Jerry Olszewski and Chad Stadem took their jobs under different circumstances, but find themselves in a similar situation.
Olszewski’s Augustana Vikings and Stadem’s Washington Warriors are struggling more than their fans expected.
For Augie, their 2-2 start isn’t a disaster by any means, but their loss to Minot State certainly was embarrassing, and while Saturday’s 31-6 loss to St. Cloud State was closer than the score would indicate, the Viking offense appears to have bottomed out. They totaled just 162 yards of offense against the Huskies; the third straight game that a Viking offense expected to be explosive has failed to reach 300 yards.
Coach OJ is replacing Mike Aldrich, who was fired from the job (and who returns to Kirkeby-Over Stadium this week as the defensive coordinator for Wayne State). That certainly gives OJ a mandate to do things his own way, but Aldrich wasn’t exactly a failure as a coach, and as such was popular with plenty of players, many of whom are still on the team and many of whom have graduated recently enough to still be keeping close tabs.
A few of those players and some fans have gotten a little ornery in wondering why this team appears to be starting over when they were, despite an 11-11 record over the last two seasons, not far off from being a playoff contender.
The hope was that OJ would come in and fix some things that need fixing, while hopefully improving upon the many strengths the Vikings brought back.
But an offense that averaged 36.5 points and 447 yards per game last year is in a deep rut. They got off to a good start against MSU-Moorhead, but they were shutout in the second half of that game and have scored 17, 24 and 6 points since then, with some of those points coming from defense/special teams.
The Vikings rank third to last in the NSIC in total offense (275.5 yards per game), but worst of all, they’re 12th in the league in rushing offense.
This is a team that has two of the most talented running backs in the league in Dajon Newell and CJ Ham. OJ himself called them one of the best duos in the nation, and they’re not doing anything. In their last three games, Augie has totaled 222 yards rushing on 116 carries — a putrid 1.9 yards per attempt (that does, to be fair, include sacks, and the Vikings have allowed 15 of those, fourth-most in the NSIC).
Yes, Josh Hanson is gone, and he was a tremendous player. But his replacement, Trey Heid, has been arguably the highlight of the offense so far, so it’s tough to sell the QB change as the reason for the offense being roughly half as productive as it was a year ago.
A talented WR corps of Noah Huisman, Darren Niklason, Grant Gebhardt and Matt Gerry is all back from last year, though Gebhardt, the best of that group, was invisible for the first three games. He finally got involved in the loss to SCSU, catching six passes including his first TD.
All five starters on the O-line got significant experience last year, but that unit has struggled mightily.
Tight end Ike Jorgensen also graduated, and he was a good one, but his replacement, Nick Lee, is pretty highly regarded.
So, the offense has two outstanding running backs, four very good receivers, five O-linemen who all played a lot on a team that racked up huge yards and points last year, and…. they can’t move the ball.
It’s natural that frustrated fans (and Aldrich’s former players) might point the finger at the new staff.
Stadem walked in to a somewhat unenviable position at Washington. Brian Hermanson stepped aside after leading the Warriors to six straight Dome appearances and three state titles. Not an easy dude to replace.
Obviously, the system there isn’t exactly broken, so it’s trickier for Stadem to come in and try new things. Players and leftover staff could be understandably skeptical of changing things up.
When Hermy quit, I half-expected long-time assistant Ryan Folsom to get the job. As a Washington alum, I would’ve been fine with that.
When Stadem was announced as the hire, however, I was neither surprised nor disappointed. He comes from a strong, local sports family, won an 11-man state title at Flandreau and is highly regarded in local coaching circles.
I can understand returning players being opposed to, or at least disappointed by, the hire. Folsom has played a big role at WHS, and players feel loyalty to their guys, especially when they’ve won with those guys.
Obviously, Stadem’s decision to keep Folsom (and Travis Schafer) was an olive-branch to those players.
But an alarming number of WHS fans and supporters seemed to be ready to sharpen their knives for Stadem before they even played a game. That surprised me a little.
Then Washington got off to a somewhat underwhelming 2-1 start, and then Friday they got drilled 56-14 by Brandon. It was ugly, and Stadem seemed a little rattled afterward. He knows he’s stepping into big shoes, and he knows he isn’t making a great first impression.
Unfortunately for Stadem, he’s fighting something of a losing battle, because this team just isn’t very good. Yes, Hermy resigned to watch his son Matt play college football, but if that was the sole reason he would’ve left the year before.
He also stepped down because last year’s team was a historic one, among the best ever assembled. He knew this year was going to be a rebuilding project. Good time to step aside and let someone else do it.
The Washington offense is severely lacking for playmaking weapons, and in addition to lacking the talent of previous Warrior offenses, there’s no experience. Zero returning full-time offensive starters. The average observer simply does not appreciate how hard it is to get an entirely new group of teenagers to execute an offense.
And while I certainly don’t mean to pick on Folsom, whom I respect, I thought it odd that former players like Tom Farniok took to twitter to blast Stadem and openly campaign for Folsom on Friday when it was Folsom’s defense that gave up 56 points (side note to Tom Farniok: Maybe stop doing that. Your loyalty to your coach is understandable and even admirable, but with a younger brother on the team, nothing productive or positive can come from bashing the new coach, especially since you’ve never played for him).
I think Jerry Olszewski is a good hire for Augie. I like him. He’s ultra-positive, but not in a fake or annoying way. He doesn’t make excuses when things go bad. I was particularly impressed with how he seemed to react to the loss to Minot. He acknowledged the failure head-on.
But as far back as spring football, I was privately telling people that I suspected Augie might be in for a long season. Not because I thought they stunk, but because I just got a strong sense from talking to OJ that he was planning on really starting over, going all the way back to square one and focusing heavily on teaching the game and installing his own principles, philosophies, and techniques, right down to how his QBs put their fingers on the seams of the ball. It felt like winning might be secondary this season.
That was still more or less how things seemed to transpire during fall camp, but with players and coaches openly talking about all the talent they had, I started thinking maybe I was overthinking, and that the Vikings could be a contender, especially after they roared out to a 41-7 lead against Moorhead.
But after three straight weeks of toothless offense, Augie doesn’t look like a contender. They look like a rebuilding team.
How do you explain the offensive struggles, when, again, there’s so much talent and/or experience coming back?
I haven’t gotten a sense that this staff likes the talent on the O-line as much as the guys who recruited them, but those guys found a way to average 37 points and 450 yards a game with them.
I know these coaches are not incompetent. I just think they’re intent on making sure things are done their way. That doesn’t mean they’re losing on purpose, of course, but they’re not going to compromise, even if it takes awhile.
If Washington doesn’t win another game this season, hell, if they don’t score another point, it still isn’t going to cost Stadem his job. He’s not going anywhere.
Despite the apparent objections of some, I’m told he was pretty much a slam dunk hire. WHS faculty likes him, and the people who hired him believe in him. The other coaches in the city respect him.
He’s not going anywhere.
Judging him on his first season would be silly (though there’s no denying the loss to Brandon was ugly and embarrassing). With the outflux of talent, it was a rebuilding year all along. Sure, you don’t want to try to reinvent the wheel or change schemes just for the sake of changing when a program has had so much success, but you also can’t just blindly run someone else’s system when you’re in charge. You have to be you. You have to do what got you there in the first place.
Jed Stugart battled this at USF. Everyone wanted things to stay the same as they had been under Kalen DeBoer, and in some ways they have. But Stugart also knew he had to stick with what had made him successful enough to get that job in the first place, and, subtly, that program now looks very different than it did under DeBoer. Jed did an excellent job of walking the line between respecting the tradition and keeping what worked, but also steering the ship in the direction he wanted it to go.
Since Stadem isn’t going anywhere, he doesn’t need to be worrying about job security, but he probably worries a bit about kids leaving via open enrollment. They’ve lost some and they’ll lose some more.
Let ‘em go.
Players, parents and fans can’t be influencing team philosophy, schemes or personnel decisions. If players leave, even great ones, the program isn’t going to be shut down. There’s only so many places for kids to go, only so many starting jobs available. And there are a lot of talented kids in Sioux Falls. Washington isn’t going to run out of players.
Augie might go 3-8 this year. I don’t expect that, but it might happen. And if it does, some kids might transfer.
That isn’t going to change the way OJ and his staff do things.
Again, it’s pretty clear that Augie’s circumstances gave OJ a bright green light to rebuild the program in his own image, and he’s undertaken that process on a potentially long-term path. Is that unfortunate for upperclassmen or kids who were recruited by Aldrich and expected a different college experience? Perhaps. But it’s a reality.
I’ve covered a lot of coaching changes at the high school and college level. Hermy replacing Kim Nelson at Washington and Nelson replacing Brent DeBoer at Roosevelt. Kalen DeBoer replacing Bob Young at USF and Stugart replacing him. Brad Salem replacing Jim Heinitz and Aldrich replacing Salem and OJ replacing Aldrich at Augie.
Every single one of those changes resulted in a lot of pissed-off people. Because when fans and players get used to one guy, or one system, or one philosophy or whatever, they have a hard time adjusting to or accepting change, regardless of the results.
Kalen DeBoer went 67-3 at USF, and I still heard from players and parents who insisted he was an idiot.
The year Nelson won his first state title at Roosevelt, anonymous fans went on our Argus Leader live chats to rip his playcalling and personnel decisions all season long.
People are entitled to that. Most of them don’t know what they’re talking about, but that’s fine. You’re not required to be an expert to be a football fan.
Maybe OJ will never get Augie over the hump. Maybe Stadem will prove to be in over his head in Sioux Falls.
But we can’t possibly know that after a couple months, or even one season. So if you’re a fan and you’re panicking, chill.
Whether it’s Jerry Olszewski at Augie, Chad Stadem at Washington, or any other new coach at any other school, new coaches have not just a right, but a responsibility to themselves and their players, to do things their way.
Usually that means making changes. Usually it means ruffling some feathers. As a player, you can either buy in or get out. As a fan, you can either show patience and support, or, well, not.
Whichever you decide isn’t going to change anything.
As an alum and former Washington player, I’m not worried about the Warriors future. And as a long-time observer of the Augie football program, I get a good feeling about where OJ could take the Vikings.
So show Chad and OJ some patience. They know what they’re doing.
Jerry Olszewski and Chad Stadem took their jobs under different circumstances, but find themselves in a similar situation.