Matt Kelchner, the only coach in Christopher Newport's 10-year football history, may be considering leaving the program he helped build.
Kelchner is a finalist for the head coaching job at Division II Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, Kelchner's home state. Kelchner wouldn't comment on the Lock Haven job when reached by phone by a reporter on Friday, but said in a statement emailed by CNU that "it will have to be an absolutely outstanding fit."
Several newspapers in Pennsylvania reported Friday that Kelchner, former Lock Haven assistant John Allen and Brett Basanez, a former Northwestern quarterback who signed with the Carolina Panthers and the Chicago Bears, are the three finalists for the Lock Haven job.
Reached at home on Friday, Kelchner said, "I don't think it's appropriate for me to talk about this right now." A call to CNU athletic director C.J. Woollum was not immediately returned.
In the statement, Kelchner said, "President (Paul) Trible and Christopher Newport have been wonderful to me and my family. There are still many questions that we have about the opportunity at Lock Haven, and it will have to be an absolutely outstanding fit for us to consider making such a significant change. CNU is a remarkable institution, and our family loves the community."
Kelchner is a five-time USA South coach of the year. His record at Division III CNU is 68-37, a winning percentage of .648, and his teams have won one outright conference championship and tied for six others.
Kelchner was born in Harrisburg, Pa., about two hours southeast of Lock Haven. He graduated from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., and was an assistant coach at Mansfield University, where the fitness center is named in honor of Kelchner's father, Rod, who served as the school's football coach for four seasons and its president from 1984 until 1998.
Kelchner's parents now live in State College, Pa., about a half hour from Lock Haven.
Lock Haven has lost its last 32 football games. Former Lock Haven coach John Klacik, who was 5-60 in six years with the Bald Eagles, left in January to take the offensive coordinator position at Miami of Ohio.
The Lock Haven Express reported the university would begin interviewing candidates on Monday and could name its new coach as soon as next week.
Lock Haven's last victory was an overtime win at Clarion University in November 2007, and the school hasn't had a winning record in 29 seasons. Its losing streak is the longest in any division of college football. In January, Lock Haven president Barbara Dixon announced that the school's administration was committed to continuing the program.
The school has had off-field troubles as well. Athletic director Sharon Taylor's department has been involved in seven lawsuits in recent years, including a libel suit filed by Taylor against various community parties who allege she favors women's teams over men's.
Allen, currently the coordinator of player personnel and development at Penn State, coached at Lock Haven for six years in the 1990s after a playing career that included three years at James Madison and several seasons in NFL Europe. He believes Lock Haven is a place where the right coach can be successful.
"I've always kind of said it's a diamond in the rough," Allen told The Daily Press on Friday. "A lot of factors have to go into it, but with a lot of hard work, you can win there."
Allen said attractive points about the Lock Haven job include the chance to compete against teams in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, which includes Mercyhurst, which finished 2010 ranked No. 10 by D2football.com, as well as Bloosmburg (13th) and Kutztown (14th), and the prospect of mining the talent-rich state for recruits. He didn't specify an interview date with Lock Haven.
"It's kind of right in the middle of the process," he said. "I'm just waiting to hear what the next steps are going to be."
Kelchner coached at Mansfield in 1982 and at Dickinson College in 1983 before going to William and Mary. In his first season at CNU in 2001, the Captains went 5-4 and made the first of seven playoff appearances.