Franklin “Gene” Bissell
Born: April 12, 1926 (Akron, OH)
Graduated: North Royalton (OH) H.S., 1944 / Heidelberg (OH) College, 1948
Deceased: January 28, 2016 (Salina, KS)
Twenty-six years as a head football coach, fifteen as a head track coach, twelve as an assistant basketball coach, stints as a golf and tennis coach, and another twenty as Athletics Director. All at one school and all in the span of forty-four years. That’s the legacy of Franklin “Gene” Bissell at Kansas Wesleyan University.
Bissell attended Heidelberg College in Ohio after serving in the United States Navy from 1944-1946. He started on the football team for three years, played basketball for two, and even pitched for the baseball team. He was a captain on the undefeated 1948 football team and finished college with a 23-3-1 record as a player.
After earning his masters from Case Western University, Bissell headed west in search of a coaching position. He was planning on coaching somewhere in Colorado but didn’t make it past Salina before being scooped up to be an assistant football coach in 1950 by Kansas Wesleyan University head coach Wally Forsberg.
The Coyotes hired Bissell as the head football coach after Forsberg stepped down the next year.
Bissell amassed a 116-119-7 record as a head coach of the Coyotes. He won four Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference championships while at Kansas Wesleyan and earned three regional NAIA Coach of the Year honors.
Bissell put together back-to-back 8-1 seasons in 1956 and 1957, good enough for two straight Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference titles. The 1956 championship unseated the three-time defending champions College of Emporia.
Bissell stepped away for the 1962 season but returned in 1963 to rebuild the program, including a stretch from 1967 to 1971 that saw the Coyotes compile a 36-10 record. The rebuild culminated in an 8-1 performance in 1971 where the Coyotes were undefeated in conference play. Bissell and Kansas Wesleyan won the KCAC Championship in 1969 and 1971.
He eventually retired from coaching as the winningest coach in Kansas Wesleyan football history but remained at the school in various positions, including as a professor and Athletic Director, until he officially retired in 1994.
He also served as the NAIA District 10 Chairman for fifteen years and was on the NAIA’s policy making committee.
For all his accomplishments, Bissell was elected to the Kansas Wesleyan Coyote Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986 and the NAIA Hall of Fame in 1991. He is also a member of the halls of fame at his alma mater, Heidelberg College, and his high school, North Royalton High School. In addition to the halls of fame inclusions, Kansas Wesleyan honored Bissell as the namesake of the football field at the Graves Family Sports Complex in 2015.
Today, the list of honors for Gene Bissell’s lifetime of contributions to athletics gets a little longer: as an inductee of the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.
by Nathan Enserro