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John Stiegelmeier | In The Moment

The Winningest football coach in the history of South Dakota State University, John Stiegelmeier joins Lori Walsh on In The Moment. Listen to the full episode HERE.
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Lori Walsh:
You're listening to In the Moment on South Dakota Public Broadcasting. I'm your host, Lori Walsh. John Stiegelmeier is the winningest football coach in the history of South Dakota State University. After 26 years at SDSU, John is retiring on a high note. He's delivered the university their first FCS national championship, and he leaves behind an impressive record of 199 wins to 112 losses, and he has stopped by the Kirby Family Studio in Sioux Falls for a conversation. Coach, welcome. Thanks for being here.

John Stiegelmeier:
Thanks, Lori. It's a treat. It's my first time, so I look forward to it.

Lori Walsh:
Exactly. Tell me how you knew it was the right time to retire. That's a big decision to make. You don't make it lightly. It's not like, "We won and I'm going to hang up the towel." What went into that decision?

John Stiegelmeier:
Well, a lot of things. We had been talking about it. My wife's first name is Lori also, so Lori and I had been talking about it for probably three years. One of our goals, our top goal really, was to have one of our assistants become the head coach and the reason for that is that our level of football, if he doesn't, if somebody else comes in new, then all those families are without jobs and so we just felt that commitment. The national championship was kind of frosting on the cake. It wasn't because we went right off into the sunset. I always think people that say that feels kind of weird, but it was just time. Jimmy Rogers was named the head coach who played for us. One more thing. Football is part of your life, it's not just a job. It is literally ... so it's time for my wife Lori to have some of her dreams fulfilled.

Lori Walsh:
I want to get back to her in a minute. So Jimmy Rogers, if you move at the wrong time, if you stay too long, he goes somewhere else. You have to hit that ... Is that what I'm kind of hearing you saying? You have to hit that timing, like he's ready, but he's not going to leave yet. If we can keep that continuity and that consistency, people stay at work and the program stays stable.

John Stiegelmeier:
His passion for South Dakota State kept him there when a lot of people would've left earlier because he was offered some jobs earlier and it was time and it's kind of fun when it all seems to align perfectly and that's how we feel.

Lori Walsh:
That's a great leadership lesson. We've been having leadership conversations all month on this show and just the awareness that there is somebody there who is ready I think is exciting and a good lesson. Tell me a little bit about growing up in Selby. Something in the water there that the sort of you carry with you today and that you carry throughout your journey as a coach.

John Stiegelmeier:
Well, three boys in our family. I'm the middle one. Grew up on a wheat farm. I never saw a corn plant as a farmer because in those days it was dry farming and whole different practices and really was raised by a 5020 John Deere tractor. I spent more time on a tractor than anything, and my dad taught me these two things that I carry on in every phase of my life. He taught me to work hard, and we did, and he taught me to be a man of character and he said both with his actions and his words, he said, "You will be a success." Now what does that mean? He thought I'd be a farmer, and when I said, "Dad, I think I want to be a coach," he said, "Go for it." My other two brothers were farmers so very blessed to grow up in a community like that.

Lori Walsh:
What is it about the work ethic that's similar to you? Is just hours put in, is it working smarter, not harder, changing technology? What are some of those intersections for you between ag and coaching?

John Stiegelmeier:
A normal football week during the season is probably 80 to a hundred hours of film watching, meetings, practice, all those things, and they're all good. Nobody complains about that. That's life and those that have farmed, when the hay needs to be put up, you don't go in and have dinner, you put up the hay and the weeds need to be killed in the field. So very similar that there's a job to be done, you have to get it done. Then I think the highs of winning game and the highs of harvest and bringing that in and completing that are not the same, but it's a similar feeling.

Lori Walsh:
Community as well. Talk about the community of SDSU football.

John Stiegelmeier:
We have unbelievable student athletes. That was the toughest meeting I've ever had is to tell a hundred guys that Lori and I are stepping down. We work really hard to create a family. You can picture this. We bring in on average 25 new guys a year, and so 25 true freshmen, and by the end of their career and somewhere in the middle of their career, they are hugging each other and saying I love you. That's what our coaches do such a great job of ... we have non-football meetings, so we have player meetings where you can't talk about football and so literally you're growing as individuals closer and it's been the highlight of my ... to have a young man come back and say how SDSU football impacted his life.

Lori Walsh:
If you can't talk about football, what are you talking about?

John Stiegelmeier:
Well, I have a list of 48 topics for the coach that struggles, but we talk about maybe the toughest thing you've ever been through as an individual and I've heard some crazy things. Your most embarrassing moment, what would you do if you had unlimited money? Well, how would you impact the world? It's so cool to hear these 18 to 23 year old guys not talking about touchdowns or college algebra, talking about real world stuff. I was blessed to meet with the specialists, the kickers and snappers and stuff, and so built a real close relationship through a number of years of those meetings.

Lori Walsh:
Do you share that information with them too? Tell me about what we would call today vulnerability, but just how open are you with your players so they see you as a man, they see you as a human being, but also respect you as a coach. Where's that line for you?

John Stiegelmeier:
Totally open.

Lori Walsh:
Totally open?

John Stiegelmeier:
Yeah, totally open. There's a book on coaching and it has the organization and the discipline and the accountability and all that stuff, but in somewhere, it doesn't say it, but I believe you need to be yourself and they need to see you being yourself. They know I'm a very emotional person. They heard about my grandma Bossard the day I resigned and blamed her for my emotions because we lived in the same town and she'd get emotional when we went home and she'd get ... I think that's really important and surely if you want to have a program that depicts a family, you have to be real and they have to see what you're about.

Lori Walsh:
For some of those kids, for some of those student athletes, being told that they're loved might be new.

John Stiegelmeier:
It is, and it's sad and it's something that ... I can't tell somebody anything greater. When you get to that point in your relationship, it's a pretty cool accomplishment.

Lori Walsh:
How much do they grow in just a year as men, as human beings, as athletes, as students? What is it like to watch that?

John Stiegelmeier:
Well, they're all different. God made each of them different, and so some take a little longer.

Lori Walsh:
Some not so much.

John Stiegelmeier:
Some take a little longer, but I'll never forget Christian Rozeboom, who's with the Rams in the NFL, I met with him after his first year and he had grown as a man, as a confidence and stuff and I said, "Well, tell me about your first year," and he said, "I didn't let the college life change me." Those decisions people make that sometimes are detrimental to their success, their academics, their athletics and stuff, he literally said that was his greatest accomplishment, that he didn't let that impact him.

Lori Walsh:
You go home, you talk to Lori, you talk to your wife. What kind of support was she able to give you on your worst day that made it okay?

John Stiegelmeier:
Oh, she's a rock. I know that's a cliche type thing. I was born to be a coach and she was a pastor's daughter, and so they moved and they had exposure to the community, so she was really raised to be a coach's wife and really the day we interviewed, she stepped forward and say, "If you want to really talk to the real head coach, talk to me," and she'd been a stay-at-home mom, stay-at-home grandma. She would say things like ... one year we graduated a number of guys that had NFL opportunities, and I said, "We're never going to have a team like this again," just in conversation. She said, "Do you know how many times you've said that in your career?" So just a real stabilizing factor.

Lori Walsh:
What does she want to do next that you're excited to do in support of her?

John Stiegelmeier:
One of her bucket list deals is to go to the northeast in the fall and see the leaves, and I think we can see it in Minnesota, but she wants to go to Vermont, New Hampshire. She wants to spend a lot of time with our four grandkids. We live a very simple life. We have a huge garden. She puts up most of our vegetables, all of our vegetables, and so we're best friends and I think just kind of hang out, to be honest with you.

Lori Walsh:
Those hours of tape watching, when you don't have that in front of you, I'm thinking of Meister Delta [inaudible 00:09:52] who just hears the score all the time. Is the tape running behind your eyes all the time, or do you turn it off? How do you separate that?

John Stiegelmeier:
Early in life. I didn't separate it. Early in life, just a brief story. I took our youngest son out when he was in elementary school to spend time with him as a dad, and we're sitting in Taco Johns and he said, "You know what, Dad? Sometimes you don't hear what I say." So the film was running, although I was supposed to be spending time with our son. There's been a lot of opportunities or try to grow to turn that off. I think as I've grown older surely and figure out what really is important, it's been a lot easier to separate the job and the rest of my life.

Lori Walsh:
26 years at SDSU, you're still ... I'm going to call you a young man, although you're not as young as when you started. If you had won the national championship at 25, at 35, would it have been different than winning it now on you personally?

John Stiegelmeier:
Yeah. I think it would've been different because I think out of ... don't take this wrong, I think I'd have thought it was a bigger deal. For me winning it at age 65 after really 35 years at South Dakota State, 26 as the head coach, and talk about a dream come true when I say that, I have to emphasize that. When we won it, I got a lot of joy through our players, but I wanted them to make sure this is not the ultimate prize and it's not another one is not the ultimate prize. The ultimate prize or goal is to be a national champion in every phase of your life. I challenge them to be husbands, dads, employers, employees, and now they know what it feels like within the football realm, go do it in every phase of your life.

Lori Walsh:
How is your faith life part of that for you?

John Stiegelmeier:
It leads me, it calms me. I tell our players at the start of fall camp, "My priorities are my faith, then my family and then football." I tell them, "If my wife calls right now, first meeting, I'm taking the call." We have chapel before every game. You get to visit with the bishop, correct?

Lori Walsh:
Bishop Hagmaier's coming on next, yes.

John Stiegelmeier:
Visit with her. I'm going to run out to my radio and you got my phone, whatever. We have Bible studies. I think, and even though we're a public school, I think anybody should be allowed to grow in every phase of their life, and so my administration has allowed faith to be a huge part of our program.

Lori Walsh:
It sounds to me like you have a book in you. I mean, 48 chapters at least, right? If there's a list of 48 questions. Are you interested in some sort of way to pass on this knowledge through mentorship, teaching, a book? What do you think is next for you I guess is what I'm really asking there?

John Stiegelmeier:
I don't know. I've had a number of people ... not a number. I've had three or four people talk about I should write a book. Well, I'm a math major by trade, so prepositions and I don't get along. It wouldn't be myself doing that, but what an honor it is for somebody to say that to you about your career or your life. What's next? Again, investing in my wife and honestly, I kind of get excited about maybe being an elementary tutor in math. Just going in there two hours a day and having young kids come down and me help them out with what for a lot of us is a foreign language, mathematics. That would be cool. Zero interest in working football again. Again, this is Lori's time.

Lori Walsh:
Someone's going to tell me I didn't ask you enough about football, but what do people not ask you that you want to ... what do you want to wrap up with that reporters never say, "Hey, tell me about this." Is there an aspect of your life that you find really important that you want to highlight?

John Stiegelmeier:
Really good question. Been like an open book, I think, for most people so I don't know if there's anything that's not been talked about. I do think this. I am not your stereotypical coach. We don't use profanity in the football field. I hug our seniors before every game, those types of things. I think just the fact that I tried to be who God made me.

Lori Walsh:
The love is the legacy in a lot of ways.

John Stiegelmeier:
I hope so. I hope so.

Lori Walsh:
Coach John Stiegelmeier, thank you for stopping by. You're welcome to come back, tell us about the leaves, send us some photos, bring Lori in and don't be a stranger. Thanks.

John Stiegelmeier:
I have no friends, so you may see me back here. Right? Take care.

Lori Walsh:
Thanks.

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