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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 30 2012

Schnepf: Feeney keeps coaching in dad's image

Moorhead - Tonight when Moorhead High School’s football team opens another season, head coach Kevin Feeney will perform his usual, intense sideline show of fist-pumping, pacing, referee-badgering and head-set adjusting.

If you look hard enough, you just might see a little bit of Bob Feeney on the sidelines of Jim Gotta Stadium.

“I’ve heard that he is the exact image of his father,” said Moorhead senior running back Chase Morlock.

Bob Feeney, for those of you who don’t know, lived and breathed football yearround. He won 169 games and two state titles in his 25 years at Bismarck High, where he coached his three sons, including Kevin.

Last month, Bob Feeney passed away at the age of 73. Alzheimer’s took his life much quicker than expected, just one month after he enjoyed a Mexican vacation with his entire family.

Tonight, for the first time in his playing and coaching career, Kevin Feeney will be a part of a football game knowing his dad will not physically be there.

One coach described Bob Feeney as two different people: gentle, caring and calm off the field while intense and demanding on the field.

Is Kevin Feeney the same way?

“I certainly hope so,” Feeney said. “I think I take a lot of things I saw and learned from him.”

As a 9-year-old, he watched his dad enthusiastically describe X’s and O’s he charted in his home. “I had no idea what he was talking about,” Feeney said.

From second grade to ninth grade, Feeney rode the team bus to every varsity football game heeding the advice of his mother: “No talking to your dad during the game.”

A Feeney summer vacations meant jumping in the van to a football camp in Nebraska or California or to the annual national coaches convention.

“You never wanted to disappoint him, because he wanted you to do well and he wanted to give you every opportunity to do well,” Feeney said. “You learned that if you do your hard work, you’ll get what you deserve.”

That reminded Feeney of a story during his quarterbacking career at North Dakota State. As a sophomore, Feeney was benched at the end of a loss to Nebraska-Omaha.

“I can’t believe they took me out,” Feeney blurted to his folks, sitting in their van ready for their three-hour drive home to Bismarck. “I knew right away I said the wrong thing when my mom turned her back to my dad.”

That’s when Bob hopped out of the van and lectured Kevin: “You obviously have not put in enough effort at practice to earn it.”

So much for the pity party. Bob and Janice drove home and Kevin never sat again, amassing 7,241 career total yards, a record that still stands at NDSU.

It was just last month when Kevin and his two brothers and three sisters were reminded of their father’s passion for football. Sitting next to the bed where Bob lay, unable to speak, Kevin scoured text messages his Moorhead High School assistant coaches were sending him about his team’s weightlifting testing day.

“Chase Morlock just went over 1,000 pounds,” blurted Kevin, who noticed his dad’s eyes grow bigger. “His lips were even moving, trying to talk. He knew exactly what I was talking about.”

Just like those countless Saturday morning film sessions Bob had during Kevin’s 0-9 season at Fargo Shanley. Just like the time Bob opted to end his critique sessions midway through Kevin’s coaching career at Fargo South, where he built a 64-8 record and three state championships.

Just like the time Bob saw Kevin’s Moorhead team win a section championship at Moorhead last year.

“That was his last football game,” Kevin said, pausing to clear the lump in his throat. “Wow … I never thought about it like that before. That was his last game.”

Not really, because a lot of Bob Feeney will be on the sidelines tonight.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com