AU football Head Coach Lee Owens announces retirement

Owens finishes his 19-year career with a 137-61 record


Cade Cracas

Head Coach Lee Owens has officially retired as the head coach of the Ashland University football team.

Cade Cracas, Sports & Digital Editor

The Ashland University campus, community and football team are set to say goodbye to their head coach, Lee Owens, after serving the program as their head coach since 2004.

While speculation occurred for months leading up to this moment, individuals inside the organization attempted to keep the news a secret, but with such a big program to keep quiet, the secret found its way to the outside. With countless ups and downs, more ups than downs, Owens has decided after a stellar 2022-2023 to announce his official retirement.

“We are truly celebrating the loss. This is a man who has set an example for others and cares about this place. He thinks about the program first instead of himself,” said President of AU Carlos Campo. “When you lose someone like Owens, you need time to process that. We want to celebrate this though. The only way to celebrate a loss is to know you really are not losing anything.”

Although their season was cut short in a round two loss to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 19-13, the Eagles have plenty to be proud of.

“Finishing with a win this year would be tough. But I look back at the IUP game, it didn’t seem like a loss,” said Owens. “This game was different. Someone stood up at the end and said, ‘coach congratulations and thank you we love you.’ Then other fans stood and applauded me.”

In the 2022-2023 season, Owens won GMAC Coach of the Year, linebacker Michael Ayers won GMAC Player of the Year, and freshman center Ethan Enders won Freshman of the Year.

The Eagles at one point had the No. 1 defense in Division II and were one of few that were left undefeated up until Week Nine where they fell to the Hillsdale Chargers on the road.

The Eagles finished their season at a record of 10-2, with a Great Midwest Athletic Conference title in their hands and an NCAA Division II Postseason appearance.

Ashland-Collegian reporter Brayden Creveling had the opportunity to sit down with Owens earlier in the season where he expressed underlying thoughts of a potential retirement.

“If we win the national championship this year, we’re going to have a big parade right down Claremont and keep on going and never stop,” Owens said. “You won’t see me after it.”

Unfortunately for him, the National Championship would not be obtained, but countless wins and memories were.

His career as an Ashland University head coach finished with a record of 137-61 with three Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles and one GMAC title. The only former Eagle head coach to have more wins in their career is Fred Martinelli who went 217-119-12 in his career.

Owens’ four best seasons, which occurred with one-to-two losses, resulted in those four conference titles.

He would lead the Eagles to the NCAA Division II Postseason Tournament in 2007, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2017 and this past season, 2022.

“I could go on and on about what Lee [Owens] has accomplished,” said Athletic Director Al King. “He took over a good program, but we needed to make changes. It’s not easy for someone to do, and he stayed the course.”

During his illustrious 19-year career at Ashland University, he had the opportunity to coach an NFL talent in tight end Adam Shaheen, numerous program record-setting players and players who have defied the odds when stepping onto the football field.

One of those individuals who defied the odds under Owens was Eagle quarterback Austin Brenner.

“Coach O as the head coach was obviously incredibly important to my journey here at AU,” said Brenner. “He’s a big part of the reason I went to Ashland, to begin with, and the program/culture that he has built at Ashland was also a big part of why I wanted to go here. His role as the head coach and leader over the course of my career was vital.”

Another Eagle quarterback, AU alumnus Bill Cundiff had high praise for Owens.

“Coach has helped shape my life and many other kids, coaches, supporters and fans alike that have come through the program over the years,” said Cundiff.

Outside of players, he coached alongside countless coaches, faculty and staff and interacted with countless fans and media members. One of those coaches that stood out was Defensive Coordinator Tim Rose.

“Coach Rose was a phenomenal coach during my time here. This past season he led our defense to Top 10 in the nation at one point,” said Owens.

The Eagles now without a permanent head coach will begin the search to replace Owens, but for now, the interim head coach has been named Doug Geiser. Geiser, or a future replacement, will have massive shoes to fill in the 2023-2024 season.

“This place has been a great place for me,” said Owens. “By far the greatest place I have ever worked at.”