By: Lenny Megliola, Special to the News
Tom Kelley is one of only a handful of college football coaches who also don the hat of athletic director. It's never easy. It makes for long days into night. Kelley doesn't have to just focus on his team — he has to oversee 11 other teams.
After his annual two-week summer escape to Martha's Vineyard, Framingham State University football coach and athletic director Tom Kelley returned to campus on Monday.
Although practice wouldn't begin until Aug. 12, Kelley bumped into a few players who had something to tell the coach.
He had been a social media hotshot while on vacation.
"They said, 'We saw you all over the place.'" Kelley was perplexed. Besides his immediate family, who would even know Kelley on the island? He wasn't wearing any Framingham State apparel, and it's not like a Division III coach would be recognized like, say, Alabama's Nick Saban. Still, Kelley's players insisted the FSU coach, not to be mistaken for the FSU coach in Tallahassee, Florida, killed it on social media.
The mystery lingers, Kelley and his players shared the humor of it, and the discussion quickly turned to the Rams' upcoming season.
Kelley is one of only a handful of college football coaches who also don the hat of athletic director. It's never easy. It makes for long days into night. Kelley doesn't have to just focus on his team — he has to oversee 11 other teams.
In order to give his undivided attention to the football squad during the season, Kelley meets with coaches and staff every morning. He normally arrives at 9 a.m. "We discuss all the teams," he said. It's not unusual for Kelley to be in his office until nine or 10 in the evening. He has no complaints. "I have 14 full-time people (in the athletic department), so I delegate a lot. They're doing the heavy lifting in the fall."
Kelley has an immediate issue. He needs a field hockey coach. "I'm scrambling to fill that position. Fortunately we haven't had a lot of turnover with coaches."
Kelley, 62, has had the dual role since 2007. Prior to that, the football team endured terrible seasons. The Rams had a stretch of 24 seasons without a winning record.
Tim Flanagan had just taken over as the school's president in 2005. The guy loved football. "He asked me, 'Why don't we have more wins?' I was getting nervous that he might drop football," said Kelley.
Kelley had played football at Framingham State. He also had a stint as coach. "When (Flanagan) saw that, my name was thrown on the table," said Kelley. Flanagan wanted the program fixed. He put it all on Kelley.
"I liked pressure. I was convinced I could do it," said Kelley. The Rams went 2-7 that first season. Baby steps turned to progress which turned to moderate success. Then the Rams broke through. Over the last five years, their record is 46-10 and FSU has become a perennial MASCAC power. "Now I'm getting emails that we don't win enough," Kelley laughed.
"Tom's done a fantastic job," said Javier Cevallos, who took over as FSU's president four years ago. Cevallos, who was president of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania for 12 years, appreciates how Kelley focused on the big picture, which isn't exclusively winning football games.
"This is a Division III school, they're here to get an education. Tom's done a tremendous job with that," said Cevallos.
Cevallos, who lives on campus with his wife, attends as many games as time allows. The history of the school, founded in 1839, intrigued him. "It was the first public school in the United States for the education of teachers."
The Rams finished 8-3 and went to a bowl game last season, but there is a caveat that should drive the Rams. "It was the first time we didn't win the conference in seven years," said Kelley.
So how's it shaping up? "We only graduated five guys," said the coach. "We're going to be young. But we had a lot of freshmen and sophomores who saw a lot of action. Right now we're just having meetings and fine-tuning practice (schedules). We're preparing for every minute."
Kelley runs the spread offense, which attracts skill players in high school, especially quarterbacks. The Rams had generally been solid on defense. "One year I said, 'Let's run the spread,'" said Kelley. The Rams have never looked back.
"The great thing about Division III is if you've got a problem you can fix it. If you need a quarterback or a linebacker you can go out and (recruit) one," said Kelley.
The Rams play home games at Bowditch Field downtown, a recruiting tool in itself, Kelley feels. "It's a great D-III venue. We're drawing pretty good crowds. Playing on grass is a big advantage. Plymouth State is the only other conference team with grass."
Kelley understands the reasons for the rise of FSU football. "We stress the heck out of academics. It's worked, and it's still working." The school's location is a plus. "There are restaurants and movie theaters in Framingham. And we're close to Boston."
Still, it boils down to the human touch, said Kelley. "There's no secret. Just surround yourself with good people." And make sure they're not too enamored with social media.