Doug Wilkinson, 43, transformed Kennard-Dale's football program from one of the league's worst teams to a playoff contender during his eight seasons in Stewartstown. But he filed his resignation and informed his players of his decision Monday, because he needed to focus on his professional career.

A business owner who sells large manufacturing equipment, Wilkinson said "financially it became difficult for me the way the economy has been." Wilkinson, who still has a desire to coach football, said his decision to step aside has been difficult since his youngest son, Zach, is a sophomore on the Rams football team.

"I think it was both of our dreams -- his and mine -- to keep coaching," Wilkinson said.

Kennard-Dale's football team reached the postseason for the first time in school history in 2008. And the Rams returned to the District 3 Class AAA playoffs again this fall. Matched up against the No. 2- and No. 5-seeded teams in the district, Kennard-Dale almost pulled off postseason shockers -- losing both games by a combined six points.

Wilkinson had a 28-54 career mark, but he managed to bring stability to a program that always seemed to be advertising for head football coaches. Five head coaches cycled out of the Rams program during the 1980s, and another five led the program in the 1990s -- none of whom left with more than five victories during their stop at Kennard-Dale.

One of the founding members of the York County Interscholastic Athletic Association, Kennard-Dale football has never won a league's championship or division title. It finished the league's first campaign in 1960 with an 0-7-1 mark. And it often failed to improve on that mark -- posting four winless seasons in the 1990s and four winless campaigns in the 1980s.

Kennard-Dale dressed 19 players at the start of the 2002 season -- Wilkinson's first. He finished with 13 healthy players. And so a building process began. Wilkinson instituted a lifting program and focused on a feeder program.

"We needed to find a way to increase participation," Wilkinson said. "When we started, from seventh through 12th grade we had 50 kids playing football. It's now upwards of 125."

Kennard-Dale posted its first winning season under Wilkinson in 2006, going 6-4 with a 3-3 mark in Division II.

"That program has come farther than most any team in the league if you really look at what they've done," Littlestown coach Mike Lippy said. "For years you chalked it up as a win when you were scheduled to play Kennard-Dale. It got to the point now where I'd rather play someone else because they were such a tough out."

Under Wilkinson, 17 players have gone on to play college football, and fullback Ethan Hornbarger earned second team all-state honors in 2009.

"It's just a huge loss for the York/Adams community," William Penn football coach Tim Hibbs said. "He was a model for me, just the way he immersed himself in the program."

Hibbs accomplished a similar building project in Biglerville, and noted the amount of behind-the-scenes work coaches needed to do in order to change the culture and build traditions for a struggling team.

"It takes an entire community to build a program, and as a head football coach you're just a guidepost," Hibbs said. "You need to win everyone's trust and that can be a humbling experience."

Wilkinson hopes to return to coaching high school football, he just couldn't commit for the upcoming season.

"I'm certainly not closing the door on coaching football, I still love it, and I'm passionate about the game," Wilkinson said. "But this was something I had to do for my family."

jseip@ydr.com; 771-2025