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Ryan Held introduced as new football coach

Marc Bauer and Ryan Held pose for a photo as Held becomes the 19th Head Coach in program history. – Photo by Traeton Harimon


UNK Athletic Director Marc Bauer officially welcomed Ryan Held as the new football coach at the Health & Sports Center on Tuesday. Held is the 19th head coach in program history. He served as the offensive coordinator/interim head coach at North Alabama last season.

Bauer talked to other athletic directors in the MIAA about a candidate for the position. Jim Johnson, the Athletic Director at Pittsburg State was fond of Held when the Gorillas were looking for a football coach in 2019.

Bauer then called Josh Looney, who is the athletic director at North Alabama. Before Looney was hired there in 2021, he was an MIAA athletic director at Missouri Western.

“I said, ‘What’s the deal with Ryan?’ and he goes, ‘The school will not allow us to do an internal hire. We’re going external, and we made a deal with him that he has to win a certain percentage of games to even be considered,’” Bauer said. “And he goes, ‘But he’s amazing. The community loves him. Our donors love him. But we don’t even have an opportunity to recruit him as one of our coaches.’”

Held thought he was getting a call from his friend, Monte Christo, who played football at UNL with him. It turned out Marc Bauer was on the line asking about his interest in the job.

“The more conversations that went through, we realized that we aligned and had similar values and things that we were looking for,” Held said. “I had other opportunities, but this was the opportunity that there was no doubt that I wanted to do.”

Bauer was looking for someone who could be in the Kearney community long term.

“This constant turnover of coaches that’s going on and what I’m seeing especially in the football world, the coaching carousel is a real thing,” Bauer said. “This is our fourth head coach in nine years. We’re on the carousel, and we need to get off. Coach is looking for a community where he can raise his family, and this is a wonderful, family-oriented community.”

Held met with the team initially over Zoom when he got the job and told all of them to text him their name and position. He also met with some of the players for the first time in person today. 

UNK punter Hunter Kraus wanted to make sure that Held knew about his commitment to the program.

“I spent five seasons with our old coaching staff, and I’ve been very close with them,” Kraus said. “I did tell him that I’m very excited to meet our new coaches, and the only thing I want is to gain that same confidence and understanding with him as I had with the old coaching staff.” 

Kraus also knows that change is not new to the business of football.

“There’s changes that come in, and change helps you grow,” Kraus said. “I’m excited with that definitely — him understanding that I want to become the best I can possibly be. With that, he’s going to help me grow and help push me, and I’m excited for that.”

When it comes to recruiting, Held said he wants to make sure that they find athletes who are the right fit for the program.

“It’s making sure that we’re meticulous in the recruiting process,” Held said. “We’re going fast, but not furious to a certain degree because we want the right kids. I’m not here to win signing day, I’m here to get the right kids.”

Held said he is hoping to bring strong values to create disciplined, detailed and tough football players at UNK.

“I’m here to hold kids accountable, help them become their best version, graduate and compete for championships,” Held said. “That’s why I’m here. Being a positive member of this institution, represent them the right way and be out in this community.”

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