McKay is out, Hendrickson shakes up staff

Tom Loftus sports editor

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A fleet of ships set sail this fall, loaded with precious cargo.

When two of those carriers swerved off course, two powerful men wasted no time in making bold changes, the kind of changes that let the public know they have no patience for anything but getting back on track.

The “ships?”

Western Illinois University’s NCAA athletic programs.

The “cargo?”

Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of scholarship athletes.

The vessels that veered off course?

In a manner of speaking, the Leatherneck volleyball and football programs, both of which have tasted success in the past, but both of which finished last in their respective conferences this fall.

The changes?

Tim Van Alstine, Western’s director of athletics, announced Nov. 18 that Kym McKay’s 10-year reign as Leathernecks head volleyball coach has come to an end.

Mark Hendrickson, Western’s head football coach, announced Nov. 21 that three veteran assistant football coaches – defensive coordinator Tom Casey, offensive line coach Josh McCall and defensive line coach Steve McKane – will not be back for the 2012 season.

“I want to thank Kym for her years of service to Western Illinois,” Van Alstine said in a statement released to the media. “Our volleyball student-athletes always fared well in the classroom, and annually contended for the team GPA award in the athletics department and nationally.

“However, in recent years, we’ve dropped out of contention for a Summit League championship. We want our student-athletes to earn a diploma and win a championship ring. Our program has great potential. We need to find the right coach to get us back as annual contenders.”

McKay’s decade in charge of the volleyball team was the longest such current streak of any women’s coach at Western, and the third-longest tenure overall, behind men’s head soccer coach Eric Johnson (14 years) and men’s head golf coach Mel Blasi (13 years). Hendrickson has coached at Western for 13 years, but spent the first 11 as offensive coordinator.

Since joining Western in 2002, McKay saw 12 of her athletes earn first and second-team all-conference honors, and helped the program reach its apex of success in 2006.

Her overall record was just 108-193, however, including 64-88 in Summit League action. The Leathernecks were just 6-30 in league play over the last two seasons, and failed to qualify for postseason play the past four years. Although her Western winning percentage was just .359, her 108 coaching victories are second all-time in program history.

In 2005, McKay earned Coach of the Year honors in the Summit League after leading the then-Westerwinds to third place in the conference and an 11-3 league mark. She followed that up by directing Western to second place in the Summit League in 2006, the best finish in school history.

McKay was awarded a four-year contract extension in August 2008. At that time, Van Alstine said, “Coach McKay has built our program into an annual contender for the conference title. We want to be assured that she has the resources in place to continue to attract high-quality student athletes, compete at a regional level, and sustain a high level of success.”

Although McKay’s Leathernecks were remarkably successful in the classroom under her tenure, the team seemed to come up just short on the court time and time again.

Earlier this year, Western received the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Team Academic Award for maintaining a team grade point average of at least 3.30 for the entire 2010-11 academic year.

Only 91 other Division I women’s teams were so honored, and Western was one of just two Summit League teams to receive the award (South Dakota State being the other one). Under McKay’s leadership, Western captured the award five times in the past six years.

In matches against Summit League foes, the Leathernecks seemed talented enough to compete, and even win the occasional match. Freshman Molly Murphy led the league in service aces (0.39 per set), junior Bridget Murphy was No. 1 in the Summit League in digs (5.98 per set), and talented teammates like Sarah Fetter, Katie Hosteng, Cait Egan, Brooke Stittleburg, Megan Toczek and Alyssa Holum helped keep the Leathernecks close in almost every set.

In the end, though, Western was inevitably not quite tall enough, quick enough or perhaps versatile enough to hold off powerful foes like North Dakota State, Purdue-Fort Wayne and Oral Roberts.

“I want to thank the University and Dr. Tim Van Alstine for providing me with the opportunity to guide this program for the past 10 years,” McKay said in a statement. “I will cherish all of the experiences that I have had with each team, student-athlete, and staff member.

“The program made strides in the right direction this past season, and I look forward to seeing the players and new staff continue with this momentum next fall.”

Meanwhile, Western’s football coaching staff will have a new look next fall as well.

After compiling a 2-9 overall record, including a 1-7 mark in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, one year after finishing 8-5 and reaching the second round of the FCS playoffs, the Leathernecks’ top man apparently felt that he needed to bring in some new talent – and not just the kind that wears helmets and shoulder pads.

“I want to thank Tom Casey, Josh McCall and Steve McKane for their efforts on behalf of the Leatherneck football program,” Hendrickson said. “At the end of the season I review each position, and I feel these changes are necessary for the best interests of our program moving forward.”

Casey, who just completed his seventh season as Western’s defensive coordinator, was the most prominent coach to get the ax following the Leathernecks’ disappointing 2011 campaign. Western was outscored 397-168 this season, with opponents averaging 36.1 points per game to the Leathernecks’ 15.3.

Notable losses by Western this fall included a 69-0 thumping by Missouri; a 38-10 trouncing by Northern Iowa; a 56-14 humbler by Youngstown State; and a 31-17 loss to Missouri State – the Bears’ first win of the year after seven defeats.

In 2010, however, Western’s defense under Casey’s direction ranked among the top in the nation in several categories, including red zone defense (tied for 10th), turnover margin (10th), passing defense (23rd) and passing efficiency defense (31st). That season, led by First-Team All-America linebacker Kyle Grazier, the Leathernecks held their opponents to 22.6 points per game.

This fall, Western’s defense produced just 12 sacks vs. 19 last season, and allowed opponents to score in the red zone at a 67 percent clip, compared to just 57 percent last year.

McCall, a Macomb, Ill. native who played center for Western in 1997-99, just finished his ninth season with the Leathernecks’ coaching staff, and was in charge of the team’s offensive line.

Although the Leathernecks had a certain amount of success running the ball this fall, led by junior Caulton Ray (144 carries, 620 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) and freshman Nikko Watson (485 yards on 90 carries in just 4 games, 5.4 yards per carry), the team had great difficulty protecting its quarterback.

Backup Wil Lunt was lost for the season after fracturing his fibula against Youngstown State on Oct. 29. And starting quarterback Josh Hudson was so banged up by season’s end, he had to yield the No. 1 spot to third-stringer Cody Reardon for Western’s game against North Dakota State.

The Leathernecks gave up an astounding 37 sacks for 257 yards this season, and converted just 35 percent (62 of 176) of their third- and fourth-down opportunities.

McKane, a former center for the University of Utah, joined the Leathernecks staff in 2006, and was the team’s defensive line coach.

Although Western had one of the nation’s top defensive units during McKane’s tenure, this season the Leathernecks seemed to struggle for long stretches, and seemed prone to giving up big plays.

Indiana State got an 80-yard touchdown pass from Ronnie Fouch to Alex Jones to beat Western, 46-24. Youngstown State’s Kurt Hess threw scoring passes of 69 and 70 yards in his team’s 56-14 win. And a 50-yard keeper off of a fake by Redbirds quarterback Matt Brown helped Illinois State handle Western, 31-7.

A search for replacements for McKay and the three assistant football coaches is currently underway.

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