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HHS set to begin search for replacement

By AUSTIN COLBERT

acolbert@dailynews.net

Monday was the final day of winter recess for Hays High School. It was a last chance for the students to spend the morning in their warm beds, trying to ignore what was ahead of them when they returned to the classroom the next day.

For the teachers, Monday meant a return to work. And for HHS principal Marty Straub and athletic director Clint Albers, it was a day to recuperate from a tough loss and to prepare for what looked to be a long week ahead.

"There is almost a mourning process we go through," Straub said. "I think I had that Sunday night when I knew what was coming around the corner. I didn't sleep very well, and neither did Clint, I'm sure."

It was Sunday night when Ryan Cornelsen, the Indians' football coach the past five seasons, made his decision to accept a job as the football coach at Hutchinson High School. That decision was known to few until Tuesday morning, when Cornelsen broke the news to his players before the start of school.

It didn't take long before the phones started ringing.

"It's been a busy couple of days with phone calls and emails and texts. I've had to charge my phone several times throughout the last couple of days," Albers said.

"Our first priority was he be able to talk to the kids first so they heard it from him before they heard it being tweeted out by someone. In this day and age, it's hard to keep something like that quiet because if one person knows, the world knows."

Cornelsen will move to Hutchinson in the summer to replace Randy Dreiling, who in 17 years won 160 games and seven state titles with the Salthawks. Dreiling resigned in December to become the coach at St. Thomas Aquinas in Overland Park.

Now Straub and Albers are beginning the process of replacing Cornelsen, who in five years has changed the landscape surrounding Hays High football. Cornelsen went 35-12 in those five seasons, taking the Indians to the state playoffs in 2011 and 2012, the first time the school ever made it to the postseason in back-to-back years. Its last playoff appearance before that was in 1995.

It's a far cry from where the program was following the resignation of former coach Rick Blosser, which led to HHS hiring Cornelsen -- who had just finished his sixth season at La Crosse -- in January 2009.

"They (coaches) want to leave it in better shape than when they took over. And he's done that, definitely," Albers said of Cornelsen. "This job is an attractive job now to people, as evident by the amount of interest I've had. It's a much more attractive job now that it was five years ago when he took the job."

According to Straub, the main difference between now and then is expectations. The goals set by players prior to Cornelsen often included being a starter and winning the WAC. But under Cornelsen, "those two things weren't good enough."

Cornelsen expected players to compete for starting spots and win WAC titles, but he also expected winning records and trips to state playoffs, all goals that were achieved nearly every season he was at Hays High.

"The impact that Ryan Cornelsen had ... you know, he made an impact on a ton of kids and that's very, very positive for our school and those kids," Straub said. "He's not running from anything -- he is running to something. He is proud of what he's done here. We are proud of what he's done here."

Straub and Albers know replacing Cornelsen won't be easy. The 35-year-old is 88-25 in 11 seasons as a football coach and has also coached the Hays High track and field program, leading the boys' team to four straight Class 5A state titles.

But with all the success on the football field in recent years, Albers said he has seen a "great deal of interest" in regards to the open coaching position.

As of Thursday evening, the paperwork regarding Cornelsen's resignation had yet to be processed, meaning the job opening has yet to be officially announced. Albers expects it to be completed in the next few days, allowing the school to begin a more formal coaching search.

Until then, Straub and Albers spend most of their time fielding calls from various individuals who just want to know more details about the opening. Once the formal application process begins, a search committee will be created to help select the new coach.

"I won't put a number to it, but we've had a lot of phone calls and emails and inquiries about the job the last few days," Albers said. "As far as a selection committee, we haven't organized that yet because we are not ready to interview. Once we get ready to interview we will organize that selection committee and it will obviously involve more than myself."

Albers feels there is no rush to name a new coach. Neither he nor Straub have any specific criteria they are looking for and want "somebody that is going to be good for our kids and for our program."

They said the committee would take as long as it needs to in order to find the right person for the job.

"You hire the best person that you can and keep them as long as you can. And I guess Ryan's stay here ran its course," Straub said. "I'm optimistic. Not that I won't miss Ryan, but I can't miss him too much. There will be a time for all of us to move on just like he's had to do. When we see one another we will shake hands and enjoy the conversation and reminisce a little bit, too. No hard feelings.

"He is a good guy, a good person, and we will do our best to find a good person, too. He will make it easier. He doesn't want somebody to have failure when they come here. I think that speaks to his character," Straub added. "We wish him the very best."