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BRYAN — Bryan coach Kevin Kline guided the Golden Bears to the finest season in school history with an approach that focused on developing relationships.
Kline and 18 seniors enjoyed a dream season filled with signature moments. The Golden Bears went 12-1, earned a No. 2 ranking in the Division IV state poll, and made the deepest run in school history in the playoffs.
Kline, who has a 31-4 record in three seasons, has led the Bears to two straight Northwest Ohio Athletic League championships and 10-0 regular seasons. This after Bryan had not won a title since 1986.
The Golden Bears knocked off two undefeated, higher-seeded teams in the playoffs before falling in the regional final.
For those accomplishments Kline has been named The Blade's 2013 Coach of the Year.
“I feel honored and privileged to be recognized with so many great coaches that I respect in this area,” Kline said. “I've been blessed with great kids and other coaches here at Bryan. That's really why I'm being recognized.”
He said his philosophy is “to invest in people.”
“I'm a little unconventional,” Kline said. “I'm not a huge yeller or screamer. I'd guess you’d say I'm more of a players' coach.
“I believe you have to build a relationship with the athlete. You want them to develop good habits and go on to do good things. It's not all about winning and losing. You want them to enjoy what they are doing.”
The commitment of his players was painfully clear after Bryan's crushing 46-43 loss to No. 1-ranked Kenton in a regional final.
“After the game a lot of them were devastated and heartbroken,” Kline said. “They were so invested. They put in a lot of time and effort and it meant a lot to them. These kids understood it was about us as a group.”
Other top candidates for coach of the year were Jeff Wood (Bedford), Matt Kregel (Perrysburg), Tim Spiess (Genoa), Craig Lubinski (Bowsher), Greg Dempsey (Central Catholic), Chris Hedden (St. Francis de Sales), and Ken James (Northwood).
Spiess, whose team lost 43-35 to Bryan in a thrilling playoff opener, said he counts Kline as one of his closest friends and colleagues.
“Coach Kline is one of the rising young stars in our profession,” Spiess said. “He has my respect for doing it the right way. He held players accountable and taught them it is okay to dream big.”
Much of Bryan's success in the three seasons can be attributed to the brilliant play of senior quarterback Austin Schimmoeller. The improvisational QB finished with a 25-2 career record, 8,790 yards (6,023 passing), and 116 touchdowns (68 passing, 48 rushing).
“It was exciting for our kids,” Kline said. “The whole community was energized. We really felt that support.”
Kline played quarterback at Fairview High School, then attended Bowling Green State University.
“In college I played rugby and BG has a good tradition. That showed me about team building and confidence,” he said.
Kline's first head coaching position was at Edgerton, where he compiled a 21-20 record in four years.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “I have good memories, and I reflect on that and think a lot of that community. They were a bit down when I took over, and it was good to get my feet wet there.”
Kline took over at Bryan in 2011 for Travis Cooper, who had led the program to its first playoff berth.
Kline said the first goal was to win a league title.
“It had been so long, so step one was to see if we could contend for a title,” he said. “Ever since I got to Bryan I've had kids that have worked together and have wanted to get a tradition started here.”
The first season the Golden Bears went 8-2 and just missed a playoff berth by a half-point in the computer standings.
Last year Bryan went undefeated in the regular season and won the NWOAL title. The Bears won the first playoff game in school history before losing 21-20 to Napoleon in a Division III regional semifinal.
Kline singled out a rally for a win against Patrick Henry as the catalyst to the upswing. He also said a win over the Patriots again this year — along with victories against Archbold, Wauseon, and Genoa — were huge.
Last year's team laid the foundation.
“We had always been the underdogs,” Kline said. “Last year was the best season in school history. We took on a different role this year. We had some pressure and we adjusted to that. We decided we wanted to go even beyond what we did last year.”
Bryan battled right to the end against Kenton in a regional championship that saw 10 lead changes. But the Golden Bears simply ran out of time.
“We had a tough playoff [path],” Kline said. “Going to Genoa and winning there and then beating River Valley, the No. 1 team in region, were both big wins.
“We really wanted to play one more week. It was sad and disappointing because you come to the realization that it's over. It was such a special group of guys.”