Wesley names Knapp its new football head coach

Chip Knapp (Wesley sports information photo)

DOVER — None of this is easy, of course.

Chip Knapp and Mike Drass were best friends.

But Knapp knows as well as anyone that, after building the Wesley College football program for three decades, the last thing Drass would want is for things to fall apart just because he’s gone.

So it was with a sense of responsibility that the 53-year-old Knapp accepted the Wesley football head coaching job on Tuesday.

The Wolverines’ longtime and well-respected offensive coordinator takes over for Drass, who died suddenly on May 14. He’d been Wesley’s head coach for the past 25 seasons.

“My first thought is of Coach Drass and all the memories we went through as we worked on this program through the years,” said Knapp. “I feel like I have big shoes to fill trying to live up to his standard.

“It’s important to me to continue what he’s done and also keep his legacy alive.”

A former quarterback at Cornell, Knapp first came to Wesley in the spring of 1989 as an assistant coach. He was followed a few months later by Drass, another young assistant.

At the time, the Wolverines were just trying to win a game. They started out 0-19 as an NCAA Division III program.

The program that Knapp takes over, though, is considered a perennial small-college national contender. Wesley has made the NCAA Division III playoffs 13 seasons in a row with six appearances in the national semifinals.

Drass always thought of himself and Knapp to be equals — he ran the defense and Knapp ran the offense.

“When he and I started this together, there was never any doubt that this would be as much an equal partnership as it can be,” Drass joked last season, before adding with a laugh, “When I say that, he has 51 percent to my 49.”

“We never talked about this scenario really,” said Knapp. “A lot of the foundation that helped create the success was started a long time ago. There’s a lot to be proud of when you look back the work we put in.

“A lot of motivation for me is to make him proud.”

Mike Drass (Wesley sports information)

With Knapp running the show, Wesley annually puts up some of the best offensive stats in Division III.

Knapp has coached players to 48 All-American honors, 99 All-Region honors and 122 All-Conference awards. He helped quarterbacks Joe Callahan, Justin Sottilare and Chris Warrick to D3football.com Regional Players of the Year and Eastern College Athletic Conference Player of the Year accolades.

Callahan, Sottilare, Warrick, Shane McSweeny, Jason Visconti and running back E.J. Lee were named conference Player of the Year.

“The Wesley College athletic department is excited to promote veteran coach Chip Knapp as our fourth head coach since joining NCAA Division III,” interim athletic director Tracey Short said in a statement. “His work as the associate head coach and his role as the offensive coordinator has proven valuable in Wesley’s success over the past 29 years. I look forward to working with Chip and watching the football team flourish with him as head coach.”

Perhaps Knapp’s biggest football issue at the moment is filling out Wesley’s defensive coaching staff.

The Wolverines’ most veteran coaches — Knapp, receivers/assistant head coach Steve Azzanesi and line coach Jeff Braxton — are all on offense.

Knapp said there will be some more discussions before deciding the best way to approach the situation.

“There’s a lot of pieces to the puzzle,” said Knapp. “Obviously someone’s got to coach the defense and there’s several different options.”

There has been a perception that Knapp would never have the time to be a head coach because of his commitment to his wheelchair-bound son, Ben, who needs a great deal of special care.

Knapp says there was a time when it would have been very difficult for him to leave his son for longer stretches. But he says now the number of people who can take care of him — ‘Team Ben’ — has grown big enough that he feels more comfortable taking on the extra coaching responsibilities.

Knapp said he needed to know his family was OK with him becoming head coach before he took the job.

“I went to (wife) Cindy and she was all in,” said Knapp. “Then I went to Ben and Ben almost jumped out of his seat. He said he wanted to be my assistant. So he was all in and that was kind of neat to see.

“He spelled, ‘Uncle Mike would have wanted you to be the head coach.’”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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