CLEVELAND — The man who built one of the greatest dynasties in Ohio high school sports history is calling his last plays.
Chuck Kyle, the head coach at St. Ignatius for 39 years, announced Monday that he will coach one more season and then step away. Now that is a lot to take in.
St. Ignatius football without Chuck Kyle? We never wanted to even think about that. That's how great he's been.
St. Ignatius has been his life. He was a student there, a decorated athlete. He came back and worked there as a teacher, and then of course as a coach, but to be truthful, we know him as a coach who also taught.
He would quickly tell you, "I am a teacher first, and then a coach."
Kyle took over as head coach in 1983, but it was in 1988 when it all came together. He had a big-armed quarterback named Joe Pickens with tons of talent around him, and perfection was achieved. With only the Princeton Vikings standing in their way, Kyle had his Wildcats around him before the state title game in the locker room of Ohio Stadium, and he delivered the speech of his life.
"Be state champions," he told the team. "Be state champions."
And with a goal-line stand in the game's dying seconds, the Ignatius dynasty had its foundation: a 10-7 win for a state championship.
Kyle and Ignatius weren't done; not even close. Ten more state titles followed, along with three national titles. It didn't matter where you came from: east side, west side, south, or north. Kids flocked to play for the school and their great leader.
They would also play a much larger role in the local sports landscape than they ever could've realized. Back in 1995, when Art Modell yanked the Browns from Cleveland, there was a huge void to fill. That void, for many, was filled by St. Ignatius football. Thousands would flock to stadiums on Friday or Saturday nights just to watch them win.
Kyle's teams played with poise, power, but most of all class, and he was the maestro. You were proud they were from Cleveland.
Did college jobs come his way? Of course they did. Lou Holtz wanted him at Notre Dame, Ohio State came a calling, and many others. But "Chico" had two families to consider: his own, and his second on West 25th Street. All those kids who wanted to be coached by him. So he stayed home.
He's won all the awards imaginable -- locally and nationally -- and now at 71 years old, he's saying, "It's time." But what an honor and joy it has been to watch him, to listen to him, but most of all to know him.
The St. Ignatius alma mater captures it so perfectly: Chuck Kyle is "an Ignatius man forever."
Re-listen to WKYC.com's coverage of this year's playoff game between St. Ignatius and Mentor: