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Celebrating 10 Years of schutt sports coaches of the year

It has been 10 years that Schutt Sports has been honoring the top coaches in the nation. With the anniversary of the first award now upon us,
by: Steve Silverman
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Terry Hoeppner, Indiana He won the Schutt Sports Division I-A Coach of the Year Award in 2003 as head coach of the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks and that did not go unnoticed. How could it? QB Ben Roethlisberger went on to become a first-round draft choice for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2004 and was thrust into the starting lineup when No. 1 QB Tommy Maddox went down with a knee injury. All Roethlisberger did was lead the Steelers to 14 straight regular-season wins and a berth in the AFC championship game. Doom and gloom had been predicted for Roethlisberger when he was forced into the lineup and he became one of the great rookie performers in NFL history.

He credited Hoeppner with developing both his game and his mind in order to perform at his best on the biggest stage. “I can’t say enough about Coach Hoeppner. He is an inspiration, a second father to me. I love him to death,” he said. “I told him that I will always support him, because he has always supported me. He's a wise man who knows the game of football – and a lot more than that.” The Indiana Hoosiers took notice and hired Hoeppner away from Miami to coach their football team at the conclusion of the 2004 season after they had gone 3-8 last year and looked rather lifeless by the end of the season. For Hoeppner, an Indiana native, getting hired by the state university was nothing less than a ‘dream job.’ “It’s been the job I always wanted,” Hoeppner said. “But it’s about changing the atmosphere around here. We were accustomed to winning at Miami, and I want to carry that winning tradition over to the Big Ten. I know we can do that. We will build on the program’s foundation that is already in place. Our goal is simple – the Rose Bowl. We will shoot for perfection, and we can settle for excellence.”

Indiana has been thought of as one of the Big Ten’s tailenders, but he won’t allow his players to use that perception as an excuse. He wants to build a tough, physical team that can compete with Michigan, Ohio State and in-state rival Purdue. “We have a great strength and conditioning coach (Mark Wateska), and I think that will be a key to this season. We will put teams away this year. When we are tied or ahead in the fourth quarter, we will finish teams off because of our conditioning.”

That goal turned into reality during the first half of the season when the Hoosiers won four of their first five games. Roethlisberger believes that Hoeppner can’t help but succeed during his run at Indiana. “Indiana players have a great coach and a great mentor,” Roethlisberger said. “He’s touched so many lives in so many ways. He’s going to do great things at IU. The players are going to love him. He's a players’ coach.” That way of leading a team has worked out well for Hoeppner so far – and there’s no reason to think it won’t work in his ‘dream job’ at Indiana. Ralph Friedgen, Maryland Friedgen’s coaching career took off in 2001 when he took over an inconsistent Maryland program and immediately turned the Terps into one of the best teams in the ACC. Even though he had never been a head coach prior to getting hired by Maryland, he had done an outstanding job at running quality offensive teams at San Diego in the NFL and Georgia Tech before he got his opportunity. Friedgen was thoroughly prepared and led the Terps to three double-digit wins in his first three seasons and bowl victories in two of them. Now in his fifth year with Maryland, Friedgen had the best four-year record in the history of the ACC. The 2001 winner of the Schutt Sports Coach of the Year continues to build a reputation as one of the great offensive innovators in the game. Not only were his 36 wins more than any other fourth-year coach in ACC history, but in his first three seasons at the helm of the Terrapin program, he became the first coach in conference history to lead a team to three-straight seasons of 10 wins or more. In addition, his 36 wins in four years rank him in the top 10 in NCAA history, surpassing the fourth year marks of coaching legends such as Frank Leahy and Joe Paterno. Friedgen’s top priority when he came to Maryland was to bring more talented players to the roster. He especially wanted to keep the Maryland high school stars at home. “I think that has to be the main focus of our recruiting,” said Friedgen. “We have to get the better players from the state. Not every player is meant to come to the University of Maryland, but a large portion of them should. I know a lot of coaches in this area and they know me.” In order to make that happen, Friedgen built a great in-state network to help keep the better players at school. He has done that by and large and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t continue well into the future. Bob Ladouceur, De La Salle High School, Concord, Calif. He is perhaps the most well-known high school football coach in the nation. And perhaps he should be. What other coach has a 151-game winning streak to his credit. De La Salle remains a remarkable program and that is why Ladouceur has won Schutt Sports High School Coach of the Year honors in 1997, 1999 and 2002. The winning streak was one of the most impressive coaching jobs in the history of the sports, but there is a lot more to Ladouceur than his ability to design great plays and get the most out of his players on the field. As Ron Barr of Sports Byline put it, “... his coaching is secondary to his knowing how to teach his players about life and what's truly important.”

Ladouceur’s players have gone on to success at both the college and the NFL level. But to him, the job of coaching has always been about developing young players into young men. He does this by getting the most out of them on the football field – whether it’s in a game or a practice. “All I ask is this: by the time each practice ends, for you to be better than you were two or three hours ago,” Ladouceur explained. “Whether it was in the weight room or on the field, I asked them to walk off a little bit stronger, to understand the game a little more, or at least to have the plays that we were running understood a bit more.” That philosophy has built one of the most successful programs in sports history. Paul Johnson, Navy He runs one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. When he was hired by Navy prior to the 2002 season after a very successful run at Division 1-AA Georgia Southern, the Midshipmen were hoping they could go from an embarrassment to respectability. That sounds harsh, but Navy was 1-20 in 2000 and 2001. That was the worst two-year record in the program’s storied history. They turned to Johnson because he was 62-10 in four years at Georgia Southern, won the Southern Conference Championship all four years and won two Division I-AA titles. He won the Schutt Sports Division I-AA Coach of the Year award in 1998. “The program didn’t get the way it is overnight, and it’s not going to change overnight,” said Johnson when he was hired by the Midshipmen. “But I am confident that you can win here. If I didn’t believe that, I would have never accepted the job.”

Johnson was right. Navy went 2-10 in his first year, but the year was used to build a foundation. The Midshipmen went 8-5 in 2003 and 10-2 last year. Johnson’s multiple-option attack has been extremely successful at both the I-AA and Division I level and he has also managed to change Navy’s losing attitude by instilling confidence in his players. He has completely changed the atmosphere surrounding the once-dormant program and the bar has been raised. “There’s enough guys on this team that understand what it takes,” Johnson said. “We have a young team and they don’t understand the other side. All they’ve seen is being successful. They realize how hard we have to work to be successful.” Hard work is what it takes – as long as there’s a coach with vision doing the leading. Johnson has proved that everywhere he has been.

Mark Hudspeth, North Alabama He threw his name into the national consciousness during the remarkable 2003 season. In that year, the Lions turned their program around by going 13-1 and reaching the national Division II semifinals before losing 29-22 to North Dakota. Hudspeth won the Schutt Sports Division II Coach of the Year award in 2003 for that memorable season. North Alabama went 5-5 in 2004 and got off to a sensational start in 2005 by winning five of its first six games. The Lions’ history and great season two years ago make them a target for every team they face in the Gulf South Conference. “We’re playing a lot of teams with UNA ties and that means a lot of folks will have our game circled on their calendars,” Hudspeth said. “It will be a challenge each week but it will also be exciting for our players and coaches.” Hudspeth and his team has always been ready for the challenge. Mike Van Diest, Carroll College (Montana) It’s difficult to find a coach who has succeeded as consistently as Carroll College’s Mike Van Diest. His team has won three straight NAIA championships and had built a 62-14 career record heading into the 2005 seasons. At press time, the Fighting Saints had won four in a row to start the season and were showing no signs of slowing down. Van Diest is not awed to be in the shadow of John Gagliardi (St. John’s [Minn.]), the winningest coach in college football history, or Bobby Petrino of Louisville. Both men got their start at Carroll College. Van Diest won the Schutt Sports NAIA Coach of the Year award in 2003 and has not lost another game since. The most modest of men, Van Diest credits much of his success to happenstance. “I just happen to be in the right place at the right time,” Van Diest. Yes, but clearly not the whole story. He has a well-prepared team that does not give credence to past achievement. As a result, Carroll College and Van Diest keep on winning. s


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