When time ran out on the Independence football team on Friday, Nov. 9, the 55-26 loss to archrival Butler signaled more than just the end of the Patriots’ season, which had lasted to the second round of the Class 4AA state playoffs.
It marked the end of the storied career of Patriots coach Bill Geiler, who earlier this year announced that he would retire at season’s end.
Following last week’s loss, Geiler addressed his team before finding his wife, Candy, for their ceremonious postgame embrace.
Geiler said the weight of the moment was noticeable, even after a loss to a heated rival.
“(I’m feeling) just nostalgia here,” Geiler said. “I don’t like going out like this, but this bunch of kids – I swear, this is a great bunch of kids. That score could’ve been 80-0, and these kids would’ve kept battling.”
Geiler, a 36-year coaching veteran, was part of seven state titles during his time with Independence, including in 2004 when he replaced Tom Knotts as the Patriots head coach when Knotts left for a one-year stint as an assistant at Duke. Geiler again stepped into the head coaching role when Knotts decided to leave in 2010 for a coaching position in South Carolina.
Geiler said he didn’t worry that his decision to retire would become a distraction for his team in the week leading up to the Patriots’ second showdown with Butler in the past three weeks.
“We told the kids, ‘This could be my last practice. This could be the last time I’m on this field,’” Geiler said. “They were like, ‘No, Coach! No, Coach!’ That’s the kind of kids we have. They just battle.”
Making the decision to retire didn’t really become an issue until the postseason, said Geiler, when he was forced to stare down his professional mortality during the playoffs’ win-or-go-home format.
“It’s been hard for me,” Geiler said. “I walked off that practice field the other day knowing this could happen. (Butler’s) a great football team.”
The fact that the Patriots entered the game against Butler without standout defensive back and N.C. State recruit Jack Tocho didn’t help matters, either. Geiler said Tocho nursed a hip injury all week but didn’t show enough improvement to play.
“I told Jack, ‘This is (happening) for a reason,’” Geiler said. “Maybe something bad was going to happen to Jack (in the Butler game) and the good Lord said, ‘You’re not going to be on the field today.’”
Regardless of the outcome, Geiler said he’s proud of the Patriots’ 10-3 record this season.
“(The coaching staff) sat in the office (during the preseason) and wondered how we were going to win five games,” Geiler said. “Winning 10 was just amazing.”
Geiler also added that Independence fans should have plenty to cheer about in the near future.
“(The Patriots are) young and they’re loaded for next year,” Geiler said. “The worm is going to turn and Independence football is going to be back like it used to be.”
With one noticeable exception.