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Lock Haven gives John Kelling keys to football program

By: SAM KUPERMAN

For The Express

Seven weeks after letting former head football coach Dave Taynor go, Lock Haven University officially named John Kelling as the program’s new leader. Kelling, a longtime assistant coach with a defensive background, comes to LHU after spending the last six seasons as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Frostburg State University in Maryland.

Kelling helped Frostburg transition from a Division III to a Division II program. Now he tries to help Lock Haven through a significant transition of its own. While the program has been in the DII ranks since 1980, it has yet to have a winning season at that level, as it has stuttered in its various rebuilds for decades.

Kelling has coaching experience at the Division I (FCS) level at the University of North Dakota, in addition to a vast number of years under his belt at the DII and DIII levels at various stops. In all, Kelling has coached college football for nearly 30 years.

“We will develop a positive culture in which we empower our student-athletes to believe they can accomplish anything they work for in the classroom, on the field and beyond,” Kelling said in a university press release. “Thank you to the search committee, LHU President Dr. Robert Pignatello and Athletic Director Tom Gioglio for believing in me to lead the Bald Eagle Football program. My conversations with President Pignatello and Tom have me excited about where they see the program headed and I look forward to working together on accomplishing this vision.”

That search process came down to a final three candidates, all of which came to campus during the week of December 20 for interviews. Kelling, Milkin University (DIII) head coach Dan Gritti, and former Pearl River Community College head coach Ted Egger (an LHU graduate), were the finalists for the job.

Now that Kelling has been hired, the hard part begins. The next month should be an especially exhausting one for him, as Wednesday, February 5 is National Signing Day.

The assistant coaches from Taynor’s staff all remained on board during the interim period, as they focused on retaining committed players and recruiting more prospects. Bill Nickell, who served as Taynor’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach over the last five years, handled the interim head coaching duties. He has resigned, as he announced over the weekend that he is headed to Lake Erie College (DII) in his native Ohio to take an offensive assistant coaching position. No word has come out yet on the five other assistants held over from Taynor’s staff.

Not only does Kelling have to sure up recruiting externally while sorting out his staff; he needs to rapidly gain commitments internally from the players on the roster.

Lock Haven had an especially young team in 2019, something that Taynor repeatedly pointed out throughout the year. Some key players from the squad have displayed on Twitter that they’ve entered the transfer portal. That list includes 2018 All-American tight end Jalen Jackson, as well as rising junior pass catchers Christian Drayton III and Ahmir Edwards.

Players coming and going is engrained into college football. This is even more so the case in today’s game. Kelling will surely see some key players from last year’s team go. But the hope is he can bring in some others that can make an impact for the Bald Eagles in the short and long term, all while keeping as many players on the team as possible.

This is the challenge that awaits Kelling. He comes in with a well-regarded track record and knowledge of what it’s like to deal with a transition. Kelling is the first football coach hired by Lock Haven University President Dr. Robert Pignatello, and that matters too. The hope is that Kelling can be well-aligned with the administration at LHU, helping to drastically improve the culture surrounding the football program at the university.

Questions surrounding Kelling’s staff and roster will be answered in the coming months. For now, LHU football finally has a commander of the ship after an extensive search process.

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