MIAC football is back

Photo by Charles Hallman Chip Taylor

It’s nearly two miles, about 10 minutes, between these two MIAC schools in St. Paul:  Hamline on the north end of Snelling Avenue and Macalester going south. They provide the conference’s only Black football coaches: Chip Taylor (Hamline) starts his sixth season as the MIAC’s longest-tenured Black football coach in league history, and KiJuan Ware (Macalester) is in his first season. 

Taylor was named Hamline HC in 2016 after three years as the Pipers’ defensive coordinator. Ware was named Macalester interim head football coach in June after being the Scots’ offensive coordinator the past two seasons since 2019. 

“Chip and I talked a few times over the summer,” said Ware. “We’re going to make sure when they come here on Halloween night, we want to get a picture [standing next to each other].  We know it is significant.”

The annual Hamline-Macalester football contest—The Bucket Game—is scheduled at Macalester on October 30, 7 pm. It is perhaps the first time in Minnesota modern college football at any level that both teams coached by Blacks will play each other.

“We’re excited about embracing this,” added Ware, “and hopefully some other young [Black] men see this and want to pursue this and continue to push this thing forward.”

The MSR last month spent a half-day with each coach as they prepare their respective squads for this Saturday’s season opener: Hamline hosts Crown at 1 pm, and Macalester hosts UMN-Morris at 6:30 pm. Both men asked me to be in attendance at both contests.

Our recent separate interviews with Taylor (CT) and Ware (KW) have been edited for content and space:

Photo by Charles Hallman KiJuan Ware

MSR: Hamline did not play in 2020. The Pipers will play its first fall season since the pandemic.

CT: “We haven’t played for a while. [The players] are excited.”

MSR: Any adjustments moving from coordinator to HC?

KW: “I’m tempted to be in the huddle. You can’t do that anymore. I was preparing for this spot over these last 20-plus years. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work, and that’s been the best thing about it, being able to implement these things into the program. I have a great relationship with all of our players. It’s not about me, it’s about us.”

MSR: What is your team’s strongest position?

KW: “I wouldn’t say we have a strong position. I say we have a collective group of guys going to work hard. But what we need is depth to win in this league, and so we’re trying to instill that depth.”

MSR: Is your program where you hoped now in your sixth season?

CT: “We were fortunate to hire some really, really talented young football coaches. Our offensive staff is very good to think outside the box, so I’m excited to see how we perform offensively. Defensively we got two new young coaches on staff. They’ve been great, and the players are responding to exactly how they’re being coached.”

The MIAC this fall begins its first “makeover” football season. Gone is St. Thomas, Macalester returns to the conference for the first time since 2001, and St. Scholastica in Duluth begins its first MIAC season.

A first-ever two-division setup and revised championship format will debut this season:  Carleton, Gustavus Adolphus, Saint John’s, St. Olaf and St. Scholastica make up the Northwoods Division. The Skyline Division consists of Hamline, Macalester, Augsburg, Bethel and Concordia.

Teams will play an eight-game conference schedule—five “in-division” games and three “crossover” games.

“Championship Week,” the final week of the MIAC regular season in November, will have teams ranked 1-5 in each division based on the in-division contests’ results. Each team will play the corresponding seed in the other division, and the No. 1 vs. No. 1 game winner will receive the MIAC automatic qualifier to the NCAA playoffs.