Wartburg Football Coach Rick Willis Leaving Sideline
The longest-tenured and winningest head coach in Wartburg football history is leaving the sideline.
Rick Willis has accepted a new position at the college, Wartburg officials announced Thursday afternoon. Beginning Aug. 1, he'll serve as Wartburg's first vice-president for student recruitment.
In a pair of corresponding announcements, Wartburg athletic officials said that defensive coordinator Chris Winter has been promoted to replace Willis as head coach and head athletic trainer Ryan Callahan will serve as the college's interim athletic director beginning in August.
In addition to coaching the Knights for the past 11 seasons (the 2020 season was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic), Willis has served as Wartburg's executive director of athletics since 2005, overseeing management of 23 varsity sports, 60 full-time and part-time coaches and more than 600 student-athletes. His duties also included oversight of the Wartburg-Waverly Sports & Wellness Center (The W). Willis also hold's the school's Lowell J. Walker Athletics Directorship Endowed Chair.
During Willis' tenure as athletic director, Wartburg won 19 national championships in four different sports and 127 conference titles in 17 different sports. The college also increased its number of student-athletes by nearly 30 percent.
With Willis leading the football team, the Knights won 11 conference championships and made 11 NCAA playoff appearances, including trips to the Elite Eight in 2008, 2014 and 2017.
During his 21 seasons as coach (1997-2005 and 2008-2019), Willis compiled a career record of 185-46. In 2010, he became the fastest coach to reach 100 wins in Iowa Conference (now the American Rivers Conference) history.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced Wartburg to cancel its 2020 football season. The Knights were scheduled play three spring games in 2021, but virus protocols kept them off the field.
As vice-president for student recruitment, Willis will oversee the Admissions and Financial Aid offices, Athletic Department and the Wartburg-Waverly Sports & Wellness Center. He is replacing Edith Waldstein, who has served as the college's vice-president for enrollment management since 2001. She is retiring Aug. 2.
Winter has served as the Knights' defensive coordinator since 2011 and was promoted to assistant head coach in 2013. He also has served as Wartburg's head strength and conditioning coordinator since 2008, overseeing strength and conditioning operations for Wartburg's 23 varsity sports and over 600 student-athletes.
A 2004 Wartburg graduate, Winter was a four-year member of the football and baseball teams. He was inducted into the Wartburg Wartburg Athletics Hall of Fame in 2017.
"Chris has earned the opportunity to be Wartburg's head football coach," Willis said. "He is a Knight and has demonstrated an unbelievable and unwavering commitment to Wartburg and our football program for over 20 years. He has excelled in every aspect professionally and is impressive as a coach both technically and strategically.
"Chris is one of the very best recruiters on our campus," Willis said. "He builds strong relationships and cares deeply about our players and this program. I am excited to watch him lead our football program for many years to come."
Regarding his new position, Willis said: “I am excited to embrace this important challenge, utilizing my previous leadership and recruiting experiences to help Wartburg continue to attract outstanding students. Our tremendous professional staff combined with all the distinguishing characteristics of this special place, will enable us to be successful in the intense competition for students.”
Callahan has led the Wartburg's athletic training staff since 2014. He was a leading force behind the college's Campus Health Recovery Team (CHRT), which provided guidance to school administrators during the pandemic. Callahan also represented Wartburg on the American Rivers Conference COVID-19 action team, and serves on the board of the National and Midwest Athletic Trainers Associations.
Wartburg officials plan to conduct the search for a permanent athletic director during the upcoming academic year.