Monday, 22 September 2008 10:53
As of five weeks ago, Conrad Kolbow had never been a head varsity coach in any sport.
That changed instantly in mid-August when the Cardinal Stritch assistant football coach was asked to assume the head position following the unexpected, sudden firing of Andre Hampton.
Hampton, himself barely into his first year as the Cardinals’ mentor, had his contract terminated in early August immediately following allegations of diverting school funds for personal use.
Hampton had replaced Tony Beier, who resigned in January, and retained Kolbow on the staff as an outside linebackers and special teams coach after the latter spent the previous three seasons on the Stritch football staff.
“The school board told me they had fired Andre and offered me the position,” Kolbow said, “so I volunteered my time to be an assistant.”
Kolbow had done a great deal of volunteer coaching in his past.
Prior to his stint with Stritch, he was an assistant gridiron coach for Ottawa Hills in 2001 and 2002. Kolbow went on to assist at Toledo Rogers the following two seasons before moving east to help out the Cardinals program.
But that is the extent of his coaching experience with football.
An all-NLL baseball player who went on to play for years of college ball at Bluffton College (now University) before graduating from Maumee High School in 1975, Kolbow has been a coach in various youth and prep level sports since the age of 16.
He began helping his father coach his brothers during their little league baseball days, and moved on to helping Glen Ramsey coach legion ball through the Maumee post 320 club from 1977-82.
When his eldest son Erick turned six, Kolbow shifted his coaching prowess toward his three children, first spending a number of years serving in the Maumee little league.
He spent the 2004 and 2005 prep softball seasons as an assistant for the Maumee softball team when his daughter, Bridgett, played for the program as a junior and senior. His daughter earned nine varsity letters competing cross country, basketball and track.
Most recently, Kolbow coached the Panthers junior acme summer league team, for which his younger son Kurt, currently a sophomore at Maumee, played.
Athletics are certainly a staple in his family, and comprised he has a fairly extensive coaching background.
But to suddenly be thrust into a role as head coach of a Friday night football team couldn’t have left Kolbow more taken aback.
“I never really believed a head coaching position would arise for me because I don’t teach,” said Kolbow, an area deputy sheriff by trade for the past 25 years. “Head coaching positions are usually given to people who work in the system, and I believe in that.
“So I was content to just volunteer my time.”
When Beier resigned after the 2007 season, however, Kolbow did have the urge to pursue a head position.
“I never really had an interest to be a head coach until coach Beier resigned,” he said, “so I did apply for the opening. I did only because I saw the position at Stritch as a great opportunity, and I felt comfortable with the incoming senior class having worked with them the past three years.”
Instead of being chosen, Kolbow essentially took the round-about path to achieving his newfound goal. The awkward gift has proven to be difficult.
“It’s had its ups and downs,” he admitted. “Although I already knew most of the players, it is hard for them to accept me as a head coach after losing their other one so suddenly.
“When Andre was fired it took some of the wind out of their sails.”
The change took place barely two weeks before the start of the season, making the sudden re-acclimation all the more challenging for everyone involved.
“I don’t know if anyone can truly appreciate the situation I’m in, not only in having to deal with the kids and the coaches,” Kolbow said, “but in having to get all the necessary paperwork done in a week’s time and then have to get the team to produce in 10 days (before the start of the season).”
Kolbow cited his coaching staff as being a great source of support, though.
“I’ve been fortunate to have a fairly veteran coaching staff,” he said. “It’s a unique situation. We have four veteran coaches and four younger ones.
“The older ones bring experience and knowledge, while the younger guys inject some much needed enthusiasm.”
With only three players that returned in 2008 with substantial varsity experience, the going on the field has been pretty rocky.
Last week’s 27-7 loss to Ottawa Hills to start the Toledo Area Athletic Conference slate left the Cardinals with a 0-4 mark.
But Kolbow is taking each day in stride and stressing the positives that he feels his program needs to arise from the ashes.
“We were behind 27-0 at the half (against Ottawa Hills), and then we shut them down in the second half,” Kolbow said, “so I felt like we made progress. That’s what we need to keep doing.
“We have to take baby steps, and take each step day-by-day. I’ve told my kids that we’re one game into the league, and there are still five games to go. I’ve let them know that our goal is to go 5-1 in the league.”
Even a few wins for this battered Stritch football program would signal a light at the end of a strange 2008 tunnel.
“Getting better and doing it in small steps is most important thing right now,” Kolbow said. “I’m just trying to help right this ship.”