Recruit. Player. Starter. Leading tackler. Award winner. Alumn. Assistant coach. Rival coach. Mentor. Head coach. For more than half of his adult life, Keith Otterbein has filled virtually every imaginable role for the Hillsdale College football program.
Now entering his 16th season as the leader of the Charger program, Otterbein has the rare combination of peace-of-mind for where he’s taken the team since he took over, and the burning desire to keep the Chargers among the elite programs in the GLIAC.
A new era of sustained success has taken place under Otterbein's care. Hillsdale has won at least a share of a division title in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and the team's 49 wins between 2007 and 2012 are the most in a six-year span since the 1950s.
Entering the 2017 season, Otterbein's 91 victories with Hillsdale rank him third on the school's all-time coaching wins list, only trailing Frank "Muddy" Waters and Dick Lowry. His 151 overall coaching wins rank him number one among all Great Midwest Athletic Conference coaches.
In both 2009 and 2011, Otterbein earned GLIAC and Regional Coach of the Year honors. He was also recognized with those awards in 1992 and 1994 at Ferris State, firmly entrenching his place as a dean of football coaches in the GLIAC.
That talent is reflected in the success of recent graduates, like Mark Nicolet, who won national (American) football championships in Sweden and Spain, and Tom Korte, who was a free-agent signee of the Pittsburgh Steelers before the 2009 season. Jared Veldheer was named First-Team All-American following the 2009 season, and started 11 games for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in 2010. Two former Chargers occupy spots on NFL rosters: Veldheer (Arizona Cardinals) and Andre Holmes (Oakland Raiders).
Charger players have distinguished themselves at the conference level in recent years under Otterbein’s guidance. Three of the past eight GLIAC Players of the Year have hailed from Hillsdale, and two of the past seven winners of the Jack McAvoy Award come from the Charger family.
“It’s special for me to come back to the college I attended, and to be in the position I’m in,” Otterbein said. “I believe in the mission of Hillsdale and the education kids will receive when they come to our school. I also think they’re going to be part of a pretty good football team and form great memories while they’re here.”
Otterbein’s relationship with Hillsdale began when he was recruited out of Southfield-Lathrup High School by beloved former coach and athletic director Jack McAvoy. Otterbein played for the Chargers from 1975-78 and went on to become the first player in school history to be named the team’s best linebacker three years in a row. He also earned the National Football Foundation Scholar-Athlete award.
He didn’t wait long after graduating to get into the coaching profession. He put in time as a position coach under Dick Lowry at Hillsdale, and College Football Hall of Famer Herb Deromedi at Central Michigan University.
After an apprenticeship under two highly acclaimed coaches, Otterbein made his mark by becoming the youngest head college football coach in the nation when he was hired by Ferris State University before the 1986 season. Taking the job at the age of 28, Otterbein quickly turned the Bulldogs into a national power, winning 30 of his last 36 games coached at the school and guiding the team to three Division II playoff appearances.
Otterbein then got a taste of coaching at the Division I level, leading the running backs at Ball State University from 1995-2001. A return to Hillsdale awaited in December 2001, when Otterbein was named the program’s sixth head coach since 1954.
“I am fortunate to work with a staff that has a great work ethic, sets a great example for our players, and can recruit to this school,” Otterbein said.
Keith and his wife Amy have been married for more than 35 years. Their oldest son Steve, a 2007 Hillsdale College graduate, is entering his sixth season on the Chargers’ coaching staff. Their son Brad, a 2011 Hillsdale College graduate, is the newest addition to the coaching staff, taking over as quarterbacks coach in 2012. Their daughter Alyssa is a 2009 graduate of Hillsdale College.