COLUMBIA — It had been just a little over a year, and Gregg Nesbitt had already been through three different schools: Hickman High School, Central Methodist University and the University of Central Missouri.
But that’s beside the point, because he was about to encounter something few fathers experience. At Central Missouri, he had the chance to coach his younger son, Ryan Nesbitt, on defense, while getting to coach with his older son, Kellen Nesbitt, at the same time.
In February 2006, Greg Nesbitt felt it was time to step down as the Hickman football coach after 13 years at the helm of the team. But the decision wasn’t an easy one for Gregg Nesbitt, who had compiled nearly 100 wins during his tenure at the school.
“It was extremely hard, particularly because of the coaching staff,” Gregg Nesbitt said. “We had been together for several years and built bonds and relationships. We were like brothers. We were like our own family.
“I think it was a lot harder on me than it was on them.”
A new era was about to begin for the Nesbitt family.
REUNITED WITH RYAN
There were many reasons for Gregg Nesbitt to make a move to Central Methodist. One could say it was so his family could be closer to the hometown of his wife, Jackie Nesbitt, in Fayette. Another reason could be that he wanted a change of scenery, from Friday night games to Saturday afternoon matinees.
But a big influence to choose the school was that his youngest son, Ryan Nesbitt, was a scholarship player for the Eagles football team on defense.
Ryan Nesbitt was a sophomore at the time and played free safety in the defensive secondary for Central Methodist. He had played under his father for three seasons at Hickman, earning All-State honors during his senior season for the Kewpies.
Playing for his father was nothing out of the ordinary for Ryan Nesbitt.
“It’s always got its challenges, being a coach and coaching your son,” Ryan Nesbitt said. “There’s the trust and the respect that comes from that standpoint, but it definitely is a blessing to me. I think my dad is a very intelligent football coach. It’s very exciting to get to work with him again.”
Even though Gregg Nesbitt took the reins for the Central Methodist defense during the 2006 season, he decided to stay involved with Hickman, remaining as the physical education coordinator of the school.
Since he was split between the two jobs, Gregg Nesbitt felt it would be best to remain living in Columbia and commute to Fayette when he performed his role as defensive coordinator at Central Methodist.
“It wasn’t much of a problem,” Gregg Nesbitt said. “Practice there began around 4 or 4:30 p.m., so it was pretty easy to travel over there after school.”
The Eagles finished 3-8 during Gregg Nesbitt’s first season in 2006, near the bottom of the Heart of America Athletic Conference standings. But after one season at Central Methodist, he received some news he felt he couldn’t pass up.
AN OFFER TOO GOOD TO REFUSE AGAIN
Late in the summer of 2006, UCM football coach Willie Fritz contacted Gregg Nesbitt about a job opening for a defensive coaching position for the Mules that fall. While the position was a great opportunity for Gregg Nesbitt, he just couldn’t leave Central Methodist without a defensive coordinator.
“I didn’t want to make a switch at that particular point in time to either the high school or Central Methodist,” Gregg Nesbitt said.
In January, Fritz spoke to him again, putting on the table an offer to be the Mules’ co-defensive coordinator for the 2007 season.
This time, he couldn’t turn the offer down.
“I’ve been impressed with what he and his staff have done here,” Gregg Nesbitt said. “It’s a beautiful facility, a great university with all the spoils here.”
While the decision for Gregg Nesbitt to make the switch was easy, it left Ryan Nesbitt with a dilemma. Should he keep his athletic scholarship and stay at Central Methodist in Fayette, or should he transfer to UCM in Warrensburg to follow his father and try to join the Mules’ football team as a walk-on player?
“We sat down, and my dad told me he was going to take (the job),” Ryan Nesbitt said. “At that point, he told me two weeks before that he had been offered it so I had a while to think about it. So I completely shut down that night we talked about it and I think I made my decision that night as well (to go with him).”
The good news for Ryan Nesbitt was that UCM was a step up from Central Methodist. Now he would be playing at the NCAA Division II level, instead of playing in the NAIA.
The bad news is that he would be starting from scratch, having to earn playing time as a free safety for the Mules and battle tougher opponents.
“Going in, I really didn’t know what to expect,” Ryan Nesbitt said. “I’ve always been slightly undersized, but I think the two years of playing at Central Methodist really helped with the transition going to Central Missouri, just for the fact that playing two years of college football helped with the adjustment of the speed of the game.”
With Ryan Nesbitt making the move to UCM, he wasn’t going to be coached by just his father. His older brother, Kellen Nesbitt, would also be alongside him on the sidelines as a graduate assistant with the Mules.
A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE NESBITTS
Kellen Nesbitt played four seasons as a safety for the Mules and will earn a degree in physical education next spring. Following his four years of football eligibility, he decided to remain at UCM and coach with the football team.
“I was just going to try and help out,” Kellen Nesbitt said. “It’s been a good experience here. I knew I wanted to coach from a pretty young age, so that’s kind of a natural transition for me. My dad coming here just put even more icing on the cake.”
Kellen Nesbitt had played football for his father at Hickman, but coaching with him at the collegiate level was something he didn’t take for granted. He said his father has been a great mentor as he ventures into the coaching ranks.
“It’s good to be back with him, seeing him every day. We’re in the office with each other a lot,” Kellen Nesbitt said.
As a graduate assistant, Kellen Nesbitt is the coach for the Mules’ safeties, and one of them happens to be his brother.
“Ryan is a great guy,” Kellen Nesbitt said. “He’s making a big jump going from Central Methodist to here, and I think I was one of the only people who really, truly believed that he had a shot to play here. He’s a good, smart football player and I know he looks up to me.”
After this season, Kellen Nesbitt isn’t sure what his future holds. While coaching at the high school level is an option, he can also see himself remaining at UCM with the football team.
“As long as Dad is here and Ryan is here, with a program that I’ve put a lot into, then there’s a good chance that I’ll probably stick around,” Kellen Nesbitt said.
The three last stood on the sidelines together during Hickman’s championship run in 2004, when Kellen Nesbitt watched alongside his father, and his brother was a strong fixture on the Kewpies defense.
It was a unique experience during a breakthrough year for the Kewpies, who won their first state title since 1974, and the three Nesbitts enjoyed it together.
“I just remember that it was an incredible atmosphere,” Ryan Nesbitt said. “My brother came down with four of his friends from college and he was on the sidelines.”
But now, the entire Nesbitt family is together again in Warrensburg, something that hasn’t happened since Kellen Nesbitt graduated from Hickman and left to go to UCM in 2002.
“I’ve got the unique opportunity to work with my dad and my brother every day,” Ryan Nesbitt said. “It’s a joy every day for me to get to go in there and work with them and learn more and more about football. I can’t be happier to be where I’m at right now.”
Just like one big, happy football family.