FOOTBALL

Arizona football: 'Hand-picked' Bills paying off for Cats

Fate played a key role in uniting, reuniting assistant, adopted son
2013-04-13T00:00:00Z 2013-04-13T16:34:48Z Arizona football: 'Hand-picked' Bills paying off for CatsDaniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 13, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Bill and Billy Kirelawich will both be on the field today, when the Arizona Wildcats host their annual spring game at Kindall/Sancet Stadium.

The elder Kirelawich will almost certainly have a towel over his shoulder and a cigar hanging from his mouth. The UA's 65-year-old defensive line coach will probably utter a few words that aren't suitable for print as the Wildcats scrimmage, offense versus defense, in their final workout of the spring.

Billy, 27, will be running around, doing anything that's asked of him. Sporting dark sunglasses and speaking softly, if at all, he'll mostly blend in.

But make no mistake: Billy is his father's son.

Billy, the son of Arizona Wildcats defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and the team's assistant operations director, shares the same first name as his dad and the same middle name as his maternal grandfather.

Bill and Billy had a special bond ever since the Kirelawiches adopted him the day he was born. Now, father and son work on the same field and in the same building.

Their shared profession reflects a mutual passion.

"I call them my two special Bills because I hand-picked them both out," said Maggie Kirelawich, Bill's wife and Billy's mom. "Billy is William Reynold and Bill is William Leonard."

•••

Bill Kirelawich (pronounced Kerr-LAV-itch) was born in Frackville, Pa., located in the heart of Pennsylvania's Coal Region.

The place is exactly as tough as it sounds.

"If you're from the Coal Region, you're tough," Bill Kirelawich said. "My pop was really tough. It's a tough place to grow up, full of tough people. My brother is tough, my sister is tough.

"That's just how it is."

The Kirelawich family history, though, is a testament to toughness and tenderness.

Bill and Maggie Kirelawich had their first child, daughter Miki, 30 years ago. At the time, Kirelawich was the defensive line coach for West Virginia.

Later, the couple wanted to have another child. Bill was 37 years old and Maggie, a math teacher, was 33.

The two were told Maggie couldn't have any more children and started to look into other options.

They ran into an immediate road block.

Adoption agencies told the couple they didn't qualify for adoption because of their ages and Bill's coaching schedule, which included lots of travel.

The Kirelawiches were stumped at what to do next when fate intervened.

Through a friend, the couple learned of a gynecologist in Wheeling, W.Va., who had already helped place one child for adoption.

Maggie wrote a letter to the doctor, Cathy Coleman, and invited her to Morgantown, W.Va., for a football game.

The two sat in the stands, watched Bill's Mountaineers stun Doug Flutie's Boston College Eagles and got to know each other.

When the game was over, the doctor told Maggie, "I'm going to help you get a baby."

Just more than seven months later, on May 31, 1985, the boy who would be named Billy Kirelawich was born.

•••

The Kirelawich family grew, and thrived, in Morgantown.

Miki was Billy's protective big sister. Bill and Maggie eventually had another child, Jake. He's now 25.

"(Billy) is my rose in between two thorns," Maggie said with a chuckle.

Of the three children, Billy spent the most time with his dad growing up. The two traveled to AAU basketball tournaments in the summer; Bill drove Billy to school as often as he could.

"He worked with me closer than any of the others," Bill said. "We were always outside, he and I, working together. From when he was a little kid on up, we worked shoulder to shoulder.

"He was always a reliable, dependable guy."

•••

Billy remembers precisely when he met his wife, Madeline. That's the night fate intervened again.

The younger Kirelawich, then a sophomore at West Virginia, was out with friends at a Morgantown bar named De Lazy Lizard.

Billy and Madeline began talking and exchanged phone numbers.

Later, Billy couldn't get over one detail. Madeline recognized him and knew his last name was Kirelawich.

"I didn't know how she knew that," Billy said.

The two texted the following day and Billy asked for her last name.

Then it hit him. Madeline was Cathy Coleman's niece. A picture of him was hanging in the doctor's home.

"And I guess we used to play together," Billy said, "but I never knew who she was."

•••

Billy and Madeline married in August 2011. Almost immediately, they hit the road: Billy spent a year working for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton, Fla., and then took a job at a recruiting and staffing firm in Baltimore.

Eventually, Billy - who dreams of becoming an athletic director one day - was pulled toward sports.

His father, though, was heading in the opposite direction.

Bill wasn't planning to return to West Virginia for another year under coach Dana Holgorsen; in fact, he thought his coaching career was over.

Then Rich Rodriguez called.

Rodriguez played at West Virginia when Kirelawich was coaching there and served as Kirelawich's volunteer assistant in 1985. He kept his former mentor on staff when he was hired at West Virginia in 2001.

Kirelawich stayed at WVU when Rodriguez went to Michigan in 2008 and figured he was done working for him.

But when Rodriguez was hired at Arizona, one of his first calls he made was to Kirelawich, who had lived in West Virginia for 30-plus years.

Bill was ready for a change.

"It was like talking to a 12-year-old going away to summer camp," Rodriguez said. "He said, 'What do I bring?'

"I told him to bring his clothes. He asked me what else he should bring and said he hadn't moved in forever.

"I said, 'Well, bring your toothbrush, and we'll get you some Arizona gear when you get out here.'"

Bill brought Billy, too. Rodriguez, who had held Billy as a newborn, gave the younger Kirelawich an entry-level job on his staff.

Father and son moved to Tucson and worked together for the first time. Bill and Billy even lived together for the 2012 season while Maggie and Madeline stayed on the East Coast.

They'll step on the field today as father and son, colleagues and friends, working toward the same goal.

"He's a piece of it," Bill said, "just like I am."

Today

• What: Spring game

• When 1 p.m.

• Where: Kindall/Sancet Stadium

• Admission: Free

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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