Gregg Nesbitt has two families.
One is at home with his wife and children, while the other is the Hickman football program.
Sometimes these two families mesh together and sometimes they are completely separate entities. One thing is certain, however: Nesbitt is the father figure for both.
In his 12th year as football coach at Hickman, Nesbitt has seen a lot of people go through his program.
He’s watched celebrated players, like Korby Jones, come and go. He’s seen his two sons, Kellen and Ryan, both blossom into senior leaders on talented teams. He’s seen playoff teams, and he’s seen mediocre teams.
What he hasn’t seen during his tenure at Hickman, or even the 12 years of coaching before that, is the chance to lead a team to a championship. The first and last time Hickman won the title was in 1974.
That will no longer be the case when the Kewpies (10-1) play for the Class 6A state championship tonight at 7:05 against Hazelwood East (9-3) at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.
Arnel Monroe, who, along with Steve Luetjen, has served with Nesbitt as assistant since 1994, said that while Nesbitt has always worked to win a state championship, it has never has been for personal accolades.
“He has always wanted to win this game, but he’s always wanted to do it for the kids he’s coaching,” Monroe said. “That’s the most profound thing about Gregg.”
Just like at home with his wife, Jackie, Nesbitt’s role as a father to a storied program, comes first before anything else.
The Hickman football family that Nesbitt devotes the majority of time to each fall begins with his coaches and filters down to the freshmen.
No one ever questions his desire to win, but Nesbitt wants to make sure winning takes a back seat to the family.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say coaches are competitive people, but I enjoy watching young people grow and mature and turn into young men,” Nesbitt said. “The No. 1 goal is for this to be a positive experience or possibly the best experience they’ll have in high school.”
That’s why Nesbitt won’t feel a monkey being removed when Hickman plays for its first state championship in 30 years. He considers himself an educator first, and the outcome of one game will never change that.
“I don’t know of any other head coach that leads a program geared to each player having the best experience possible,” Monroe said. “He will always try to find a niche for a player, no matter if he’s a starting senior or a fourth-string freshman.”
Nesbitt has been around mid-Missouri football all his life, spending his high school playing days at Hannibal High and then continuing on his football career at Truman State.
As a fullback for Truman State, Nesbitt entered college as an accounting major with little aspirations of becoming a football coach. He roomed with three other players who all went on to coach after college.
Steve Rampey is the head coach at Blue Valley High School in Stillwell, Kan. Pete Grathwohl, who now lives in Columbia, coached at Mexico High School for five years. Gregg Williams spent three years as a head coach for the Buffalo Bills and is now the defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins.
Maybe it was destiny all along, but Nesbitt attributes his decision to become a football coach to his love for the game.
“I just decided that I wanted other kids to have the experience I had playing football,” Nesbitt said. “It’s not what the players can do to make me a better coach, but what I can do to make them better people.”
After four years at Truman State, Nesbitt began his coaching career as an assistant at Hannibal where he worked his way up to the top spot before taking a job as a defensive coordinator at his other alma mater, Truman State, in 1990.
One of the biggest areas in his coaching style that Nesbitt said he has changed over the years is the relationship with his assistants. Describing himself as a bit of a “control freak” in the early stages at Hickman, he now tries to allow his coaches more influence in the game plan.
“It’s a great honor as an assistant at Hickman because you know (Nesbitt) could do it himself. But he knows you can do it, and he trusts that you will do the job,” Monroe said.
Four out of the 11 coaches who make up Hickman’s staff work for no pay, a fact that Nesbitt credits to the quality of players who come through the program.
“As the success has escalated in the program, people just wanted to be a part of it,” Nesbitt said.
Like one big, happy family.