Andy Kotelnicki: Born to be a Coach
Sometimes in life, an event happens – could be big or small – that shapes who you want to be in this world.
Let me tell you about two minor events that happened in my life that did just that.
First, as a young kid, growing up in the small town of Litchfield, Minnesota, I loved being on the ice and playing hockey. It was my first love. When I was about 13 years old, I got asked to help with a “mite” team of younger kids. I went out on the ice to assist some of the dads coaching the team and demonstrated how to do crossovers and go around the circles and all that.
Like I said, a minor event.
The second one came in high school in physical education class. I got to be a teacher’s assistant and there was a swimming lesson. There was a young boy who had autism, and didn’t like the water. But part of the adaptive physical education curriculum was a swimming lesson. The teacher asked me to work with the young man and see if I could get him to swim and like being in the water.
After a couple of weeks, I was able to get him in the water, get his head underwater and blow some bubbles and kick his feet.
So why am I telling you about these two things?
Well, those are the two moments – looking back now – that really let me know I was born to be a coach. I may not have known it then, but I always remember those two experiences for how rewarding they were. I loved being an example. I loved working with kids. I loved seeing them improve in something.
I remember feeling good about both of those situations, not understanding how much of a trigger it was that I wanted to teach and coach for my career.
Now here I am; 17 years after I graduated college, living the dream.
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Earlier this month, I officially became the offensive coordinator here at Kansas. Soon enough, I’ll be walking into some of the best venues in college football as a proud Jayhawk.
And let me tell you, it’s pretty crazy.
Shortly after Coach Leipold told me he wanted me to come to Lawrence with him, we shared a moment on the phone. We were chatting about this job, and I said ‘Coach, can you imagine that 15 years ago when you took over at Whitewater, that we’d be doing this?’ He was like, ‘no way, man.’
I was in a total agreement with him.
I’m the son of a dad who worked in a factory his whole life and a mom who served as a nurse. My dad thought it was crazy someone could make a living coaching football. My first job out of college was an as assistant coach at Western Illinois. I was the assistant offensive line coach, and then tight ends, and I was also an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Oh, and I was a newlywed to my amazing wife, Lindsey. It wasn’t glorious. It wasn’t good money. But I was doing what I loved.
I spent two years there and then moved on to my alma mater of Wisconsin-River Falls, where I coached for five seasons as an assistant coach. After two years there and two years at University of Mary, Coach Leipold called.
Our paths had crossed when I was at River Falls, and he offered me the offensive coordinator position at Wisconsin-Whitewater. He had already won four national championships there, and it was no-brainer to join his staff.
The word I’d use to describe coaching with him is ‘rewarding.’
We’re getting ready for year nine, and it’s been like a nine-year marriage. Your marriage grows and changes and adapts. The first two years we were together, we didn’t lose a game. We went 30-0, won two national championships and were on top of the world.
Then we went to Buffalo, and in the second year, we went 2-10. It’s stressful. It’s hard. It’s hard on our marriage, as I would say. You start to question the things you do. But we stayed steadfast, and Lance stayed committed to what we were doing as a staff.
A lot of people like to talk about his six national championships and the three straight bowl games at Buffalo, but he references that 2-10 season a lot. He references his struggles at Nebraska-Omaha. In his career, even though he’s been really successful, he’s experienced failure and losing. The fact that we know what looks like, it’s a big deal.
That allowed us to define what our culture is. To us, culture is action. We can’t just put words on a wall and not act a certain way. We define that as a program right away.
That was the first priority when we arrived and will be the focus throughout the summer.
I’ll go back to my days coaching crossovers on the ice or swimming in the pool. It’s critical that we over communicate what our plan is here and define it to our players.
I was born to be a coach, and I was born to be here with Coach Leipold to coach these Jayhawks. Let’s get to it.