Matt Drinkall, architect of the most successful era in Kansas Wesleyan football history and the Kansas Conference’s greatest single season ever, has announced his resignation.
Drinkall will join head coach Jeff Monken’s staff at NCAA Division I FBS Army West Point and serve as an offensive analyst for the Black Knights, who were 11-2 this fall and defeated Houston 70-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Defensive coordinator John Michaletti has been named interim coach until Drinkall’s replacement is hired.
KWU Director of Athletics Mike Hermann said a national search is underway for a new coach.
Drinkall departs after five wildly successful seasons in which the Coyotes were 42-17, including a 37-12 slate against KCAC opponents. His last four teams won 40 games (40-8) during the best four-year run in school history. He has the fourth-highest win total in school history, trailing only Gene Bissell (118), Dave Dallas (94) and Alexander Brown Mackie (78).
The culmination was 2018, when Wesleyan won its first conference championship since 2002, going 10-0 and advancing to semifinals of the NAIA National Championship. The Coyotes finished with a school-best 13-1 record and shattered virtually every school and numerous KCAC and NAIA records in the process during a historic season.
“Matt has been an outstanding head coach over the past five years, taking our program to unprecedented heights,” Hermann said. “More importantly, he and his staff have recruited outstanding young men that have represented the university well – on and off the field.
“Matt leaves the university with an outstanding football program, one that will be attractive to many potential head coaches. We thank Matt for a job well done and wish him and his wife, Kim, the best at West Point.”
Drinkall said the decision to leaves Salina wasn’t as easy as it might seem.
“The school, the community, the players, the coaches – it’s hard to walk away from because what we have here is so special,” he said. “The reality is that it’s never going to be like this at any other point in my career, that I won’t have a group as awesome as this is to work with.
“I got really, really lucky that a unique situation has presented itself to where I am going to be able to go be on the staff at Army and transition a little bit with that staff. This is the United States Military Academy and it’s just a big thing for me not only at the professional level but at the personal level too.”
Drinkall was named Wesleyan’s coach on January 14, 2014, after two seasons as offensive coordinator at St. Ambrose (Iowa).
His first Wesleyan team was 2-9, 2-7 in conference play, but things quickly turned around the following season. The Coyotes compiled a 10-2 record and were 8-1 in the KCAC – the best season in school history at the time. They received at-large bid to the NAIA playoffs where they lost to Southern Oregon in a first-round game in Ashland, Ore.
The Coyotes were led by quarterback Jake Curran, the KCAC Player of the Year, and ranked third in the NAIA in total offense. They also moved into their new home facility, Graves Family Sports Complex.
Wesleyan posted a 9-2 record (7-2 KCAC) in 2016, but fell short of postseason play. The team was ranked as high as No. 10 in the NAIA coaches’ poll and notched memorable victories over Friend, 45-42, and No. 12 Tabor, 45-42, in overtime the following week.
The 2017 team was 8-3, 7-2 in the conference, and set the tone for 2018 by winning its last three games, averaging 56.7 points in the process.
Led by transfer quarterback Johnny Feauto (JR/Boulder, Colo.), returning offensive stalwarts Demarco Prewitt (JR/Menifee, Calif.), Trenton Poe-Evans (JR/Needles, Calif.) and Charlie Simmons (SO/Saint Johns, Fla.), and transfer defensive end Shaq Bradford (JR/San Diego, Calif.), the Coyotes were off and running from the get-go.
They defeated Texas Wesleyan 42-7 in the 2018 opener in Fort Worth and continued to their epic march when conference play started.
They trounced Friends 83-0 the second week and scored at least 70 points in three of their next six games, including a 70-24 victory over Bethany. KWU held off Avila 34-31 on Nov. 3 in its closest regular-season game and completed the unbeaten conference run with a 34-20 victory over Southwestern in Winfield.
Ranked sixth in the NAIA, the Coyotes were awarded their first home playoff game and responded with a hard-fought 15-9 victory over Langston (Okla.) at Graves Family Sports Complex.
After a stunning series of first-round upsets, KWU landed a second home game in the quarterfinals. Trailing 34-28 after three quarters, the Coyotes rallied for a 43-40 victory over Dickinson State (N.D.) – Prewitt scoring the game-winning touchdown with 46 seconds left on a 5-yard run.
The season ended with a 43-21 loss to No. 7 Benedictine at Graves Family Sports Complex.
The list of records the Coyotes shattered along the way was as long as it was impressive. Prewitt set KCAC records for rushing touchdowns in a season (38), total touchdowns in a season (41), season scoring (246 points), single season rushing yards (2,371) and single season all-purpose yards (2,788). Bradford set NAIA records for tackles for loss in a game (9.5), sacks in a game (6.5) and sacks in a season (22).
Feauto set a new school standard for touchdown passes in a season (41) and Poe-Evans a school record for career receiving touchdowns (33).
The 83 points against Friends were a KCAC record and their 69 points in the first half and 49 points in a quarter against the Falcons set NAIA records.
Prewitt and Bradford were named AFCA/NAIA First Team All-Americans. Prewitt, Bradford, Eli Smith (JR/Severy, Kan.) and Simmons were named to the Associated Press’ Small College All-America First Team.
“Anyone that has any kind of success knows it is because there’s a million people with them all pulling the rope in the same direction,” Drinkall said. “Take a look at the three playoff games and it’s a perfect example of that. They’re all sold out, standing room only, it’s in the paper, it’s in the media.
“The administration here is awesome, the teachers are helping you out, the staff, the players, the trainers, the students. It takes everybody to do it and I think everybody has bought in now to where the ship keeps going no matter who’s name is on the door.”
Drinkall’s career began as a student coach for three years at the University of Iowa, where he played wide receiver before a career-ending knee injury.
He returned home to Bettendorf, Iowa, and coached defensive backs and wide receivers for three seasons at his alma mater, Bettendorf High School, before being named tight ends coach at Western Illinois and spent two years.
Drinkall went to St. Ambrose in 2008 and coached offensive line and wide receivers before he was named offensive coordinator in 2012.
Drinkall said he hopes his legacy is that he helped turn Wesleyan’s program into a perennially successful one.
“I was never going to retire here with the most wins or the most conference championships or anything like that,” he said. “My goal was that in 20 or 30 years from now that Kansas Wesleyan football is an absolute powerhouse and stays that way all the way in between, and people will go back and say ‘Hey this is the guy that kind of got it going. That staff is the one that rebranded the look, and engaged the community, and helped build the stadium – all those things.'”
Drinkall said his successor will inherit a program capable of continuing the recent success.
“The next head coach here will be inheriting a top four team in the country with 19 returning starters with an incredible internal culture of guys that are not only great football players that are committed to that, but are also great guys,” he said.
“They want to be great in everything. You want them living in your community, you want them marrying your daughters. They’re awesome kids that are fun to be around that are great people.”