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Football 2012: Kansas legend joins the Indians this season

Published on -8/30/2012, 10:50 AM

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Hays High School will have a living Kansas coaching legend on the sidelines for its football games this fall.

Fourth-year head coach Ryan Cornelsen's father Gary Cornelsen joined the Indians staff as an assistant coach.

Gary Cornelsen, who retired from his full-time position in Texas this spring, will stay this fall in Hays before returning home to Amarillo, Texas.

"He doesn't hunt," Ryan Cornelsen said. "He doesn't fish. This is kind of his retirement gig. We are excited to have him."

From 1991 to 2004, Gary Cornelsen made his mark on Kansas high school athletics by accomplishing a unique feat at Liberal High School.

He produced four state football championships, three state football runner-up finishes, 13 boys' state track and field championships and nine girls' state track and field championships in just 13 years there.

Ryan Cornelsen initially offered his father an assistant coaching position when he first took the job at Hays High four years ago, but Gary Cornelsen declined in favor of taking another position coaching at Tascosa High School in Amarillo.

Three years later, Gary Cornelsen felt it was a better time to make the temporary move up to Hays.

After all, he was three years older, and Tascosa's football team added two teams from Abilene, Texas, to its district, which meant more competition and longer travel time.

"I always wanted to work with my son," Gary Cornelsen said. "Being an assistant coach as many years as I have, I'm basically just working for another guy. Returning to Kansas also kind of excited me a little bit, because I had a really good experience here."

Gary Cornelsen coaches quarterbacks and defensive ends at Hays High.

"He brings a different view," Ryan Cornelsen said. "He's been in Texas the last few years, so he's seen a lot of spread and a lot of passing games, so he can bring knowledge in that area."

Ryan Cornelsen said he offered for his father to stay at his home, but Gary declined to avoid creating an inconvenience for his son's family.

"We tried to get him to stay with us, but he felt it was best for everybody if he stayed at the Ramada," Ryan said. "He gets free breakfast and a hot tub. They come in and do his towels and wash his sheets. He's got it made. It's kind of like a vacation."

Ryan said his mother will drive up from Amarillo to watch the games on Fridays and will stay for a few days from time to time, but otherwise, his father is on his own.

"He's a bachelor at this point," Ryan said with a smile.

Senior running back David Cardinal, the returning Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, said having Gary Cornelsen on the staff has made a difference already, especially in the weight room. He said Gary holds the team accountable.

"He doesn't let anything slide," Cardinal said. "If he says four sets of five, he will make sure you do all four sets. If he says sprint 30 yards, you aren't going to let up at 25 yards because he's going to catch you and get on you."

Growing up, Ryan was always a subordinate to Gary -- father-son, coach-athlete, teacher-student and boss-worker. However, he said it hasn't been awkward with the roles reversed now.

"Everyone has their delegated tasks," Ryan said. "It's not me barking out orders. Every coach has their own job. I let them coach, and I let them get their jobs done. ... There's no me telling him this or that. He probably wouldn't handle that very well."

The Indians won't make the trip to Liberal to play at the sports complex bearing his name. Instead, the Redskins will travel Sept. 14 to Hays. So far, Ryan's Indians are undefeated against his alma mater.

"It was always a big game for us (to play Hays)," Gary said regarding his time at Liberal. "Now, I'm sure the roles are a little bit reversed. Now, it's a big game for us this year at Hays. It's just another game. It will just seem odd a little bit."

From observing his son's program, Gary Cornelsen said he thinks Ryan picked up some lessons from his time at Liberal, citing the Indians' success on the track during the spring.

"You have to develop speed in your program along with strength, and track and field is the best place you've got to develop a kid's speed," Gary said. "I always thought track kids were tough kids, too, just because of all the running they did."

Gary said he's proud of what Ryan has created at Hays High.

Ryan has guided the Hays High boys' track and field team to three consecutive state titles and gone 22-6 in his first three years with the football team, and prior to Hays, Ryan was at La Crosse where he went 53-13.

"A lot of it is the time and energy he puts into it," Gary said. "I think that's probably the real key as a coach. Sometimes, you have to spend long hours and do a lot of things year around to get your program where it needs to be.

"I think he probably learned that from me a little bit."

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