“It would take an act of God to get me to leave this place,” Jill Beisel told her husband Matt as the couple watched the sun set while relaxing by the pool this past April at their Phoenix-area home. Oh Jill, we’ve got news for you.
The next day, Matt, then a head coach at Valley Lutheran High School, posted a news release on his Facebook page. It was big news for Bulldog alumni. One day later the 1992 CUNE graduate was contacted by members of the Concordia athletic department about its opening for a head cross country and track and field coach. Were the Beisels really ready to give up the breathtaking Arizona scenery after just two years? Jill wasn’t so sure.
“My wife didn’t even want to come,” Matt said. “I said, ‘This is my alma mater. If I pass this up and don’t even investigate, I’m going to have a tough time living with that.’”
It’s now mid-August as Matt sits down and talks about the circumstances that led him back to Seward. On this particular day he squeezes in an interview of nearly 30 minutes. It’s a hectic time for Matt, who will greet a recruit on campus at almost 9 o’clock that night. The family, including daughter Keegan and son Jonah, is back at its new four-acre farm outside of Lincoln.
Right now the hours are long during a crucial initial recruiting flurry for Matt, who officially began his duties on June 1. But he promises his wife and children that there will be balance. Matt learned from his time as a head coach at Concordia-Chicago. He was spending too many hours away from family.
Aside from the hefty workload that comes with the start of a new and challenging career shift, Matt has found peace in his return. So too has the family, which has discovered Nebraska sunsets to be just as visually stimulating.
“It’s beautiful,” Matt said of their new farm. “My daughter was like, ‘See, God knew what He was doing.’ He knew better than we did that our family needed this. That’s been her attitude about this. I talked to her after the first day of school today and I was like, ‘How did it go?’ She said, ‘Fine.’ I’m like, ‘Really? You’re going into a new school in seventh grade and it was fine?’”
Of course Keegan would not make the move without her chickens, which she received as a birthday gift in January while the family still lived in Arizona. Suddenly the family had six young chickens. “She’s like the chicken whisperer,” Matt joked. Upon learning that the family would be moving to Nebraska, Keegan was stern about her beloved pets. “We are not leaving the chickens,” she told her father.
Chickens, dogs and all, the Beisels packed up and made the journey to Seward, a 22-hour drive that culminated on July 19. The wonders of Concordia and the surrounding community came rushing back for Matt. For the rest of the family, a new world opened up.
They thought they had it all in Phoenix. God showed them otherwise.
“We get to this place and it’s just like it always has been,” Matt said. “It just wraps you up in love and welcome. If you haven’t been here or on campus, it’s hard to articulate the community here. It was like walking back into what I had walked away from. My wife, who is not a graduate from here, was just like, ‘Wow.’”
Their children found comfort in the little things. Said Matt, “Jonah climbed a tree the other day and said, ‘Hey, there’s no spines on it.’”
All of those things have added up already, confirming a life-altering decision to uproot the family once again. It would have been sensible for Matt to turn down Concordia’s offer given he’s coached in Phoenix, Chicago, Little Rock, Ark., Iowa City, Iowa, and Chattanooga, Tenn., among other places.
For Matt, this isn’t just another pit stop. It’s a destination. If he needed further proof, he got it over the summer while getting to know his new student-athletes. He estimates he spent more than 70 hours on the phone with them, talking about not just the future of cross country and track and field, but about life and about faith.
“It was so neat to hear so many people just open up to a guy they had never talked to before,” Matt said. “They were so warm and friendly. So many witnessed about their faith in Christ and how important that was. It blew me away.
“I’m sitting here listening to person after person talk to me this way without my prompting. I’m thinking, ‘Holy smokes.’ Here’s a group of kids who love each other and love the school.”
Matt believes strongly that these are the types of characteristics that will help maintain winning programs established by the accomplished Kregg Einspahr, who spent 24 years growing Concordia cross country and track and field. Matt is keenly aware of the history of success. He knows he’s following in the footsteps of a coach whose achievements are unmatched at Concordia. Those are significant shoes to fill. Says Matt, “We want to take what Coach Einspahr has done and just build upon the awesomeness that exists already.”
Matt has a lot to sell for programs that have produced two team national titles over the past two years while fostering national-best results in the classroom. Concordia also boasts some of the best facilities in comparison to its closest rivals. But Matt insists that the two oversized red banners hanging up in the Fieldhouse are not at the top of his recruiting pitch.
“I honestly don’t talk a lot about statistics,” Matt said. “I think eventually it will come up in the conversation because a kid will ask, ‘Is your team any good?’ But I really don’t bring that up a ton. It speaks for itself. I always tell that athletes that the most important thing you need to know about is that you’re going to have a place that you’re going to have an incredibly close team with great coaches with phenomenal records in what they’ve been able to do with athletes. The environment at Concordia is unique in a particular way.”
That uniqueness has a lot to do with why Matt is back. The family loved Phoenix. It was to be there home. Happiness and contentment had settled in. Why Concordia? Why now?
“I prayed a lot about this,” Matt said. “I want this to be good for my family.”
So far so good. God had a plan for the Beisels – and for the chickens.