Chris Stein, who has been a football player and coach at Chadron State College for nearly a quarter century--longer than anyone else--has left his alma mater to tackle what he calls “a really hard job.”

He is the new head football coach at South Sioux City High School in extreme northeastern Nebraska. The Cardinals have won just four games in the last five years and were 0-18 the last two seasons.

Despite swapping ends of the state and taking over a program that has hit rock bottom, Stein said he’s excited about his new position.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge and seeing what we can get done,” said Stein, 52, who was pleased last week when 110 boys showed up for a meeting at the school while he was being introduced as their new coach.

The school has about 1,200 students, making it one of the largest in Class B in the state. It has had great success in basketball through the years, but not much in football.

The South Sioux City girls’ basketball team won the Class B state championships 10 of 11 years from 1995 through 2005 while Kelly Flynn was the head coach. He also coached the Lady Cardinals to the state title in 2008 before retiring. They also were the champions in 2017 and the runner-up in 2018.

The boys won the Class B state basketball crown in 2010, 2011 and 2013 and finished second in 2012.

The Chadron Cardinals have reached the state football playoffs 30 times; the South Sioux City Cardinals just seven times.

Besides coaching football, Stein will teach middle school physical education and may be assigned some administrative duties, although they have not been completely spelled out. He and his wife Nancy’s son, T.D., a senior at Chadron State who will graduate this summer, also has been hired by the school system to teach PE and will serve as the football team’s offensive coordinator.

The Steins also have four daughters, including Madison, who will remain in Chadron and graduate with her high school classmates a year from now.

“I’m excited to be able to coach with my son. We know we’ve taken on a hard job, but we’re looking forward to it,” Stein said. “There was a lot of excitement when I was introduced at the school. It created quite a buzz. We’ll need to build on that.

“We’re going to stake our claim on working hard because we know that’s the only way to do it. We’ve got to create a new culture and really get after it. If we coach good football and teach the players to play good football, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”

Last year’s South Sioux City team was outscored 50.6 to 11.2 points a game. Its closest game was a 35-20 loss to a team that finished 1-8.

“That was in the past. That’s behind us and I wasn’t a part of it,” Stein told the news media after he was introduced as the new head coach and the team’s struggles were mentioned.

“Let’s look at the future and let’s build this program the right way, a program that will last and continue. I don’t care about the (previous) record. I care about the kids,” he added.

Stein said his first priority will be to establish an off-season strength and fitness program this summer. He said he was told that not much weight training and conditioning has occurred in the past.

Chris Stein was a seventh grader when Dick and Marcia Stein and their family of five moved to Chadron in 1979 to take over the football program at Chadron High School. Although a native of Holyoke, Colo., Dick Stein had previously been the head coach of the Yuma Criminals in extreme southern Arizona.

When he retired as the Cards’ coach at the end of the 2000 season, the elder Stein’s career record as a head football coach was 226-111-2, including 141-77 at Chadron High. Fourteen of his CHS teams reached the state playoffs.

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Both Chris and his younger brother, Kevin, now the head football mentor at Grand Island Northwest, played quarterback for their dad’s teams. They then went across 10th Street to play football at Chadron State and major in health and physical education so they could follow in their father’s footsteps and coach football.

Chris began his college career as a quarterback, but switched to tight end as a sophomore and soon became one of the standouts who helped a new coach, Brad Smith, turn the downtrodden CSC program into a big time winner.

It was Stein’s reception of Steward Perez’s pass at the 10-yard line and his determination to carry two defenders into the end zone with just 90 seconds remaining that gave the Eagles a 38-34 victory over Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, S.D., in the final regular-season game in 1989, his senior year.

The victory sent the Eagles to the NAIA playoffs for the first time.

Stein concluded his career with 107 catches for 1,281 yards and 14 touchdowns, tying him with Dean Palser as the Eagles’ all-time reception leader among tight ends.

He also snapped the ball to the Eagles’ punters, held the ball for All-American placekicker Jay Masek, was placed on the Omaha World-Herald’s All-State College Team, was named CSC’s Outstanding Offensive Player, received the Don Beebe Most Inspirational Player Award and earned NAIA Honorable Mention All-American his senior year.

Stein was inducted into the Eagles’ Athletic Hall of Fame in 2006.

While completing work on his bachelor’s degree, Chris helped his dad coach the Cardinals, then was the head football coach at Julesburg, Colo., two years, at Gordon four years and Gering one year. His high school coaching record is 35-29.

In the fall of 1998, the Steins’ growing family returned to Chadron when Chris enrolled in the Chadron State graduate program. He was a grad assistant for the football team three years.

After getting his master’s degree, the family lived in Rockford, Ill., for three years while Stein was a regional manager of a firm that sold outdoor advertising. But coaching football was still on his mind and in 2003 he became the head coach of the fledgling Wyoming Cavalry in the National Indoor Football League.

Since the Steins lived in Chadron after returning to the West and the Cavalry played its games in the spring, he began helping the Eagles as a restricted earnings coach in the fall of 2004. When Bill O’Boyle was promoted to head coach that December, Stein was hired as an assistant coach, primarily to work with quarterbacks.

In the fall of 2007, his title was changed to passing game coordinator. Five years later when Jay Long was named the Eagles’ head coach, Stein became the offensive coordinator. During his seven-year tenure in that position, the Eagles have averaged 424 yards a game, including 467.5 last fall, the second-highest all-time.

According to the CSC Sports Information Office, Stein has been a coach of some sort--grad assistant, volunteer assistant, quarterback coach, passing game coordinator, offensive coordinator--for 19 years. The Eagles had a 129-68 record those years.

Nineteen years as a coach, one year as a redshirt and four as a player give Stein 24 years of participatory association with the Chadron State football program.

Brad Smith apparently is his primary challenger for longest “up close” tenure with the Chadron State gridiron program. He was a graduate assistant one year and the head coach for 18 years before leaving that post to become full-time athletic director.

Ross Armstrong is probably third on the list. He was Ruffus Trapp’s assistant five years before taking over as the head coach in 1938. Not counting the two years during World War II when all athletics were suspended at the college, he held that job 13 years before stepping down at the end of the 1952 season.

Although he’s ended his affiliation with the CSC football program, Stein said he’ll always be an Eagles’ fan.

“Chadron State football has been a huge part of my life and I’m sure it always will be. Although I’ll no longer be involved with it on a daily basis, I’ll still be really interested in what happens. I made the choice not to come back. It was time for me to do something else. But I’m a Chadron State guy and always will be.”

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