NAIA coaches chasing same record

Hank Biesiot and Kevin Donley are ready for a weekend coaching rumble that will span more 2,200 miles.

The two longtime, gray-haired coaches have each won 256 career games. If either, or both, gets No. 257 Saturday, they will earn a new title: NAIA career wins leader.

Round 1 takes place Saturday afternoon when Biesiot’s Dickinson State Blue Hawks travel to Southern Oregon.

Round 2 begins three hours later, when Donley and St. Francis (Ind.) host Concordia (Mich.) on Homecoming Weekend.

Let the banter begin.

”We’re similar enough to still be coaching and we’re both past (age) 40,” Biesiot said this week. ”Maybe he’s a little more involved with 21st Century football, while I’m still kind of stuck in the middle of the 20th Century. He’s more of a man for all seasons.”

Or all kinds of victories.

Biesiot and Donley have cut through vastly different paths to reach the same spot at exactly the same time- on the brink of breaking Frosty Westering’s career record.

Biesiot prefers old-school smashmouth football and never had to travel outside North Dakota to find a job. He’s been a fixture on the Blue Hawks sideline for the past four decades, the last 37 years as the head coach. He coached the school’s baseball team for a quarter-century, from 1976-2001, and still serves as an associate professor in the school’s health and physical education department where he has taught classes ranging archery to sports psychology. His two sons both graduated from Dickinson State.

Yet after making 14 NAIA playoff appearances and being inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, Biesiot remains as down-to-earth as he was the day he took the head coaching job in 1976.

”I’m just happy it still pays the rent,” he said. ”I think what those guys (Westering and Donley) have in common, what makes them remarkable is their enthusiasm and love for the game of football.”

Donley, in contrast, got his start at Anderson University, his alma mater, in 1978. He was the youngest head coach in the nation at 26.

Since then, Donley has led Georgetown (Ky.) to the 1991 national championship, tried his hand at NCAA Division II school California (Pa.) and turned a new football program at St. Francis into a perennial powerhouse over the last 15 years.

Two weeks ago, Donley had a chance to become the clear-cut record holder, but the distracted Cougars wound up losing 15-14 to St. Ambrose.

So after last week’s bye, Biesiot forged a three-way tie atop the victory list, Donley decided to get his team’s attention the best way he knows.

”I’ve not been real pleasant to be around this week,” he said, joking. ”We’ve pushed them awfully hard.”

But as different as these two longtime coaches appear from their resumes, they embark on what could become a weekly quest sounding remarkably similar.

Neither thinks the final numbers or the overall title is terribly important, and both would prefer to put this week’s focus solely on their games.

Yet, strangely enough, they can only recall one time they’ve crossed paths, and it came in a fitting place during a coaches’ convention.

”We met in the courtyard of the Alamo,” Donley said. ”I can’t even remember what we talked about, but I can assure you it wasn’t about records.”

The last time anything like this took place in college football, it was Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden battling for supremacy. Paterno held the record until the NCAA stripped him of 111 victories this summer, making Bowden the all-time leader with 377 career victories.

So what would another record-chasing quest be without some controversy?

NAIA officials are counting 11 victories from Donley’s four-year tenure at California (Pa.) in his overall total because he spent the vast majority of his career at the NAIA level.

Biesiot doesn’t seem to mind.

”I probably have more losses than those two guys anyway, and he’ll probably win more than 11 games anyway,” Biesiot said.

Actually, Biesiot is wrong on one account.

He’s lost 13 fewer games than Donley, giving him a winning percentage of .711 with an overall record of 256-104-1. Donley, on the other hand, is 256-117-1 (.688).

But Westering won three NAIA national championships at Pacific Lutheran. Donley actually beat Westering to win his only national title, calling it one of the most memorable days of his coaching career.

”He wrote a book that I read one time called `Make The Big Time Where You Are,’ and he explained how to make it a special place, a special experience,” Donley said. ”So it was a pretty neat day lining up against him in `91 and then to win that day.”

Biesiot still hasn’t won a national title.

So of the three coaches tied for the career lead, who is the best?

That depends on whether you ask the fans in California, North Dakota or Indiana because the coaches aren’t taking sides or trading barbs.

In small college football, it’s all about respect.

”He probably doesn’t give two hoots more than I do about the record right now,” Donley said. ”When it’s over, they can put it on our tombstones.”