The NFL Films production Wake Up the Echoes begins with a picturesque fall setting overlaid with the imperial voice of John Fascenda proclaiming that “Time in its passage changes all things. One place however has sustained a spirit and a tradition for so long that its story has evolved into legend.”
If the word “place” is removed and the word “man” is inserted, then this would be a fitting opening for a film about the coaching career of Chuck “Chico” Kyle ’69: “One man has sustained a spirit and a tradition for so long that his story has evolved into legend.” As was announced on Monday, next year will be the final year of coaching for the most legendary person in Saint Ignatius football history.
In the fall of 1972, while still a year away from graduation from John Carroll University, Chico joined the Wildcat staff as an assistant coach. That same year, the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) initiated the state football tournament. At the time no one could have foreseen that the OHSAA football playoffs and the Saint Ignatius Wildcats would become so enmeshed that one without the other is practically inconceivable.
Since the fall of 1988 no high school football program in Ohio has had more playoff appearances (31), playoff wins (76), or state championships (11), than that of Chuck Kyle’s Wildcats.
Chuck Kyle has sustained a spirit and a tradition for so long that his story has evolved into legend.
As Chuck and his protege Ryan Franzinger ’02 begin their year of transition, all at Saint Ignatius and in the high school football community at large will want to send their well wishes to a man who, as was said about Knute Rockne, would beat you and you would not only respect him as a coach, but like him as a person.
Since he took over the reins of the football program in 1983 we have all had the pleasure of watching Wildcat teams imbued with the great spirit of Coach Kyle. I have watched 40 years worth of players take the field under this inspirational leader and represent my Alma Mater in a way that always made me proud. Certainly, winning so many games, and often in spectacular fashion, did not hurt, but that’s not what really mattered to Chuck. As he would often say at rallies, it was not trophies and accolades that mattered, but instead it was the willingness to be on the field, to take the chance of making a mistake, and to risk being on the losing end of a scoreline.
No one could deny that the rise in the profile of Saint Ignatius High School over the past four decades was directly related to the success on the field that our football teams achieved. But more importantly than that, no one could deny that Chuck’s most outstanding contribution to the school has been, and continues to be, himself. What greater gift could Saint Ignatius have been given? Coach, teacher, mentor, colleague, friend, role model - Chuck is all of these and more.
What makes him such an outstanding example of each of these roles that he has filled for so many people over so many years is his deep faith. Anyone who has ever visited the athletic section of the Saint Ignatius website has seen a photo of Coach Kyle next to the quote, “To say faith has nothing to do with it is absurd.”
The amateur English teacher in me zooms in on the word “it” and wonders: What is the antecedent of “it”? To those who know of Chico only from the sports pages the “it” would obviously refer to wins, trophies, banners, athletic glory. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Chuck had in mind. If I understand Chico like I think I do, then the “it” is our approach to all that we do and all that we are. If there are championships that go along with that, then so be it, but that is only a side effect of the “it”.
The “it” is what Chuck has instilled in his players, students, fellow coaches and teachers for the past 50 years. And through all of the innumerable successes and accolades this “it” has been grounded in a sincere and abiding humility. I have witnessed people gushing with praise for what Chico has accomplished, and have watched as he shuffles his feet, looks down, and says some variation of “we’ve been very blessed to have had some success.”
If it is true that the greatest of the deadly sins is pride, then it must also be true that the greatest of the virtues is humility. Chuck Kyle is among the most virtuous men that I have ever known, and all of us in the Saint Ignatius community are better for being around him. We are all the beneficiaries of a life’s work - including an incredible amount of success - offered in humility and faith to the Greater Glory of God.
Years in passing cannot sever the ties of Chuck “Chico” Kyle to the Wildcat football program, but what they will do is enable us to reflect on the spirit and the tradition that he sustained and allow us to watch as his legendary status continues to grow.
Coach Kyle, on behalf of all in the Saint Ignatius community, thank you. And, Chuck, to say that it could have been done without you is absurd.