance campus. He married his high school sweetheart, played quarterback for the Purple Raiders and spent 11 years as an assistant before taking over in 1986. He won 11 Division III national championships and this May, turned the program over to his son, Vince, who had played and coached for his dad.
But exactly the opposite is true. Kehres has a way of making the tapestry seem vast, weaving your experience with his by recalling a lesson learned from a rival coach or emphasizing values that go beyond the field: be on time, listen carefully, follow directions, maintain focus.
Even in Kehres' youth, the game hinted at something greater. "I lived out in the country, and we would gather on Sunday afternoons after church," he recalls. Sunday service, family dinner, then football in the schoolyard. "I remember making up plays when I was supposed to be listening to the minister."
The small-college atmosphere at Mount Union meant Kehres could share the game he loved with his family and team. "My own children have grown up going to football games with my wife," Kehres says of his kids Vince, Faith and Jan.
Those outings fostered a passion in his young son. "It was a big part of growing up," Vince says. He became a fixture on the sidelines during games, running water out to the players during timeouts. And if the Purple Raiders lost, which wasn't often, he'd be crushed. "I would cry," Vince recalls. "It was heartbreaking almost."
The relationship worked the other way too. After games, Kehres had a friend cook big Italian meals of rigatoni, meatballs and salad for the team. "It was great fun," he says.
Turning a good college football program into a powerhouse can have that effect. In 27 seasons, Kehres compiled a 332-24-3 record, the best winning percentage in college football. The first of 11 national titles came when Vince was a high school senior.
"I realized pretty early, Why would I not go to Mount?" says Vince, who won two national titles as a Purple Raider. A picture of father and son hugging after the first in '96 still hangs in the Kehres house.
When a coaching job opened, Vince emailed his father detailing why he'd be a good fit. Then, he spent 12 years as an assistant, before getting the top job at 37, the same age Kehres took over.
"My dad is a great father," says Vince, who wants to maintain that tradition too. "I try to do the same thing with my boys and my wife."