After announcing his resignation as Union head football coach after 11 straight playoff seasons – including repeated trips to the UNI-Dome, where the Knights’ successes included one state championship, a semi-final team, and a state runner-up – Union Head Coach Joe Hadachek says he hopes his successor will focus on things even more important than success on the scoreboard.
“Winning is important,” says Hadachek, but he hopes that the next coach sees football as no higher than the third-most important thing, behind faith and family. “My hope is that whoever replaces my position is someone who has his priorities in the right order, and will also be a leader in his family and faith,” says Hadachek. “That is something that may not be in the job description but when you see difference-makers like Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney and Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, they tend to have it all together. Is winning important? Absolutely, but the bottom line is they are not ashamed of their faith journey.”
Hadachek had arrived at Union in 2007, eight years after resigning as the head coach at Buena Vista. He had coached youth football for several years before arriving at Union. That first year, the Knights barely missed the playoffs, ending with a 6-3 record. The next 11 years, however, they earned a spot in the post-season. “Each year, each team has brought special memories,” says the coach. “And as a coach, the years your sons are involved is special, and you are likely to have more kids hanging out at your house, and more relationships.”
Also, says the Hadachek, sharing many years with his assistant coaches has also been a blessing. He names four men who have been with him for all of his time at Union: Adam Gasman, Chad Johnson, Curt Hilmer, Don Sallee. “That is pretty special, to form relationships with coaches like them,” he says. Hadachek has told Union administrators they can rely on him for input if they wish, as they ponder his replacement. “I will be as available as they want to help see things continue on in a first-class way,” he says. FCA and Fields of Faith Relating part of what he calls the “unwritten story,”
Hadachek recalls how he started the Union chapter of FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at Union with two young men. “We met in the back of my gym with Cheyne Reiter and Drew Hemesath,” he recalls. While there may have been an FCA chapter earlier at Union, they were starting from scratch. A few other football players began to participate, and then a few female athletes joined. The group met for about 30 minutes on Friday mornings and eventually grew to 20-25 regular attendees. “It was a great thing to be able to do this on football Game Day,” Hadachek recalls. “We met every Friday in the fall for about 30 minutes. And there were no conflicts with classes.”
Later the Union FCA, working with the Eastern Iowa FCA, began to organize a Fields of Faith event each fall. This student-led program would include hundreds of students from Eastern Iowa, including two or three busloads of Center Point-Urbana students as well as many from Vinton-Shellsburg. Fields of Faith includes several high school students sharing testimonies or favorite Bible verses, along with featured speakers sharing their unique challenges and how faith helped them. “Fields of Faith was not just about the Union FCA but reaching out to other communities,” said Hadachek, adding that he had no idea when he and his wife Gloria began discussing it a dozen years ago how big it would grow.
Apart from football games, the Union Fields of Faith routinely includes several hundred students and adults making it one of the biggest community events of the fall months in the area. Just one of the 12 Fields of Faith at Union had to be moved inside because of bad weather, Hadachek recalls. “We organized it from outside the school district,” Hadachek recalls. “There were a lot of public volunteers from several different churches.” An area youth leader, Troy Mangrich was the coordinator for many years.
It was a blessing, says Hadachek, to bring in athletes from many schools, including some of Union’s opponents, “and not worry about competing with each other.” “It brings them together to expose them to something more important than the game,” he adds.
Among the Fields of Faith featured speakers has been Chris Norton, who was paralyzed while playing football for Luther College in Decorah and came back from his injury to walk his wife down the aisle. High school and college athletes from many other sports have also participated in Field of Faith. “Carl Gonder, the Eastern Iowa FCA director, has always been there to give us backing,” says Hadachek. The Fields of Faith event typically lasts 90 minutes. A friend of the late coaching legend Ed Thomas, Hadachek is among those who recite Thomas’s three-word philosophy on life: “Faith. Family. Football.”
Saying he is speaking for himself and not any school district, Hadachek says. “We wonder why there are so many problems with school and youth. We fail to recognize we can’t take religion and say it’s not part of our priorities. But if people can find their faith journey, a lot of other problems will be corrected.” Hadachek bases that philosophy on his own personal experience. “I had God-fearing parents and a high school football coach who prayed,” he recalls. The students and players are the leaders when the Knights kneel in a circle at midfield after each game. One player says a short prayer and then leads the team in reciting The Lord’s Prayer.
Hadachek says the guy leading the prayer may not be the star player but he is among the players who have the strongest relationship with their Lord and Savior. “There is a lot of peace that comes with this,” he explains. “We are not trying to one-up anyone, but our kids have the right to pray. We’ve always approached it that you can pray if you want to, nobody is guilted or forced. Our kids have led prayer sessions and it’s more powerful with the kids organizing and performing it.” While the community has been 100 percent supportive, there have been some complaints about expressions of faith from people outside of the Union area, says the coach. “That must mean they see we are making a difference in people’s,” says Hadachek, adding that at Union they are “doing it the right way,” making participation in Fields of Faith and team prayers totally optional.
As Hadachek steps back from the group of adults organizing the Fields of Faith, he is helping prepare two men to take over. Craig Greiner, the leader of the North Tama Basic youth group has been the MC of the event for the past few years. Okee Walker, a Union parent from rural Brandon, has also begun working with Greiner on planning this fall’s event. ‘Waiting for a Call’ While some stories about Hadachek have said he has “retired,” the coach says he may return to football some day. He says he has already received some offers and is honored by them, but for now is focusing on spending time with his wife, Gloria, and his role in the Advocare company.
He says he is in no hurry to return to football and is “waiting for a call,” not from humans, but from God. That call to coach, says Hadachek, is not likely to come in the near future. He says each January he chooses a word for the coming year and that this year, that word is “Peace.” He has found peace, he said, in his decision regarding coaching. “I know at this time my calling is not to coach, but I’m not going to say never,” he explains.