To 99 percent of the residents of northern Blue Springs, Kelly Donohoe is the most respected coach in the state.
Then, there's that small percentage who know him as Dad.
“Kelly could run for mayor,” former assistant coach and longtime friend Marc Hines said, “and win, but he's having too much fun coaching.”
Coaching and winning.
Donohoe's Wildcats went 27-1 over the past two seasons and became the first team from this side of the state to win back-to-back Class 6 state championships.
This year's team, arguably the best in school history, featured two-time Simone Award, Gatorade Player of the Year and Examiner Offensive Player of the Year award-winner Dalvin Warmack, two-time Buck Buchanan Award and Examiner Defensive Player of the Year award-winner Elijah Lee and enough all-state performers to fill an entire sports page.
“We've had some awfully good teams,” Donohoe said, “but I don't know if we've ever had a team with this much depth and talent. And they were good, hard-working kids. They were the kind of kids you like to see succeed.”
Their lone challenge this season came in a highlight-film 42-35 victory over Class 5 state champion Lee's Summit West, the only team to find a way to slip past the Wildcats over the past two seasons, and that came in a 35-28 overtime win in 2012.
“When I was named head coach of this program,” West coach Royce Boehm said, “I wanted to play the best teams, like Blue Springs and Blue Springs South, because to be the best, you have to play the best – and eventually beat the best. What Kelly has done at Blue Springs is pretty remarkable. He's a great coach and great guy.”
He is also the Class 6 Missouri state Coach of the Year and The Examiner's 2013 Coach of the Year.
“No one deserves that more than Coach D,” said Lee, who serves as an aide in the activities director's office the last hour of the day at Blue Springs High School. “Everyone respects him as a coach, but the guys on the team also respect him as a man, as a leader and I have so much respect for him as a dad.
“His daughter Taylor (a senior at BSHS) doesn't see much of her dad during the football season, and I think she should know how much we respect her and her mom and (younger brother) Chase for letting us be his 'family' during the season. Because Coach really loves his family and would like to be around them more, but to have a state championship team, you have to work 24/7, and that's what our coaches do.”
And that preparation has paid huge dividends for the Wildcats.
“We go into games knowing more about our opponents than they know about themselves,” Lee added. “They'll call something out, and we'll be right there to stop it and they look at us like, 'How did you know where we were going to be?' It's kind of funny, really, but that's how well we're coached.
“And it all starts with Coach D.”
As if by cue, Taylor walks into her father's office for a quick post-school visit. When Lee's remarks are relayed to her, she seems a bit surprised.
“I didn't think about the players thinking about my mom and Chase like that,” Taylor said. “My friends ask me, 'Does football ever end for your dad?' And I tell them no, not during the season. He leaves before I do, doesn't get home until 7 or 8 p.m. and he'll watch film, stuff like that.
“But that's only during the season. And he makes sure to take us out for ice cream on Sundays. We know how much football means to him. And we love it that the team has been so successful. If he wasn't winning as much, it wouldn't be as much fun.
“But the last two seasons have been amazing. And he's always going to have good teams because he has great coaches and a lot of good players are coming back.”
Sounds like something a coach's daughter would say.
“Most people at the school know I'm the coach's kid, and I'm OK with that,” Taylor added. “I just cheer. It's going to be tougher for Chase (an eighth grader) when he gets here and plays football. But he and dad are looking forward to it, and he's a good player.”
Donohoe has been able to surround himself with not only good players, but great players, and a staff that would march through hades for him.
“I have a great staff – the best staff,” Donohoe said. “And (my wife) Jennifer and Taylor and Chase are great. They know that football takes up a lot of my time during the season, but they are used to it by now.
“And with all the success we've had here at Blue Springs High School (where Donohoe has won four titles and Wayne McGinnis won the first) one group doesn't get enough recognition – and that's our administration,” the coach said. “I am so blessed to be working with this administration. They get it, and by the fact that they get it, we have everything we need to be a state championship-caliber team.”
He owns four state championship rings. He is the first area coach to ever win back-to-back crowns or coach players with credentials like Warmack and Lee.
So Coach Dad, what about next season?
“You're not the first person to ask me that question,” he said, laughing. “We're already looking ahead, seeing who's coming back and what areas we need to fill. I think we're going to be pretty darned good next year.”
And Taylor, what does she think?
“They're always good,” she said. “My dad and his coaches work too hard for them to be anything else. I'm proud of him, I really am.”