WILLIAMSTOWN — Aaron Kelton has always said football is tough. But nothing was as tough as when Kelton stood before the Williams College football team members to tell them he would not be returning as head coach.
Kelton and the college announced Wednesday that the would not be returning to coach at Williams, in order to pursue other opportunities.
"We care about each other in that room, so it was really hard," Kelton said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "Certainly it was different for them, because for the first time, they won't know who's going to be out in front of the program. These are kids that were recruited by me and the rest of the staff, and we spent a lot of time together.
"It was a difficult meeting. But like I told them, this is what adults do. These are adult decisions. There's going to be a decision that's going to come in their lives someday that's going to be hard. But you've got to do what you have to do."
Kelton steps down after six seasons at Williams. The first African-American head football coach in NESCAC history went 23-25, including three consecutive 2-6 seasons in the last three seasons. His Williams tenure did start off in a stellar fashion as the Ephs went 8-0, winning the NESCAC and Little Three championships. He was the first Williams football coach to begin his career with a perfect season.
"The most important thing in the world was to be able to tell my kids face to face and to answer any questions they had," Kelton said. "That's what I wanted to do."
Kelton succeeded Mike Whalen in 2010 when Whalen, now the athletic director at Wesleyan, took the head coaching position at his alma mater. Kelton came to Williams after spending time as the secondary coach and defensive coordinator at Division I-FCS Columbia of the Ivy League.
Williams athletic director Lisa Melendy said that a search will begin almost immediately. Assistant coach Marshall Creighton, who graduated from Williams in 2002, will coordinate the football program and will continue to be the team's recruiting coordinator.
"We will launch a national search pretty darn quickly. Our thought is to have it closing at the end of January," said Melendy, also reached Wednesday night. "We want to move as quickly as we possibly can so we can have a new head coach in place."
Both the former coach and the athletic director had met in the days since the end of the season to talk about the state of the program.
The search committee will be formed within the next few days, and the job will be posted.
"We're looking for what we're looking for in all of our Williams coaches, somebody who understands the role of teaching and coaching at a small liberal arts college," said Melendy.
The athletic director didn't say whether head coaching experience would be required.
The Ephs were 8-0 in 2010, Kelton's first season. Williams slipped to 5-3 in 2011, 4-4 in 2012 and then 2-6 in each of the next three seasons. Kelton's teams have not beaten Little Three rival Amherst since 2010 and haven't beaten Wesleyan since 2012.
This season was especially difficult for Williams. After starting the season with a 2-1 record, the Ephs lost their final five games. That included a 1-3 record at home and a loss at home to Hamilton that ended the Continentals' 25-game losing streak.
"This year was very tough just because I thought we had a pretty good club and the injury bug just kept us down," said Kelton. "It's draining. It's hard. It's a long process. We work hard every day."
Williams College president Adam Falk, in a statement from the school that "football has been important and successful at Williams for 130 years. As Aaron followed in the footsteps of all those who've coached before him," he said, "I know our next head coach will carry on Williams tradition of teamwork, dedication and excellence."
Kelton, who said he was feeling good about his decision, said that he isn't certain what his next step will be in coaching.
There are a number of coaching openings around the country, and the former Williams coach will look at them all.
"Through the tough times, there are so many great things that happen. That's why you smile every day. That's why I stay positive about it," said Kelton. "These kids are unbelievable. They're just great to be around every day."