The Quincy University football program had been dormant since the end of the 1953 season, so when the decision was made in 1986 to relaunch it, the Hawks needed a coach willing to build from the ground up.
Randy Dickens liked the challenge.
Dickens had been an assistant coach at Indiana University, Wabash College and Rose Holman College, but he left the state of Indiana to become the Hawks' first coach. In five seasons, he took the program from playing a junior varsity schedule to nearly making the NAIA playoffs. Along the way, he helped lay the groundwork for a program that now competes at the NCAA Division II level.
Dickens' father, Phil, was a head coach at Indiana, Wyoming and Wofford. Now Dickens is a life-long coach himself. He's served as an assistant at Culver-Stockton College and returned to coach at QU under Bill Terlisner. He served as the head coach at Quincy High School from 2002-06, leading the Blue Devils to the playoffs in 2003.
Now 64 years old, Dickens is still coaching, serving as a varsity assistant at QHS and helping Jose Quintero orchestrate the Blue Devils' defense.
Is it hard to believe it has been 30 years since the program was reborn?
What's amazing is my son (Tyler) just turned 30. When we came here, he was six months old. So 30 years, that's a long time. It's pretty interesting to relate it to that. It was fun because you got to put your stamp on it and do it your way. A lot of people don't get that opportunity. You often take over a program that's been down for so many years, and you have to try to rebuild it. We just started from scratch. What was amazing was the kids we recruited who actually came in. We had nothing to show them. We had no weight room at that time. I had been hired in April and was expected to have a team ready in August. So we had to go like gangbusters. Thank goodness I had Dan Bertrand. Dan was just super, super organized and a good recruiter. We wouldn't have gotten the class we had.
Did many kids on campus want to play?
We had five kids who came out who were on campus, and we brought 40 in through recruiting. Talk about going into every place you could possibly go in as quickly as we could, we tried it. I thought we did a good job. We brought in some really good players who became the heart and soul of our team for four years. They were great leaders for us. That first year was really interesting. Even though we played a JV schedule, you still have to get it organized. And we got all the things they said we were going to get. We got the weight room finally done and they fixed up the stadium a little bit. I'd love to have the stadium they have now. Wow, that's a beautiful facility. That would have helped a lot in recruiting. But we had kids who came because they were going to play. That's the one thing we could sell them on. I said, "You're it. You guys are it. You're going to get all the snaps you want." We got some local kids, which was great. Then we got kids from St. Louis and Bloomington and a few from Chicago.
It got easier, didn't it?
The second year it's a little bit easier, but you're still doing the same thing. You're selling the program. We started expanding our recruiting area. We expanded to Florida, which was huge for us. We probably had 20 kids each year from Florida. That was a gold mine for us. Our mainstay was basically Chicago, St. Louis. We got some kids from Indianapolis because I had the Indiana connections. We got some kids out of Ohio because we had the Padua connection with the Franciscans. So we got into Cleveland and got a few kids out of Ohio. At the end of the day, we had about 110 kids and maintained that.
When did you see progress?
We started out as a JV program that first year and went 6-3. The next year we go varsity and we're freshmen and sophomores. We go 2-8. Then we go 5-5, which was good because we're making progress and we're playing a good schedule. The next year (in 1989), we go 7-2-1 and that was a great year. If we would have beaten Culver-Stockton and if we could have beaten Greenville, we might have made the playoffs. They were looking at us as a playoff team. One of the committee members was at Illinois Benedictine and told me, "You guys are being looked at." If we had won both those games (the 30-29 loss to Culver-Stockton and the 21-21 tie with Greenville), we would have had a chance of getting in the playoffs. That was nice to hear. Our kids just really played well and took to coaching.
Was the opportunity to build your own program what lured you here?
You don't get that opportunity to put your own stamp on it and to do it your way very often. You come in and take over a program, and you have kids who may not want to be there or they really liked the other coach. You have to work through that and get their trust. In this case, you brought these kids in, you recruited them. It makes a huge difference. It really does. When you see coaches go into a program, they're usually letting kids go for one reason or another. They're not fitting into the system or they don't want to be there. It would have been a tougher transition if there had already been a coach at QU and you had to work through those things.
Do you remember the first victory?
Wow, that's going back a long way. The one I do remember was our first home game against Central Methodist, and we won that one. It was a nip and tuck game. What's funny is I talked with Larry Anderson, who was the coach at Central Methodist, and they are coming over knowing it's a JV game. So they are thinking it's just going to be a JV game like all the rest. And he says, "All of a sudden, we pull up and they've got this tailgate and they've got tents up and they've got everything going on." He said there was a huge crowd. Usually, the JV plays in front of parents. Here, the stadium was packed. He said their kids came out and their eyes were this big and they were like, "This is a JV game?" That was an experience for me. We had gone and played at Iowa Wesleyan, and there were probably 50 people there. Then we come back here for the first game, and it's packed. I have pictures of the crowd, and it shows the whole stadium was filled up. It was really cool. The kids loved it because here's a crowd, and people were excited.
What is it like to see the stadium and the success QU is having this year?
You have to have those things like the stadium and great facilities. I was just watching the Big Ten Network, and that's what they were talking about. All Big Ten schools, all 14 of them, have all of the facilities they need -- the indoor facility, great weight room facilities, just everything. If you don't, you're not going to match up with people recruiting-wise. Kids look at that. They look at your facilities. It was different for us. It was, "You get a chance to play." Our facilities really didn't match up with a lot of the people we were playing.
Is it special to sit back and think about helping get this program started?
It is to a certain degree, but the coaches now have taken it to the next level. Getting a following and getting the facilities is vital. The university has a lot to do with that. They have to continue to improve their facilities because everyone else is doing it. That's exactly what the Division I schools are saying. We have to continue to develop our facilities and not sit still because you're going to get run over. I'm sure in QU's league, and I haven't been to every school, but I'm sure most of them have decent facilities. You have to be able to match up. Looking at what QU has right now, they match up. It's pretty impressive just seeing it as you drive by. That press box is impressive, and the big QU logo in the middle of the field, that's classy looking. And the big scoreboard. Having all that is tremendous.
How much does football impact the campus culture?
When we came in, the enrollment skyrocketed. We went from all of the faculty and staff being on a salary freeze, and we when we came in, they started getting raises. Not only were we bringing in kids for football, but brothers, sisters, cousins, friends started coming. Instead of just 100, there were like 300 more students. Holy moly, that's a big increase. That's when they started having to open up more dorms. Not only was there an impact on the football program, but it influenced the entire student population and the school. It was a huge, huge shot in the arm. Here's something to think about. When I first started there, the total cost to attend QU was $7,820. And I think in my second or third year, after scholarships and such, each football player was paying around $6,800. So with 110 kids, they were making about $750,000 and our budget was only about $190,000. We did a lot of things for the school, not only for football, but for the school itself.
During that time, you came to appreciate Quincy and make it your home.
I was looking for another college job, but when you get let go at the end of April, it's hard to find a college job. Fortunately, (then Quincy superintendent) George Meyer said, "Hey, I'm going to hold a job for you." That was nice of him, and he did it. I took it, and it worked out well for me. I was able to be with my son and watch him during his golf career and do those kind of things. Had I been a college coach all that time, it would have been hard to do that, especially if I had been an assistant because I would have been gone all the time. Then I got involved in high school coaching and started out with Ray Face at Quincy High School. So it has been good. This is a great place to raise your family. You just don't have the crime and the problems that you have in the larger cities and the larger communities.
Staying here has led to new opportunities and memorable moments, right?
Being the head coach (at QHS) was interesting. The first year, we made progress. We won two games after they hadn't won any games in a couple of years. Then we went to the playoffs, something they hadn't done in 17 years. After that, we had good teams that just couldn't get over the hump. We lost so many games by one, two, three points that it was unbelievable. It was like, "Oh my gosh, we have a chance to win this one." And we'd lose a close one, but we were able to maintain and still compete in the Western Big Six Conference. We had been the doormat for so many years where we couldn't even really compete in the conference. We were competitive. It's really due to the guys who stay in there and hang with their program. You've got some guys who have been around for 20, 30, 35 years who are really good coaches. You don't see that very often. (QHS coach Rick Little) has taken it to another level. The consistency is showing now. It's good for the community. When you see the stands full and people coming back for homecoming and people investing money in the program, it's huge. It's great to see.
Why do you still enjoy coaching?
It keeps you young. You're around the kids, and they're funny. They crack you up. They're just fun to be around. It's fun to see kids develop. You'll watch them from the beginning of the season until the end of the season and all of a sudden you're like, "Hey, that kid has really improved a lot." Or you'll see them one year to the next, and you're like, "Holy moly, this kid is totally different." That's what it is all about. It's definitely not about the money. If you do this for the money at this level, you're in the wrong profession. This is about the kids and the love of the game. You want to see them develop. And when you have kids come back and say, "Hey, coach, I really appreciate what you did for me and you taught me some discipline and how to motivate myself," that's your payment.