Ryan Held during practice indoors
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Former Husker Player, Coach Ryan Held Introduced as New Loper Football Coach

January 03, 2023

Marc Bauer called former Nebraska assistant coach Ryan Held because he believes in him. Held saw the call come in from a 308 number. He picked up, interrupting a viewing of Paw Patrol with his children, and told Bauer he was interested Nebraska-Kearney’s head coaching job. That set everything in motion.

Nebraska-Kearney announced Held as the school’s 19th head football coach on December 20. Through a snow and ice storm, a few dozen gathered inside UNK’s Health & Sports Center to welcome Held. A man with interwoven ties to Nebraska and Husker athletics decided to return and settle his family in Kearney, a few hours along Interstate 80 from his former workplace.

“When you look at my resume and where I’ve been, I’ve lived in a lot of different places,” Held said at the podium. “At the end of the day, I believe this was the right spot in my career. You go through a lot of different things as you go through it but this is home.”

Held, a former Husker, was a beloved member of Scott Frost’s former staff at Nebraska. He was the assistant coach, running backs coach and recruiting coordinator from 2018 until 2021, when Frost succumbed to pressure and jostled his offensive coaching staff. That involved firing Held. The former reserve quarterback and split end for two National Championship Husker teams went south. He served as the offensive coordinator at North Alabama. Held finished this past season as interim head coach when the school fired former head coach Chris Willis on the heels of a 1-7 start.

The former Husker also previously worked for Frost as assistant coach and running backs coach at UCF. Held briefly mentioned his time in Orlando during his 24-minute address late Tuesday morning. He and his family visited Disneyland many times back then. The work ahead at UNK won’t be like that, he said.

“I know they’ll be bumps in the road,” he said. “It won’t be Disneyland but we’re going to have a deal where I want this to be where our guys want to come into our office to get better.”

Held takes over the Loper football program following a 8-3 season. Former head coach Josh Lynn stepped down on December 13 to take a position at West Texas A&M. A week later, the son of two Pittsburgh State graduates was named the new head coach at one of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association’s bedrock programs. Mike Racy, the conference’s commissioner who could not attend Tuesday’s ceremony because of poor weather, welcomed Held to his position in a tweet after the announcement. “Bring your A game,” Racy said. Held accepted that challenge.

Bauer reiterated his belief in Held because of his commitment to development and community engagement. He’s energetic, passionate and a leader with a plan. Bauer is excited to have Held’s family in Kearney as well. Held said he found a house earlier in the day and his family, who could not be present for Tuesday’s ceremony, will join him later in the spring.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the process,” Bauer said. “I’m excited about the future of Loper football.”

Held’s already met with the 2023 team through a Zoom meeting and hopes to address them in person when the roster returns to campus on January 22. Some players remained in Kearney early Tuesday and attended a voluntary workout. They braved the snow and ice, something many weren’t able to, to push their development. Held admired that. His staff, which he’s looking to fill with “grinders,” will evaluate everyone on the team. They’re all on equal footing now, he said.

The former junior college head coach’s ties should help build recruiting connections. His time as a recruiting coordinator in the Big Ten shouldn’t hurt his prospects of recruiting to NCAA Division II. Held wants to recruit Nebraska and a few places beyond its borders. He wants a high-character team that can block and tackle.

“We have to be a tremendous program of development,” Held said. “We have to take a kid who walks in and by the time they graduate 4 years, 5 years if they redshirt, that they are a different person in a positive way.”

Bauer and Held both said the program is going in the right direction. Nebraska-Kearney hasn’t had a losing season since 2018 and won 10 games in 2021. The Lopers routinely clash with Pittsburgh State, Emporia State and Northwest Missouri State for conference supremacy. It’s one of the toughest conferences in Division II, which led the new coach into his mission statement.

Held reiterated his mantra of: DDT. That’s discipline, detailed and tough. That’s what he wants each of his players to be and that’s what he wants out of his team. He underlined each word and explained its significance. Then he ended with it.

“DDT,” he closed. “Go Lopers.”

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