Blue Springs High School junior wide receiver Isaac Harkness heard the news, and didn’t want to believe it.

At 11:30 Thursday morning, coach Kelly Donohoe met with his football team and coaching staff to let them know that he was leaving the Wildcats program to take over as the head coach at arch rival Rockhurst.

“I couldn’t believe it, and I’m sad for me and the other guys who won’t get to work with Coach Donohoe,” Harkness said, “but I am so happy for Coach and his family.

“He did what was best for them, and Coach Donohoe always talked about family.”

Harkness then looked at a large glass of mints on Donohoe’s desk and smiled a sad smile.

“When I think of Coach, I think of all the orange mints we shared at team meetings,” Harkness said. “I guess I won’t be having anymore mints with Coach, and I’m going to miss that.”

Beau Stephens, the highly recruited junior offensive lineman, is also going to miss working with his coach in his senior season next fall.

“I heard a rumor about Coach leaving and a meeting at Rockhurst,” Stephens said, “and I knew that Coach was going to retire from Missouri schools soon, so I had an idea it might happen.

“And I’m glad he’s doing what is good for him and his family. He has been a great coach to me the past three years, and it’s very unfortunate that he will not be here my senior year, but I think the tradition and culture he has built at Blue Springs will stay for a long time.”

While social media reaction has been mixed to Donohoe leaving Blue Springs to take over as the head football coach at Rockhurst, those who played for the veteran football coach and stood with him on the sidelines understand the move.

“Coach Donohoe is one of the greatest men I’ve had the privilege to coach alongside,” said Blue Springs grad and defensive coordinator Matt Marble. “For 14 seasons we’ve been together and I’ve seen what true servant leadership looks like. He had such incredible success in his 20 years here and he never wanted it to be about him – ever.

“He always made decisions based on what was best for the team. The culture he created was even more impressive than the wins and championships. He pushed young men to be better versions of themselves every single day.”

Marble added that he understands why Donohoe took Rockhurst’s offer.

“I played at and graduated from Blue Springs, so trust me, I get how some might perceive him coaching at Rockhurst,” Marble said. “He isn’t simply leaving us for them. He has an opportunity to retire from public education and make the entire Rockhurst paycheck on top of his retirement.

“If he was retiring and then coaching for Bishop Miege or a Blue Valley school, everyone would do nothing but thank him for 20 years of his life spent making Blue Spring High School a better place. So that’s what I choose to do, thank him for his amazing, selfless service to our football program over the past two decades. We’ll all miss him like crazy, but we’ve also already circled Week 9 on the calendar!”

That’s when Donohoe’s Hawklets will meet the Wildcats for the first time in 2020.

Head track and field coach Joe Cusack, a former Wildcats football assistant coach, echoed Marble’s sentiment.

“If this were the middle of Coach Donohoe’s career and he went over to a rival school, that would be a totally different scenario,” Cusack said. “He has created a lasting legacy at Blue Springs High School and we’re going to miss him, but he is making a decision that is best for him and his family.”