Warren Keller: A Great Coach and a Better Man

Warren Keller

Back before Stephen and Argyle joined forces for school and athletic purposes, it was Stephen vs. Argyle.  Or what I would call the good old days since I grew up in Stephen.  And it didn’t take long to cultivate a healthy rivalry between the two towns and schools.  It was the high school version of UND and NDSU.  Back then it was pretty much the end of the world if we didn’t beat the Argyle Eagles in football or basketball.  And truth be told, Argyle got the better of us more often than not.  But the battles were so epic that you always felt you were part of something really big, and when I look back years later, the wins and losses are trivial.

What really mattered to me was that through it all, I had the opportunity to get to know Warren Keller.  And his family.  Warren was the long time Argyle coach and was on the opposing bench or sideline for everyone of those match-ups with the Eagles during high school.

Warren died Tuesday morning at the age of 70.

Even as a simple minded 17 year old, I had immense respect for Coach Keller.  We all did in Stephen.  I’m not sure I can pay a better compliment than that.  These two towns located eight and half miles apart on Highway 75 fought tooth and nail for years.

And then a strange thing happened.  After high school I attended Moorhead State University.  I befriended a gangly and fun-loving freshman by the name of John Keller.  He was Warren’s oldest child and it turned out that he was a pretty good guy.  So good that we eventually became roommates.  Shortly after that, I officially met Warren and soon realized why John was “a pretty good guy.”  Warren wouldn’t have it any other way.  He and his wife Sharon raised a family of salt of the earth kids.

When I think of Warren Keller now, I don’t think about high school sports.  I  think about when I received my promotion six months ago.  In the days following the announcement I received just over 200 e-mails, phone calls and text messages from well-wishers.  And exactly one hand-written letter.  Of them all, it was my favorite.  One full page, top to bottom, telling me how excited he was for me.  And as I look at the letter, I see the words and feel the sincerity.  From a man that I grew to have tremendous respect for, Warren Keller.

14 thoughts on “Warren Keller: A Great Coach and a Better Man

  1. Very well written, Chris, and everything so true. As a former resident of Warren, Mn, where I taught and my husband, Jerry, was, first, the principal and then the superintendent, the Ponies and the Eagles had many battles in basketball….all of them full of excitement and competition. If you didn’t get to the gym early, you would not get a seat. (The Ponies played 11-man football but, if not, those football battles would probably have gone down in history, too.)

    I always WANTED to dislike Warren Keller because of his uncanny basketball coaching techniques….they would do the Ponies in now and then. But I never could. He knew what he was doing, his team always went down the road with him, and it was obvious his success on the basketball court, though important to him, was not the end-all, be-all of his influence on his teams and the community.

    A side bar that maybe not everyone knows about Warren: he endeared himself to Pony fans when he came to a send off pep rally when the Pony team was heading off to play in those famous March tournaments and took a pie in the face as a way to fire up the crowd. Mission accomplished!

    He would have been the first to acknowledge that his wife, Sharon, and their family were the first-alls in his life. Their constant presence and support gave him the time and the energy to do what he felt was his calling as a basketball coach. I praise them all for their part in his accomplishments.

    And so now, we say good-bye to a legend from that part of Minnesota. His presence in the life of the many kids who went through his basketball program will forever be a part of who they became. And he will always have a special place in the hearts of all of us who knew him.

  2. I remember sitting one row behind Coach Keller during a tournament playoff basketball game circa 1985. I could hear most of his comments both to the players on the court and to those on the bench. The man seemed to have an “other-worldly” understanding of the game. He could see things immediately that we lesser mortals would never notice. His intensity was the other thing that I recall. He knew what was needed on the court and he knew how to get his players “tuned into the same channel”. If Bob Knight comes to mind, you are in the correct neighborhood.

    I only knew Warren Keller from watching him coach. It would have been an honor to play on one of those teams.

    My condolences to the family.

  3. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Warren Keller died. I told my wife all the stories about him and his coaching and what a fine person he was.

    I remember playing your Stephen Tigers and the Argyle Eagles and remember Warren Keller as a legendary coach and a nice man. Eveyone questioned how the Eagles would continue on without the head-coaching Connie Lubarski (another great guy) when he left but Keller keep those Eagles at the top-of the Top of State conference.

    I was a play by play announcer when he began coaching the Warroad backetball team and watched him do a four corner stall for almost a full half. You would have to be a great coach and hold the complete respect of your team to have the sort of discipline those players had that night-what a tribute to the man.

    He was always kind in an interview and didn’t get impatient if my questions showed some lack of knowledge of his team. He would simply correct me and then expound on the question with the correct information he had supplied.

    Nice piece you wrote for Keller, too.

  4. It was a great era to participate in high school basketball. I don’t know if that will ever be duplicated in northwest Minnesota. The rivalries, the respect, the number of fans of both the home and away teams. There were a lot of coaches in that time period that became iconic in the coaching field. When you think of basketball programs in Crookston, EGF, Stephen, Argyle, Kennedy, Warren, and many more, the head coach is the first person that comes to mind. There wasn’t any “rebuilding” of a team from one year to the next. The coach was the same and you knew they were going to have a competitive team no matter who was on the court. All those great programs made each other better. It’s sad a lot of those rivalries are gone. It’s apparent from the above comments that their not gone from our memories. I remember that “pie” incident in Warren as well when we went to state. That took a lot of class.

  5. I think this was very well written and well said Reggie! What a great guy. I cannot imagine the lives he touched…he was both well known and respected both on and off the court. The memories of games I attended or played in have been rolling through my mind since I heard the news.

    I remember a game shortly after my father passed away. We were playing Argyle in Stephen, and Warren approached me, not to talk basketball but to visit about life. He had heard of my fathers death and wanted to give me his support and ask if I needed anything. I have nothing but class memories of him. Your brother above is spot on when he says he had a true mind for the game. Unbelievable. And yes I would have loved to have played for him. I also agree that b-ball in NW MN was pretty awesome, and between the talent, coaching, rivalries and community spirit it was simply the best.

    Now I pay my respects to the family of Warren Keller, and I, like many others, am a better person for knowing him. Prayers are with the whole family..

    Mike Rood

  6. Reg-I’ve read every column you’ve written and this is, by far, the best and most meaningful of them all. Coach Keller and his influence will be greatly missed.

  7. Nice job Reggie. Truly well written with heart and a pleasure to read. Here’s to coach Keller.

  8. On a side note, being a Pony player, I always thought it was ironic that coach Keller’s first name was Warren.

  9. Playing for Coach Keller taught me to be strong and don’t let anything get you down. Fight to the end as he coach in basketball. He was a very strict man, but also knew how to be a caring person when a person needed it. Because of coach Keller I became a better person in life, work, and all around. Thanks Coach

    And my thoughts and prayers are with the family.

  10. My thoughts of Warren Keller are numerous in all of his coaching aspects, but what stands out most to me was all the life lessons he taught in the class room no matter what subject he was teaching at Argyle. Especially when I was having a hard time with another teacher and he could see how upset I was. He took me aside and out of the classroom, through the school to our old gym and sat down with me. He said,”you know who you are and now you just take your time here. Relax, and don’t worry about coming back to class until you are composed because I know it is hard sitting there trying to learn when you are upset”. And then he left back to our class. I will never forget that moment of compassion and sincerity from Mr. Keller. That day on, I had only the upmost respect for him. Thank you Mr. Keller for all the time you took to teach your “life lessons” to your students. We will miss you. Prayers to all his family including his twins who I went to school with.

  11. Reggie
    Great article. Warren was a great teacher, mentor and friend. I can’t count all of the times when during a practice or game, I would try and think of how Warren would have handled the situation. I was incredibly fortunate to coach with Warren for six years, to teach with him for eight years and to have him my friend for 27 years. We shared a lot of wins, a few losses, some hard times and a lot of laughter together. He was truely one of God’s special people.

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