Karl Kiefer used to fill the stands when his Arizona high school football teams were winning state championships during the ’70s and ’80s.
And it’s safe to assume that the Mountain Pointe High School auditorium will also be filled with many of those same fans when the school hosts a ‘Celebration of Life’ on Saturday (Jan. 11) to honor the Arizona coaching legend who passed away last month.
Kiefer helped start the football program at Tempe’s McClintock High School back in the mid-60s, when his coaching career was also just getting started. And then the Tempe High School and Arizona State University graduate (playing under another coaching legend, Frank Kush) began building a new football program at Mountain Pointe when that Ahwatukee school was opened in 1990.
His McClintock teams won state titles in 1977, 1980, and 1989.
That 1989 team was honored during a game this past season, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the event. Their coach made it to the game to share in the festivities and bask in the glow of memories from the season he considered to be his most enjoyable. The game was played in the stadium that now bears his name.
Perhaps his most recognizable achievement to this day is becoming the first Arizona high school football coach to win 300 games. He hung up his whistle in 2005 after compiling 309 total wins (then a state record). It was his failing health that forced the retirement, keeping him from building an even bigger lead on his fellow coaches.
Kiefer would be the perfect candidate to become the first sculpture on a mythical Mount Rushmore of Arizona football coaches that would include Jesse Parker, who also put up 309 victories; Vern Friedli, who took over the title with 331 wins; and Paul Moro, who wrapped up his career just a couple of years ago with 336 wins.
All four of these legends have passed away now, all within the last 2 1/2 years. Mike Morgan, who is still active on the sidelines after spending the last 29 years running the St. John’s High School program, is poised to become new leader in career coaching wins. Morgan notched No. 336 last season to share the title with Moro and will take a shot at taking sole possession of the distinction when the 2020 season begins.
Kiefer, who was 81 when he passed away on Dec. 8, was as tough in life as he was as a football coach. He had a major stroke in 2005 that was followed by four heart attacks and a couple more strokes, but managed to fight through it all for another 14 years. He was in hospice care following the latest heart attack when his body finally gave in to the unrelenting health issues.
Saturday’s celebration is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Early arrival would be a good idea; this could be an SRO event.
(Photo: The Arizona Republic archives)