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Eric Peterson, Published May 04 2011

Peterson: Concordia gives retirement-bound Kohler his time to shine

MOORHEAD - A steady stream of well-wishers flowed through Concordia’s Birkeland Alumni Lounge for about an hour to pay tribute to Bob Kohler, a fixture on campus for a quarter of a century.

“I just did my job,” said Kohler, as he scanned the room filled with family, friends, students, faculty and administrators. “I took care of the kids.”

Kohler did his job well judging by the turnout for his retirement reception Tuesday. After more than two decades, Kohler, 64, is stepping down from his full-time duties at the school. He will continue to sell athletic advertising for the school.

Kohler, who has been in education for 41 years, isn’t going cold turkey either. He wants to substitute teach next fall and also be an assistant basketball coach at the high school or junior high level.

After all, the kids are what Kohler is going to miss most as he leaves his full-time role at Concordia, where he’s worn many hats. He’s been an assistant coach for both the men’s and women’s basketball programs and the head women’s coach. Kohler has been on the football staff since 1987.

“The guy has got a heart of gold,” Concordia head football coach Terry Horan said. “He is like a second dad to all these kids. I’m sad for all those future Cobbers who won’t have a chance to connect with such a fun-loving individual like Bob.”

Kohler was hired to be on the men’s basketball staff in 1986 in a part-time role. The next school year, he was hired full-time and added assistant football coach, teacher and advisor to his job titles.

Armin Pipho, who was then Concordia’s athletic director, hired Kohler.

“I’m really thankful that Armin gave me the chance,” Kohler said.

Kohler will miss daily interactions with students, student-athletes and school staff. The door to his office in Memorial Auditorium was always open. Kohler will miss Doug Perry’s “innovative” plays from Sunday junior varsity football games. He will miss the recruiting trips to area high schools. Kohler will miss teaching and advising. He will miss the football road trips.

“I’m going to miss crawling in that van on Friday night with seven, eight college kids and listening to their stories,” Kohler said. “That was a great 3½, 4 hours on Friday night.”

Kohler felt he got back more than he gave during his 25 years at Concordia.

“When you think of it, there are so many people like me on this campus,” Kohler said.

A few moments later, a well-wisher told Kohler: “There is nobody like you. You know that, and we love you for it.”

Concordia became a second family for Kohler. The athletes he coached helped him through tough times. His wife, Nancy, and son, Brady, died in a car accident in 1999. Nancy was 52 and Brady was 13.

“I remember the weeks that followed that, how much time those football players spent at my house,” Kohler said. “I had my own family for which I’m really thankful, but they were my college family.”

Kohler is grateful he had a chance to work with many great coaches and mentors throughout his career.

A week ago, around 30 football players held a surprise dinner for Kohler at a local restaurant. The players gave Kohler a scrapbook. Each senior had a write-up in the book about what Coach Kohler meant to them. Kohler proudly displayed that book Tuesday.

“I think if you’re in coaching and you don’t take advantage of the relationships … to me that is as big as winning and losing,” Kohler said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com