By SCOTT COTTOS
A motto and book title for legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was “You win with people.”
People also came first for Dick Kidwell as he built a 173-74-3 record with a pair of Division II state championships as Fostoria High School’s head football coach from 1977 through 1996.
Kidwell said establishing bonds with his players was key in building his program, which included state crowns in 1991 and 1996, runner-up finishes in 1989 and 1992 and no teams with a record under .500.
“It takes a lot,” he said of program building. “The No. 1 thing is you have to have respect for the kids, and the kids have to have respect for you. They’ve got to buy into what you’re telling them they need to do.”
Kidwell noted that when he came to Fostoria from Asheville Teays Valley, he was chosen over two assistants from former head coach Denny Studrawa’s staff who would have been popular choices with the returning players from a 7-3 squad.
The first two Redmen seasons under Kidwell ended with records of 5-5 and 5-4-1. FHS then made its first playoff appearance under Kidwell in 1979 and ended up 9-1-1.
“A lot of those kids (on the 1979 team) were playing, in my first year, as sophomores,” said Kidwell, who never had a season worse than 6-4 after that.
“They’ve got to respect you,” Kidwell said. “You have to respect them. You’ve got to get to know them. You have to get on their level and see them every day and show that you’re interested in more than just a football player, that you’re interested in what’s going on in their lives. You’ve got to spend time at it. It’s a year-round process.
“The kids always knew if they had a problem, they could come to me or come to my wife (Dixie) and we would try to work it out. We, in the time we were in Fostoria — same thing in Asheville — had ballplayers live with us for a period of time. Kids just knew they could come and we’d listen to them and try to work on their problems.”
Tom Grine, a former standout quarterback at Fostoria who served on Kidwell’s staff from 1986-96 before becoming head coach when Kidwell retired, said the Kidwells talked about having a football “family,” and gave it far more than lip service.
“I think a huge part of that was Dixie,” Grine said. “She knew everything about those kids and what they were doing, and Coach was great about that, too, just building the trust factor.
“He extended that to the coaching staff. We’d always gather at his house after a home game. The wives would get together and the coaches would get together — just a great atmosphere. Dick and Dixie were just masters at building that family feeling, from the kids to the coaches to the coaches’ wives. Everybody was included. Everybody was close.”
Kidwell was on the ground floor of weight training for football players and his favorite expression was “the stronger a muscle is, the more you can do with it,” Grine said.
“Coach always said football teams are made in the offseason,” Grine said. “And the kids were just fanatics about being in the weight room, doing plyometrics, using weighted jump ropes. We’d have 50, 60 kids in there a night — the kids who weren’t playing basketball or wrestling. They just knew that four nights a week, we’re going to be down in the weight room after school.
“The other thing he emphasized all the time was ‘we’ll be as good as our seniors.’ I think the seniors took that personally. They were leaders.”
Grine said Kidwell also was at the front of opening up an offense at the high school level, which took advantage of the quarterbacking skills of his son, Derek.
“Offensively, we just developed whatever we had, talent-wise,” Dick Kidwell said. “We’d always been, up until ’89, a two-tight end team and a three-back offense. Then we drifted out into a pro. The more we advanced, the more formations we came to use, just because we could throw the ball and we did have kids who could receive. We didn’t spend much on the passing game my first few years, but as we developed a passing game more and more, we were very versatile.”
The Redmen were back to being a run-first team in 1996, Kidwell’s farewell year. Fostoria, which finished 13-1, edged Akron Buchtel 14-6 in the state championship contest at Paul Brown Tiger Stadium in Massillon.
Kidwell said that as he completed his coaching career, he had a feeling of the trust and respect from the players that he had worked to develop.
“I was aware of that,” he said. “You know, the last group — they were going to send me out the right way. They all knew I was retiring. I’d announced that the year before.
“We definitely weren’t the better football team in the state championship game, but we won it. I think there were two times in the playoffs: Watterson was a better football team than we were. (But) they got their quarterback hurt and that made a big difference.”
Kidwell characterized his time at the helm in Fostoria as one of good fortune that included standouts such as future NFL players Damon Moore and Richard Newsome but mostly “just hard-nosed kids — kids who worked to embody what we were preaching.”
“We were always able to have those good kids and develop the other kids around them,” he said. “But, it was a team game. You always had to have the kids. You always had to have the numbers. We were there at the right time, with great athletes.”