The Alumni Medal is the highest honor the University bestows on a graduate. The following graduates were recognized for accomplishments in their professions, exemplary family and personal lives, contributions to their communities, and dedication to the University: Nancy Cunningham Benacci ’77; Tony Coyne ’82; Jack Kahl ’62; Chuck Kyle ’73, ’79G; and Bob Maynard ’58.
Chuck Kyle ’73, ’79G successfully teaches and coaches young men at Cleveland’s Jesuit high school
By John Walsh
Walking out of John Carroll in 1973, Chuck Kyle ’73, ’79G never thought he was going to coach football for 30 years.
“All I wanted to do was teach English and do a little coaching,” he says.
And teach he does – in and out of the classroom.
In 1972, after sustaining a shoulder injury while playing football his senior year for the Blue Streaks, Kyle became an assistant football coach at Cleveland St. Ignatius High School, his alma mater.
“I was studying to teach English anyway and thought it was a good idea,” says Kyle, who’s been married to his wife, Patricia, for 37 years.
Shortly thereafter, the school hired him as an English teacher. While Kyle was walking into the building one day to sign his contract, the athletic director at the time, John Wirtz, asked him if he wanted to coach track because the track coach was promoted to assistant principal and couldn’t coach anymore. Kyle, who was a running back at St. Ignatius and JCU, agreed.
“Back then, I drove the bus, taped ankles, and ran the concession stand during basketball season,” says the father of four. “Doing those types of things was more common back then.”
In 1983, the head football coaching job opened, and the administration gave him a chance.
“I still wanted to coach track because I thought it was a good combination with football,” he says. “It keeps the kids competitive and working out.”
Until 1989, Kyle’s teams never made the playoffs. That year, with a number of returning starters, the team worked hard and put a string of wins together. It continued winning in the playoffs.
“There were a lot of ‘wow’ moments,” Kyle says. “Our first championship game we were underdogs to Cincinnati Princeton, but winning that game put us on the map. That was a big step. The school’s name got out there a bit, and alumni became more involved.”
Around 1990, after St. Ignatius won its first state title in football, Kyle received a call from Lou Holtz, who was coaching Notre Dame at the time. Holtz wanted to put Kyle on a short list of potential coaches to hire as an assistant.
“I thought he was calling because he was interested in a student, but it was me he was interested in,” Kyle says. “I told him I never thought about coaching on that level. He gave me the name of someone to talk to about coaching at the college level, and I found out you had to move your family about 10 times during your career and constantly think about your next move up. But I didn’t want to be talked into something I didn’t really want to do. I didn’t want to get talked out of what I liked doing.”
The link between football and track and field is strong because many students play both sports.
“Tim McVeigh is a great example,” Kyle says about a recent former running back. “He broke a lot of records in football and was a four-year letter winner in track.”
Kyle’s track teams have won 30 district, eight regional, and three state titles. When preparing young men for football games, Kyle doesn’t consider his pregame talk a motivational speech.
“With 1,000 people out there watching, I tell them not to be nervous about making mistakes and play like they can,” says Kyle, who, in 2012, received the prestigious Magis Award, which is given to those who exemplify a commitment to St. Ignatius High School. “Motivation is an everyday attitude about making the most of each day. I tell the kids to take care of business first, then have some fun. When an opportunity comes, they’re ready to go with a positive attitude. I don’t have to give a pregame talk to motivate the kids. It’s about having a great attitude for preparation.”
Throughout the years, students have come and gone, but core characteristics remain constant with them: They like a challenge; they like to improve; and they like the idea of properly preparing mentally, physically, and spiritually.
“If you teach that mantra, good things can happen,” says the only high school coach in America to win a state, national, and world championship. “I get the kids to understand they should strive to do the best they can and make the most of their opportunities. They all know sports ends some day.”
Considering Kyle’s success with students outside the classroom, he’s mindful to balance teaching and coaching.
“I don’t talk about football in the classroom,” he says. “I want to present a healthy image to students. I’m an English teacher first. Football is an extracurricular. Kids appreciate that I put things into perspective. It’s a simple, personal rule.”
Kyle teaches three classes – one for freshmen, one for sophomores, and one for seniors about Chaucer and Shakespeare.
“I get the seniors used to college, so I treat the elective like a college literature course,” says the co-author of the book, “Object of the Game,” which is about the prescription for success in football and life.
Of all the success with football – 11 Division I state titles, high school coach of the year by USA Today in 1989 and 1993, Lifetime Achievement Award by the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, and Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee – Kyle cites only one type of unwanted attention: that private schools have it easier than public ones.
“I can’t tell you who gets financial aid and who doesn’t – and I don’t want to know,” says Kyle, who has scheduled rivalry games with Cincinnati St. Xavier at JCU that bring thousands of fans to campus. “There are no athletics scholarships here. Kids pay to come to St. Ignatius. Young men who come here know their faith helps them work a little harder. God gives them talents, and we develop them the best we can. Winning is an earned blessing.”
In 2009, Kyle coached the U.S. Under-19 National Team to a world championship, which involved eight countries playing at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio. The team played three games in eight days and won the gold medal. It beat France, Mexico, and Canada.
Additionally, Kyle is a volunteer with USA Football for a project about safety as a result of concussions in football. The project reviews tackling and how the game’s rules can be adjusted, as well as teaches proper tackling at an early age.
As Kyle – who has an overall record of 301-69-1 and a mark of 59-13 in Ohio state playoffs – moves into the twilight of his career, he acknowledges there might come a time when he has had enough coaching, which most likely would come before the time when he has had enough teaching.
“My energy level is fine, but I realize I’m not 30 years old,” he says. “I don’t want to get to a point where I don’t have the energy to coach because the kids will see that, and that’s not good. When I stop coaching, it will happen naturally based on how I feel. I don’t have a goal to win a certain number of games. I have no hidden agenda.” JCU
To watch a video about Kyle, click here.