When Chuck Smith announced his retirement from Colgan following the finish of the 2016 football season, one of the state’s great football coaching jobs came open.
So, too, did one of the toughest jobs.
After all, the person following in Smith’s footsteps had some big shoes to fill. Mighty big shoes.
The headliners atop Smith’s list of many achievements — 343 coaching wins, five state titles and a state-record 69 straight wins — are accomplishments few in state history can match.
So when Shawn Seematter went looking for his first head coaching job, he admits he questioned whether it should come replacing a legend.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Man, do I want to be the guy to follow THE guy,’” Seematter said. “But the more I got to know about the situation, the job itself and the kids coming up, the people there, it was something that interested me and it wasn’t quite as scary as I originally thought.
“Basically, it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
So Seematter, a 2009 graduate of Royal Valley High School, decided to become the guy and accept the challenge of replacing Smith. He hasn’t regretted the decision one bit.
After a thrilling 25-18 come-from-behind win over Centralia in last Friday’s Class 2-1A state quarterfinals, Seematter has Colgan one win away from playing for a state championship in his debut season. The Panthers (9-2) will play host to Olpe (9-2) in this Friday’s semifinals with a berth in the Nov. 25 championship game in Hays on the line.
Whatever kind of season Seematter may have scripted in his mind, the 2017 season has certainly exceeded his wildest expectations.
“It’s been a huge blessing and that says a lot about the people here, the kids here,” Seematter said. “I don’t think that it’s anything I’ve done specifically. Whoever was going to be the next guy here was coming into a great situation.”
That Seematter is in charge of one of the state’s most storied programs is hard for even him to comprehend.
Coming out of high school, Seematter would have loved to have played college football. Only he hardly got to play high school ball, with repeated ankle injuries costing him the bulk of his junior and senior seasons.
Instead, he went to Kansas State to study education to pursue becoming a football coach. Each year he was in Manhattan, he traveled back to Hoyt as often as he could to do whatever he could for his high school coach, Jason Grider, be it providing an eye in the press box, helping with weights or working summer camps.
Upon graduation from Kansas State, Seematter spent a year on Steve Buhler’s staff at Washburn Rural before he was lured away by Grider when he took over at Halstead to become his defensive coordinator in 2014.
“He’s been a huge impact,” Seematter said of Grider. “From the organizational stuff to the practice plans and how you structure things — what I know is what we did in high school and at Halstead.”
Seematter helped Halstead to a 31-6 record in three years, including a 12-1 mark in 2015. It was an ideal situation and one Seematter didn’t necessarily envision himself leaving.
“I always knew I wanted to be a head coach,” Seematter said. “But I didn’t know when or where that time would be. I really liked Halstead. Liked the teaching job. Liked living there. Liked the people. Liked being the D-coordinator and we had a good thing going, a good run. I was kind of led to (the Colgan) position through someone in the Wichita diocese and it was something I couldn’t pass up.”
As tough as replacing a legend is, there are also certain perks that come with it.
In most cases, the program already is successful. There’s no rebuilding job going on and even though Colgan hasn’t been in a state championship game since 2010, the Panthers have consistently been in the playoffs and in more years than not playing into the second or third weekend.
Unless there are mass departures with the outgoing legend, typically a strong staff remains in place for the next coach. Seematter said his transition has been eased by holdover assistant coaches such as Brad Snow, a 10-plus-year veteran, and former Colgan standout Stu Jeck.
“I’ve relied on those guys pretty heavily all summer and fall,” he said. “They’ve been outstanding to have.”
Seematter’s confidence in his ability was returned in favor by Colgan’s confidence in turning such a storied program over to a first-year coach. “It was a huge honor and a little surreal when I first got that call,” Seematter said. “It was very humbling and I was honored to take over that position for sure.”
Colgan also hasn’t regretted the decision. The Panthers have overcome injuries and a tough early-season schedule to win seven straight after a 2-2 start, including last week’s crazy playoff win over Centralia which saw Colgan score the game-winner with 31 seconds left.
“It was wild,” Seematter said. “I thought we’d lost about three different times. I thought we’d won it about three different times. It was crazy.”
It’s even crazier for Seematter to think that his first season as a head coach could end with an appearance in a state championship game.
“I try not to think about it too much and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because we’ve got Olpe first,” he said. “But I certainly can’t keep that thought from creeping in there every once in a while. It’s wild and crazy to think about, but I think it says more about Colgan than it says about me.”
Taking over for a legend isn’t easy. So Colgan’s success this season says plenty about both.