Salina, and Kansas Wesleyan University lost a legend on Thursday. Legendary coach Gene Bissell passed away.
Bissell spent over 40 years at KWU, including 26 years as head football coach. Bissell started his career at Kansas Wesleyan University as an assistant football coach in 1950. In 1952, he was named the school’s 13th head football coach, a position he held until 1978. He also coached track and was an assistant basketball coach, in addition to teaching a full academic schedule.
The field at the new Graves Family Sports Complex, Gene Bissell Field, is named after the coach.
Prior to the opening of the stadium last October, KSAL News sat down and talked with the 89-year-old Bissell. He said that it was a great honor to have the field named after him.
Bissell said that he liked what he saw in the new stadium. “Back in the old days, on the first day of practice we would line the boys up, give them a sharp instrument, and walk the field and dig up all the sand burrs,” he said.
Current KWU Football Coach Matt Drinkall, shortly after taking the job two years ago, embraced Bissell, and the history of the program. Drinkall instills Bissell’s old-school values in the team. And not only did he embrace his values, he also bonded with the man himself. Drinkall became friends with Bissell, and along with his coaching staff he visited him often.
Drinkall tells KSAL News that he had been visiting nearly daily after Bissell had a pace maker procedure a couple of weeks ago. The only time he did not see him was when he was out recruiting.
The last time Drinkall saw Coach Bissell was two days ago. Drinkall chuckled when he reminisced about their last visit. “I had just got back from a recruiting trip at Heritage High School in Denver,” he said. It turns out that the father of the Heritage High School coach had played football at Kansas Wesleyan University, for coach Bissell in 1970. “I asked Coach Bissell about him,” Drinkall said. He said that Bissell remembered exactly who the player was, who his a parents were, and what they did. “It was amazing,” Drinkall added.
Drinkall said that Bissell’s influence will shape his life forever. “He broadened my spectrum on the responsibility you have as an en educator of student athletes, and not only when they are here. You continue those relationships forever. You hear people say ‘coach Bissell saved my life’, and it’s awe inspiring,” he concluded.
In his storied career, Bissell won four KCAC championships, and is the career wins leader. He credited a group of “great kids”. Among those who played for him was a young Bill Graves, who later would go on to be the 43rd governor of Kansas and Charles Jessamy Jr.who would go on to play for the New York Giants in the NFL.
Coach Bissell is survived by his wife Evelyn, daughter Nancy Terhune, and son Mark.
Funeral arrangements are pending for Gene Bissell.
Coach Bissel interview with KSAL in October, 2015:
Current KWU Football Coach Matt Drinkall talks about the legacy of Coach Gene Bissell:
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