Not even Hempen himself, however, could have predicted then that his opportunity would come right up the road in Fort Collins at Colorado State University, which didn't even have a program at the time.
But that's exactly how things have played out, as CSU announced Hempen as head coach of its newly-added women's soccer team on Tuesday. The Rams, who just last month announced the addition of the program, will take the pitch for their inaugural season already next fall.
"It's been a very emotional year, and it's like a weight's been lifted off my shoulders," Hempen said in a phone interview Tuesday. "The vision (CSU athletic director) Jack Graham has up there, he sees a blank wall and sees something special it could become.
"I'm really excited about it."
Hempen, 54, spent 11 seasons at the University of Colorado before unexpectedly resigning after the 2011 campaign. His teams went 114-88-28, winning the Big 12 Conference title in just his third season. He coached a pair of All-Americans in Fran Munnelly (twice) and Skyline High grad Nikki Marshall. Counting a 13-year run at Duke, he's the 17th-winningest Division-I women's soccer coach ever at 276-188-44.
Dawson athletic director David Hansburg, the former director of football operations at CU, hired Hempen last February to lead his soccer programs, a coup for the small private school along Highway 287 between Lafayette and Longmont.
Hempen coached the girls team at Dawson last spring and the boys team this past fall, leading the boys to a Class 3A state playoff berth. Hempen's wife, a CU grad, is a teacher at Dawson, and the coach said his family plans to keep living in Louisville.
"(Hansburg) was unbelievable," Hempen said. "He knew at the end of the day I wanted to get back into college a the right place. He was completely supportive."
"It was rewarding for sure," Hempen added about his experience at the high school level. "It really made me (gain a renewed appreciation) for the simple things that make the game so great."
Hempen is no stranger to building programs from scratch.
Before joining CU, he started the program at Duke and turned the Blue Devils into an Atlantic Coast Conference power, guiding them to the NCAA championship game in 1992 and earning ACC coach of the year honors three times. Then in 2001 he took over at CU, a relatively new program that had yet to earn a winning season in Big 12 play, and guided the Buffs to the conference title in 2003.
“I am excited to welcome Bill Hempen the Ram Family,” Graham said in a CSU press release. “To attract a coach of his quality and caliber speaks volumes about the excellence of Colorado State University. His experience in building a program and his track record of developing student-athletes make him the right choice to lead our new women's soccer program.”
Since his hiring as CSU AD, Graham has had grand visions for the school's athletics programs, including working to build a new on-campus football stadium. Hempen said an on-campus soccer facility is part of the grand plan, though his team will initially play its home games at the Fort Collins Soccer Complex north of town.
Hempen has little time to get ready for the Rams' inaugural season, but he believes it's by no means an impossible task to put a competitive team on the pitch right away, especially given his recruiting ties in Colorado and the West.
"My relationships in the state are solid, and I look forward to continuing those relationships," Hempen said.
As for Dawson, Hansburg now has a recruiting job of his own to pull off. The high school girls season in Colorado begins with practices on Feb. 25. Hansburg said he plans to move quickly and focus his immediate attention on the girls opening, though if his hire for the girls position ends up working out for the boys team as well, like Hempen did, that is simply a bonus.
Hansburg was happy for Hempen, and said he knew when CSU announced a few weeks ago that it was starting a women's soccer program that Hempen might be a candidate and that he could be looking for his own new coach again.
"I said (to Hempen), 'If this comes your way, you've got to go for it,'" Hansburg said. "I'm proud of him and excited for him."
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