Friday, January 12, 2024

Local boy makes good

A few days ago, I wrote I never thought that my alma mater South Dakota State would ever have an All-American championship quarterback. Today I will say I never thought a Milbank, South Dakota boy would follow in the footsteps of Bear Bryant and become the head coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide football team.

Word hit the interweb a few hours ago that Kalen DeBoer is the new coach at Alabama. Kalen (can I call you Kalen?) is a native of Milbank and got his start in college football playing and coaching at the University of Sioux Falls. When I moved back to Sioux Falls in 2007, the college's stadium was a short bike ride from my house and I caught a few games at the tail end of his coaching tenure there, where he won three NAIA national championships. In those days, the Fighting Baptists (actually the Cougars) from Sioux Falls ran roughshod over the other Midwestern church schools that make up a majority of NAIA membership. In his final season of 2009, some of his team's wins were 80-0 over the Lutherans from Concordia University, Seward, NE; 58-0 over the Evangelical Christians from Dordt University, Sioux Center, IA; and 59-7 over the Methodists from Dakota Wesleyan University, Mitchell, SD. Now he goes to Alabama where football is a religion.

DeBoer has been the HC at the University of Washington and just lost to Michigan in the national title game, so he has experience as a Power 5 (now 4?) coach. But Alabama is another level.

It got me wondering about how many South Dakota natives became big-time college football coaches. The most famous would be Frank Leahy from Winner. He played for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame 1928-30 and coached four national championship teams there in the 1940s. The next one I know offhand is Josh Heupel, an Aberdeen native who quarterbacked Oklahoma to the national championship in 2000 and is now the HC at Tennessee. After some internet searches, I was reminded that Smokey Joe Salem from Sioux Falls worked his way up the ladder and coached the Minnesota Golden Gophers 1979-83. I did not know that George Veenker from Sioux Falls was HC at Iowa State in the 1930s, and was the head basketball coach at Michigan for a few years before that. As far as I can tell, that's it, that's the list.

At the pro level, Norm Van Brocklin was born in desolation near Eagle Butte but his family moved to California when he was 5. After a Hall-of-Fame NFL career, he was head coach for 13 seasons with Minnesota and Atlanta, never making the playoffs. Richard Bisaccia was the interim coach for the Las Vegas Raiders in 2021 after John Gruden quit/was fired due to scandal. Bisaccia is a native of New York but graduated from Yankton College, which no longer exists. (The college was best known as the alma mater of another New Yorker, Lyle Alzado. The campus is now a federal prison.) Despite a 7-5 record, making the playoffs and receiving support from the players, Bisaccia was passed over for the permanent position in favor of Josh McDaniels. (How did that work out for you, Mark Davis?) Bisaccia interviewed for the HC position with the Colts last year and is now an assistant with the Packers.

A few days ago, ESPN posted some very speculative 2024 Top 25 rankings that place Alabama at #4 and Tennessee at #17. Jot it down, October 19 in Knoxville, Alabama Head Coach Kalen DeBoer from Milbank, South Dakota will face off against Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel from Aberdeen, South Dakota in what is likely to be a crucial Southeastern Conference Top 25 showdown game.

University of Sioux Falls souvenir football

Jan. 17 update: Dan Lyons of Sports Illustrated took a stab at guessing the replacement for DeBoer at Washington. He came up with five names: Ryan Grubb, UW offensive coordinator; Lance Leopold, Kansas HC; Chris Klieman, K-State HC; Jimmy Rogers, South Dakota State HC; and some guy named Pete Carroll. Grubb was an assistant coach at South Dakota State then joined DeBoer at Sioux Falls. Klieman was HC at D3 Loras College in Iowa and at North Dakota State before going to K-State. And of course Rogers has been at South Dakota State in various capacities for many years now. Leopold has no Dakota connections but somewhat paralleled DeBoer's career by starting at Wisconsin-Whitewater, a Division 3 powerhouse. (Carroll has no small college connections.) It turns out that Lyons was completely wrong as UW plucked the HC from Arizona, but it is interesting that guys who start out at small colleges in the Upper Midwest are getting considered for jobs at the FBS level.

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