National champion provides lessons


BRADFORD – One of the most successful coaches in college football history visited the Bradford football team Tuesday morning and spoke to the Railroaders about teamwork, goals and commitment.

Mike Kelly, who spent 27 seasons as the University of Dayton football coach and led the Flyers to the 1989 NCAA Division III national championship, spent almost 40 minutes talking to the Railroaders about his life, his coaching career and the philosophies that have guided him throughout the years.

“I always think it’s important when you look at guys who get to that top level and you start to study them and how did Coach Kelly get to become one of the top 25 college football coaches of all-time? It’s not luck,” first-year Bradford football coach Nathan Hyatt said. “What was his process to get there? And you can take pieces of that to build us to where we want to get to.”

Kelly, who grew up in Ludlow Falls, told the Bradford athletes he grew up like them and that he’s a simple man who gets up at 5 a.m. each day and has a cup of coffee and the same breakfast every morning.

“I believe in simplicity,” he said.

Each morning Kelly writes on a pad of paper what he will do throughout the day, he said, and lives by the philosophy of not counting the days but making the days count.

He made the most of his coaching career at Dayton and in 2011 was inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. In his 27 years with the Flyers he compiled a 246-54-1 record for a .819 winning percentage, which is third best in college football history among coaches with at least 25 years’ experience behind Mont Union’s Larry Kehres (.929) and Michigan’s Fielding Yost (.828).

Kelly said what his misses most about football since retiring as the Dayton coach following the 2007 season is practice and seeing guys get better.

“God, I love practice,” he said.

Kelly then talked to the Railroaders about one of the pillars of his life – teamwork. He told them that they have to be able to count on every teammate and that if they’re not interested in teamwork that they should quit football and play golf or run cross country instead.

“We’re all in it together,” Kelly said. “If you don’t believe that, you’re in the wrong place.”

Kelly also spoke about goals and his belief in setting small goals along the path to larger goals.

“I’m a big believer in little goals, tiny goals,” Kelly said. “It’s not just going to happen. It’s a process.”

The former Dayton coach talked about one of his former backup quarterbacks, Jon Gruden, who was bright and set goals such as becoming the head coach at the University of Michigan by age 40. Gruden went on to become the Oakland Raiders head coach at 35 and at 39 led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl championship.

Kelly then proceeded to talk about commitment.

“Do not take shortcuts,” he said. “Be the best at one thing.”

Kelly said when he recruited players the first thing he would do upon visiting a school was talk to the school secretary because he wanted to find out what type of person the student-athlete was.

Kelly then asked the Bradford seniors to be leaders.

“We’re all in it together,” he said.

After presenting Kelly with a Bradford shirt and a railroad spike, the Railroaders then asked the former Dayton coach questions and learned his favorite part of football is special teams, saying the most important play in football is a punt and the most important player is the long snapper.

“Special teams is where you can make a difference,” Kelly said.

Hyatt hopes that having people such as Kelly and members of the Wright State University club football team, who visited Bradford Monday, will make a difference for the Railroaders.

“Anytime you can get a person who’s been a great football coach and more importantly a great person to come in and speak with your football team – and not just to our players but to our coaches and whoever’s here – a guy like that with all his knowledge and all his class I learned two or three things myself there,” Hyatt said. “It’s just very exciting to get a chance to have him come up here.”

Mike Kelly, who led the University of Dayton football team to a national championship in 1989, spoke to the Bradford football team on Tuesday morning. Kelly, who led the University of Dayton football team to a national championship in 1989, spoke to the Bradford football team on Tuesday morning. Kyle Shaner|The Daily Advocate

By Kyle Shaner

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Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports. For more features online go to or ‘like The Daily Advocate’ on Facebook by searching Advocate360.

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