Hays High's Cornelsen steps in at Hutchinson
By BRAD HALLIER
By BRAD HALLIER
Special to The Telegram
Ryan Cornelsen, who transformed Hays High's football team from mediocre to playoff contender, has been hired as Hutchinson High's football coach.
Cornelsen replaces Randy Dreiling, who resigned last month to become the coach at St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park. Dreiling left after 17 uber-successful seasons that included nine trips to a state championship game and seven state championships in Class 6A and 5A from 2004 to 2009 and 2011.
While Hays football pre-Cornelsen wasn't nearly as bad as Hutchinson's before Dreiling - the Salthawks didn't win a district game in the 1990s - Hays struggled to have winning seasons. Hays never won fewer than six games under Cornelsen, and the Indians had rare playoff appearances in 2011 and 2012. Before then, Hays hadn't reached the playoffs since 1995.
"I'll be honest - I'm extremely proud of what we accomplished," Cornelsen said. "These kids had an incredible work ethic. Football is important to them. This, no doubt, was the most difficult decision I've had to make in my career. Hays is such a great place to live. It's a tough place to leave, but I feel the opportunity and challenge in Hutch was what was best for my family and my career."
Rebuilding will not be necessary at a school where the football program has been the best in Kansas since 2000. Hutchinson reached the playoffs every year from 2000 to 2012 and only missed this year because it was the odd team out of a three-way tie in the district with Maize and Garden City.
"There's a lot of things that attracted me to Hutch, but first and foremost, it's where football is extremely important and has been successful," Cornelsen said. "In Kansas, it's been at the top. My goal as a coach is to get to the highest level and stay there, and Hutch has been there for quite a while."
The seed for Cornelsen's hiring might have been planted in 2011. During Cornelsen's first year at Hays in 2009, Hutchinson blasted the Indians during district play 56-0. Two years later, the Salthawks won the 5A state championship but didn't win their district after a loss to Bishop Carroll. As such, Hutchinson had to travel to Hays for the first round of the playoffs.
Hutchinson won 27-21.
"When we played them in the playoffs, there was a night-and-day difference from the last time we played them," Hutchinson athletic director Eric Armstrong said. "It was a completely different ball game. I remember their kids played hard, and that was something I didn't remember seeing the first time we played them."
Cornelsen also has been a successful track coach at Hays, which has won the last four 5A boys state championships. Cornelsen and Armstrong said Cornelsen would be on the track coaching staff.
Also coming to Hutchinson will be Ryan's father, Gary Cornelsen, who coached the powerful Liberal football dynasty in the 1990s. Liberal reached every 5A state championship game from 1991 to 1997, winning titles in 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1997. Current Hutchinson Community College coach Rion Rhoades was a senior on the 1992 team.
As was the case in Hays, Cornelsen said his dad would be an assistant during the season and live in Amarillo, Texas, in the offseason.
Cornelsen is married to Jamie, and they have two children - 7-year-old Kaylee and 4-year-old Cooper.
The Ryan Cornelsen file
Hays head coach, 2009-2013: 35-12
La Crosse head coach, 2003-2008: 53-13
WaKeeney assistant, 2000-2002
Cornelsen vs. Hutchinson:
2009: Lost 56-0
2011: Lost 27-21 (playoffs)
Wife: Jamie Cornelsen
Children: Kaylee (7) and Cooper (4).