BRISTOL - Chris Kennedyâ€™s coaching career was exiting the pandemic on an ideal trajectory. Kennedy led the St. Paul boys lacrosse team to the semifinals of the Class S State Tournament for the first time in program history in 2021; and after the summer he was set to embark on his first season as the head football coach at St. Paul, taking over for his mentor, Jude Kelly, whom he played for and coached under for more than three decades.
Then a new opportunity presented itself.
This fall will be Kennedyâ€™s inaugural season as the head coach of the CREC football program, a co-op football team between CREC schools Civic Leadership, Aerospace and the Metropolitan Learning Center. The program is less than 10 years old and needed its first leader to put the team in a position to flourish and establish a culture to grow from.
â€śA friend of mine got in touch with me and told me one of his friends was looking for someone to really build a program, not just build a team,â€ť Kennedy said. â€śHe explained they had some not-ideal coaching situations in the past and they wanted to really commit to building a solid football program and they needed the right person to do it.â€ť
Kennedy will work at Civic Leadership in Enfield as a behavioral specialist during the day and then coach football after school. Civic Leadership is the host school for the CREC co-op and much of what attracted Kennedy to the position was the opportunity to build something from the ground up and make a positive impact on the lives of his players.
â€śIn todayâ€™s day and age, itâ€™s not like it was when I was a kid in school where all of the coaches were teachers in the school,â€ť Kennedy said. â€śI didnâ€™t know that opportunity like this was going to come for me. So I am very excited to become and member of the CREC community and start building those relationships in the school so that I can make sure that Iâ€™m putting the best product out on the field that I can.â€ť
The CREC team first took the field in 2015 and most recently posted a 6-4 record in 2019 as a member of the ECC. The team will play in the Pequot this year as Kennedy takes the field as the head coach of a high school football team for the first time.
It is rare someone accepts their second head coaching position before ever coaching a game in their first, but Kennedy was obviously facing different circumstances. While he was more than honored to take over for Kelly, he saw this a chance to take the next step in his life.
â€śIâ€™ve been at St. Paul for a long time,â€ť Kennedy said. â€śMy time there with Coach Kelly and the whole school has been really special, but having been [there] almost two decades, with my son leaving, it almost felt like it was time to start a second career, or second coaching life. It felt like if I was going to make a change, this was the time to do it. Iâ€™m really excited to try and build something from scratch.â€ť
Kennedy will remain at the head of the boys lacrosse team at St. Paul, a program heâ€™s already built into a flourishing team, because it was important for him to continue the work heâ€™s done with those players. He said not being allowed to maintain that part of his relationship with St. Paul may have been a deal-breaker for this new position, but luckily for him, both sides were cooperative about the Falcons keeping their boys lacrosse coach.
â€śOne of the things that made this possible was both organizations, both CREC and St. Paul, were both totally behind me continuing to coach lacrosse at St. Paul,â€ť Kennedy said. â€śThe building, the people are so much a part of my life, it may have been a different scenario if that wasnâ€™t the case. But the opportunity to keep my relationship with St. Paul and stay a part of that community and continue to build the lacrosse program while changing my day job and putting all of my football efforts into the CREC program, itâ€™s the best of both worlds.â€ť
Kennedy is a firm believer in how high school sports can benefit teenagers as a learning experience both athletically and psychologically, so the opportunity to be the one who implements that in a young team to establish a new culture for years to come was a dream opportunity. He wants to be an instrumental part of helping these kids grow up and learn how to carry themselves on and off the field.
â€śThe fact that they had teams, but I donâ€™t think theyâ€™ve really had a football program, something that can stand the test of time and as people come and go the program continues to stand for the same things and do the same things,â€ť Kennedy said. â€śI was taught by the best in the business at what it takes to do that and I think this gives me the best opportunity to put all of those lessons and skills that I learned from The Boss to use. I think I can do good things there.â€ť
St. Paul is expected to announce its updated coaching staff for football soon and while Kennedy will be with his new team, his energy will still be felt in the Falconsâ€™ locker room after dedicating 16 seasons there. The overlap he created between football and lacrosse at St. Paul should keep a small piece of him in Bristol during the fall season even though he will be in Enfield.
â€śThereâ€™s definitely a culture he brought and a symbiotic relationship a little bit between football and lacrosse,â€ť St. Paul Athletic Director Dave Dennehy said. â€śWhether they were football players learning lacrosse or lacrosse players learning football, you had a lot of kids that were part of both programs, and certainly Chris will continue to support that relationship. Even though heâ€™ll only be with us in the spring, heâ€™ll certainly continue to impact the St. Paul community all year round.â€ť
The future of the St. Paul football program is still somewhat unclear as the new coaches are finalized, but Dennehy is not worried and neither is Kennedy. The culture maintained by Kelly and Kennedy for most of this century are set to live on even without either of them there to take the lead.
For Kennedy, the focus is now finding how to develop a similar culture in a new place with a team made up of players from three different schools.
â€śThe new job for Chris is a career opportunity,â€ť Dennehy said. â€śWith his regular job on top of having the opportunity to coach football, CREC came knocking on his door for the same reasons we hired him as the head coach and all the things we appreciated about him on the staff at St. Paul for the last 15 years, CREC is lucky to have him. Heâ€™ll certainly be missed on the football side of things, but thereâ€™s no worries there. We have a lot of great remaining staff in place and some potential new hires that weâ€™re excited about.â€ť
Succeeding a man heâ€™s known for nearly 40 years seemed to be the ideal path for Kennedy, so taking a step back from the St. Paul community was a difficult decision. Because not everyone gets to be a part of an environment like the one heâ€™s been with since 2005, Kennedy is taking the chance to plant a new seed where more kids can have fun as members of a football team.
â€śCoach Kelly made me a part of the family at that school, [he] welcomed me with open arms,â€ť Kennedy said. â€ś[After] 17 years with the team, the opportunity last year to take over I was really excited for that and Iâ€™m still excited for the future of that program, I think everything is going in the right direction. For me it was about the opportunity to start something brand new.â€ť
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.