Family atmosphere extends to coaches in OU football program

Greg Mast
The Ottawa Herald

Family means everything in the Ottawa University football program.

The coaches preach it to recruits. Players become like brothers and lifelong friends because of football.

The Ottawa University football coaching staff consists of Nick Davis, Julian Mendez, Connor Kaegi, Kent Kessinger, Wes Coomes and Kendall Miller. Not pictured are Mike Sanchez and Josiah Wilson.

The Braves coaches are living proof of family. All the assistant coaches are former players or graduate assistants. Julian Mendez, offensive coordinator, is a former player and graduate assistant; Nick Davis, defensive coordinator, a former graduate assistant; Wes Coomes, special teams coordinator, former player; Kendall Miller, Josiah Wilson, Michael Sanchez and Connor Kaegi, graduate assistants, are all former players.

“It breeds the family atmosphere we talk about so much,” Mendez said about having a staff of former Braves. “We preach it and talk about it so much in our recruiting and our actual team. We live it every day. That is how we feel. These guys are like my brothers. I have been around them and known them for 10-plus years.”

Ottawa head football coach Kent Kessinger knows the program is in good hands with his former players.

“These guys have been through the program,” Kessinger said. “They understand what we do conceptionally. But they also understand what we are doing with the culture and what we expect our guys to do on and off the field. How they carry themselves. How they act. It gives them a chance to talk to our guys and say ‘I have been in those same shoes your are in. I have played on this field or I been on the staff.’ This is what is expected.”

He said the former players give continuity to the program.

“Before I came here they had five coaches in four years,” Kessinger said. “They didn’t have any continuity. The continuity thing was to build a family atmosphere. The fact that these guys think enough to be able to come back here and coach here means we have developed that over the years. We have been promoting ever since I got here to build a family.

“It is an extended part of our family. These are the older kids.”

Davis said a big lure to him coming back to Ottawa after 10 years was Kessinger and the program he built.

“Coach K gave me my first opportunity as a college football coach,” he said. “I have stayed real close to coach Mendez. I knew coach Miller. It is coaching with friends. I have kept up with the program over the 10 years. I knew the coaches, some are my best friends and mentors of mine. It was perfect fit for me, my wife and family. It is a situation where it is family.”

Coomes knew it was time to return home after six years at Concordia, Nebraska.

“I have talked off and on with coach Mendez about some opportunities,” Coomes said. “I have followed the program really close. We played against Ottawa when Kendall Miller was playing [2015-18]. I have wanted to come back. The tradition they had here of winning.

It is exciting to work with Nick. That was a big draw for me. I followed him through what he was doing. I thought it would be good for me as a coach to grow.”

Mendez said there is nothing like coaching with your brothers.

“It is a blast,” he said. “They understand what the standard is for the program. It makes it a lot of fun. You come in every day and you know they know what it is like to be in the program. They know what it is like to work here. They understand the expectations that coach K has laid out.”

School pride is in the blood of the alums and they take things personally.

“Me coming back to this position was supreme pride,” Mendez said. “Not only am I doing this because I am the offensive coordinator and coach the O-line, these guys that walk out there wear the same colors that I wore. It is extreme pride. Every job should mean a lot to you, but this means a lot more because this is my home. This is what I consider to be my family. I love seeing our guys be successful. When we are not as successful, it gets me more motivated. I am looking at it as an alum and also as a coach as well.”

Coomes can relate to the players because he was once in their place, had many of their experiences, and had the same classes and professors.    

Kessinger said the former players are not here just for a paycheck, but live the experience day in and day out.

“They always have best interests of our program at hand,” he said. “It is a sense of pride. It means something to them on the field because they have worn the black and gold.”

Kessinger said the working relationship between the coaches has been great.

“The sense of familiarity is fantastic,” Kessinger said. “You don’t have to tell somebody to do something. It is nice to have people that you know that know you that will be able to say, ‘hey this is a good idea or here’s how we can do things.’ They have come through the time period as a coach and developed or as a player and developed. Their input is something that is really important for the growth of our program.”

For Kessinger, having his former players around him means a lot.

“They have shown they are good coaches,” he said. “To be able to get guys that have been in our program that are good coaches, to be back in our program, is pretty awesome. It is a lot easier because we don’t have to coach the coaches. We can spend time actually developing our players with more responsibilities.

“The greatest stories I learned over the past several years is to watch guys go out and do well in whatever they are doing. More than even the wins and great plays they made on the field. Watch them grow up and be really solid men, good husbands and fathers. I am fortunate that I feel that I have guys that are good at what they do in coaching on our staff.”