HUTCHINSON — A generation of Hutchinson residents has not known what it's like to support a dreadful high school football program.
Here's all anyone 20 and younger have known about Hutchinson High football — the team wins. And wins. And wins.
Seven state championships from 2004 to 2011. Nine appearances in a state championship game from 2003-2012. A playoff appearance every year from 2000-2012.
Friday morning, the man most responsible for turning Hutchinson from a doormat to a feared opponent— coach Randy Dreiling — announced his resignation. Dreiling will move to Johnson County where he will be the new coach at Class 5A St. Thomas Aquinas.
"It's been my life for 17 years," Dreiling said. "But it might also be time for a change, a new challenge. I'm grateful for my time in Hutch and the opportunity. It's been a fun 17 years."
Dreiling finished his Hutchinson career with a 160-38 record. When he took over the program in 1997, the Salthawks were mired in a 26-game losing streak, which was snapped in Dreiling's first game, a win at Campus.
"I think the records speak for themselves," Hutchinson athletic director Eric Armstrong said. "When you take over a program that's lost 26 in a row and take it to nine state championship games in 10 years and seven championships ... you don't need long quotes from me to explain what he's meant to Hutch High, the community and the recognition he's brought to our school and community."
Dreiling said his interest in Aquinas picked up after the school emailed him last month about its coaching vacancy. That contact isn't necessarily a surprise. Around this time last year, Dreiling said he had been contacted by a Tennessee high school about its football position. He also said he interviewed with Bixby, Okla., in 2009.
But this time, Dreiling turned his neck toward Aquinas.
"I got an email from St. Thomas Aquinas a while ago, wanting to know about my interest and I told them I'd check it out," Dreiling said.
Dreiling is Catholic - he attended a Catholic grade school in Victoria and attended Benedictine College in Atchison. He will now coach at a Catholic school in the powerful Eastern Kansas League, which includes Class 5A champion Blue Valley. Blue Valley finished fourth in the EKL this year, behind Bishop Miege, Gardner-Edgerton - coached by former Salina Central coach Marvin Diener - and Blue Valley Northwest.
"There's good football everywhere, but it will be a challenge," Dreiling said. "It's very competitive. You can count the number of times someone has been in the state championship game from that league. Diener's up there, St. Thomas Aquinas, Blue Valley West ... there are some good schools in 5A up there."
Armstrong is out of town on business, and Hutchinson principal Ronn Roehm said when Armstrong returns, the search for a new coach would begin.
"When Eric gets back, we'll sit down and decide," Roehm said. "We'll let the dust settle, and then we'll begin looking for a new coach."
The Twitter-verse was in full force Friday, with people throwing several names around to be the next Salthawks coach.
Regardless of who takes over, following a name like Randy Dreiling will not be easy.
From down and out to dynasty
When Dreiling became the Salthawks' coach, Hutchinson was one of the state's worst football teams. You could make an argument that the Hutchinson teams of the early-to-mid 1990s wouldn't have beaten a good 2A team.
"I vividly remember going to Salthawk football games in the 1980s and 1990s, where it seemed like there were five of us in stands other than parents and band," said Dan Naccarato, a Dreiling assistant the last nine years who has lived in Hutchinson since 1985. "First of all, he brought confidence and leadership to the program. You combine that with ability, passion and charisma, and good things happen."
Hutchinson struggled so much that its district record during the 1990s was 0-30.
In 2000, Hutchinson had its break-through season. Back when just one team from every district made the playoffs, Hutchinson needed to beat Garden City in the regular-season finale to win the district. The odds seemed long, as Garden City was the reigning Class 6A champ and the top-ranked team in the state. Hutchinson won 20-14, and thus began a dynasty.
Hutchinson reached its first state-championship game in 2003, but lost 28-13 to an Olathe North team that was at the end of a run of seven state championships in eight years.
Little did anyone know then that Hutchinson was about to match that feat.
Senior Braydon Wells, who played several positions in his four years, has had one of the best views of the Hutchinson dynasty. His oldest brother Brock was on the 2000 team, and his older brother Blain helped the Salthawks win their first two state titles in 2004 and 2005.
Braydon was a sophomore when Hutchinson last won a state title in 2011.
"I think the reason (Dreiling) was so successful was because he had one of the best work ethics I've ever seen," Braydon said. "He prepares for every game more than anyone in the state. It starts with the weight room and it moves to the practice field. He works endlessly. Every time I see him in the weight room, he's on the computer watching film."
Inman coach Mike Vernon is a former Dreiling assistant, and Vernon has maintained a close relationship with his former boss.
"I talk to him a lot," said Vernon, who has taken what was a terrible Inman program and gone 12-6 in two seasons. "I probably make it over there once a week. I'd say he's had just about as much of an impact as a person can have. He's a great mentor, and I like to think I took a lot of things from him, and tried to simulate what he's done. He's had just a great influence on my coaching career."
Impact and the future
Dreiling had his detractors, of course. His colorful language bothered some people. And while an investigation showed the football coaches had no knowledge of the alleged October branding incident of freshmen players in the locker room, a few pointed fingers at the coaches.
Yet, his impact on his current team was evident when Dreiling broke the news to them this morning that he was going to Aquinas.
"The whole room was pretty emotional," junior quarterback Turner Wintz said. "I know it was pretty emotional for me. It's sad because it's a guy we've known since we were little. Ever since I've been here, he's been successful."
Many Salthawks took to Twitter to express their feelings about Dreiling.
"Coach Dreiling: the man who changed the face of a program, turned boys into men and changed the lives of hundreds," is what senior lineman Cole Cruz tweeted.
Starting Friday morning, the look of Hutchinson High football for 17 years was different. The architect of one of the state's most incredible dynasties said he was leaving.
When Dreiling first came to Hutchinson, it was considered a dead-end job, a place nobody could win at. Now, Hutchinson is considered a high-profile job with state-championship aspirations.
"Not just the program, but you look at the positive feelings that we have around the community and around the state," Armstrong said. "The fact that when people see that logo, or they hear about Hutchinson High School, it's no longer that place that had a 26-game losing streak. They think about success and all the great things going on."