Two head coaches better than none

More news about: Minnesota-Morris
Matt Johnson and Marty Hoffman
Marty Hoffman, left, and Matt Johnson are sharing the head coaching duties for Minnesota-Morris this season.
Minnesota-Morris athletics photos

By Josh Smith

When Doug Semones opted to retire from his head coaching position in July, it was hard to imagine how that decision made in southern California could have a tremendous impact on a football team in western Minnesota.

However, following Semones’ retirement and Occidental’s decision to hire Rob Cushman as his successor, the Minnesota-Morris football team was without a head coach just six days before fall camp was to begin.

With a new season looming, the Cougars looked internally to find a solution. And that solution was Marty Hoffman and Matt Johnson serving as co-head coaches.

Both coaches are alumni of the school and previously served as assistant coaches – Hoffman, the defensive coordinator for the last four seasons, and Johnson an offensive assistant for the last 13 seasons, dealing mostly with the O-line.

“Hoffmann and Johnson are great choices to lead the Cougar football program in 2017,” director of athletics Jason Herbers said in a news release announcing the decision. “As Minnesota-Morris alums they are both invested in the ideals of Cougar football and will continue to guide our student-athletes in a positive direction.”

The decision to promote the two coaches needed to be made quickly. When Cushman was contacted about the Occidental job, he flew to California on a Sunday, interviewed Monday and accepted the position that Thursday, which was Aug. 3.

“From start to completion, it was literally a six-day ordeal,” Johnson recalled.

“The timeline of it was pretty sudden. We were about a week away from reporting to fall camp,” Hoffman added. “It was a good situation for him, and it was deal where we had to keep things going here.”

When Cushman made the decision to leave, Herbers met with Hoffman and Johnson.

“Our AD called us in, and told us this was the way they were going to go from an administration standpoint. And essentially, he just asked if we were on board with it,” Johnson said. “If there’s one thing about us, we know that we’re UMM through and through. The opportunity to lead this thing from two alums was too great of position to pass up.”

Hoffman said the first step in the coaching transition was to notify the players. He and Johnson called every person on the roster and explained the situation.

“The response, quite honestly, from the kids was great. They wanted to know where they were supposed to report, and the ins and outs of the report date, and were excited to get going,” Hoffman said. “The players did a tremendous job. They were the ones affected the most by this, and their response has been great.”

“There were some that had a couple questions about things. But I didn’t field one about whether or not Coach Hoffman and I were ready for this,” Johnson added. “They were excited about the opportunity to come in here and compete, and glad to hear there was some consistency with the staff.”

On the field, Hoffman will continue in his role as defensive coordinator and Johnson will oversee the offense. Throughout the week, the coaching responsibilities are also divided between the two.

“We each kind of have our hand in a lot of the administrative-type things that head coaches deal with,” Hoffman explained.

They are the only two full-time coaches on staff with seven part-time coaches, including recent hire Ed Perrault, and two student managers. But because both coaches were heavily involved during Cushman’s tenure, they hope their athletes haven’t had to make much of an adjustment.

“From the players’ perspective, I think they can tell we have a good dynamic,” Johnson said, noting Hoffman’s rah-rah coaching style and his own flat-line approach form a yin and yang balance on the staff. “That doesn’t mean we have to agree on every single thing, but we’ve had a really good distribution of power in this.”

The duo’s debut as the Cougars’ co-head coaches was spoiled by a late touchdown pass. Josh Arndt caught a 19-yard slat pass with 15 seconds to play, lifting Martin Luther to a 14-7 win at Big Cat Stadium. There were positive takeaways for UMM, like Justin Masloski completing 20 of 33 pass attempts for 219 yards, including an 18-yard scoring strike to Caleb Kemp.

Following the loss, the team isn’t making excuses.

“We’re not going to use Coach Cushman’s departure as that ‘woe is me’ type situation,” Johnson said. “Martin Luther played a great game. They ended up beating us. But we practiced hard all through that week. Our game plans were solid.”

“On Saturday, our execution wasn’t where it needed to be,” Hoffman said of his squad that only features three seniors. “We’re kind of a young football team as we continue to grow here. I think the preparation was solid and the kids were ready. We just didn’t get the job done.”

The coaches hope for a better result this weekend when the Cougars play their first road game of the season at Westminster (Mo.).

“The kids have been listening to us and doing a great job of trying to get better each day on the practice field,” Hoffman said.

After the season, the school plans to hold a national search for a head football coach.

“But I don’t think, honestly, that that’s set in stone. I think Morris is in that waiting period to see just how this thing pans out,” Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Hoffman are confident they can work together and make the most of this season. But they note co-head coaches might not work everywhere.

 “It’s an interesting dynamic because it’s Coach Hoffman and myself. We played together here, we’ve literally known each other for the last 17 years – he was in my wedding for crying out loud,” Johnson said. “I think that’s what makes this kind of a special situation.

“This situation isn’t for everybody. But for this situation, right now, in my month of experience with it, it has been awesome. It’s been really good to work with Marty, and I’m so happy about this opportunity.”

Close WIAC finishes

All three WIAC teams ranked in the Top 25 played in games decided by one score.

UW-Whitewater, which entered the week ranked No. 3, lost on the road to Illinois Wesleyan, 17-10. UW-W turned the ball over three times, including a fumble near the goal line with an opportunity to tie the game. It was the Warhawks’ first season-opening loss since 2003 and marked the end of a 13-game non-conference winning streak.

UW-Oshkosh’s Dylan Hecker rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns to help lift the Titans to a 23-17 win over then-No. 8 John Carroll. In the team’s first action since the 2016 Stagg Bowl, the Titans’ defense recorded seven tackles for a loss, including a pair of sacks.

George Fox rallied from a 20-point deficit to take a 28-27 lead, but UW-Platteville recovered and got a 27-yard field goal from Michael Pratl with 1:41 to play to hold off the Bruins, 30-28. Cade Earl passed for 434 yards and two touchdowns in the victory.

Number of the week

98 – as in the number of points scored by St. John’s in Saturday’s shutout win over St. Scholastica. The Johnnies outgained CSS, 560-52, and didn’t score in the final 10:06. SJU scored touchdowns on 12 of its 15 possessions while its defense forced 13 three-and-outs. Jackson Erdmann completed all seven of his pass attempts for 129 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score in the victory.

The rest of the West

Justice Spriggs completed 16 of 22 pass attempts for 222 yards and tossed scoring passes to four different receivers to power Hamline past Crown, 51-0. … Emanuel Jenkins caught 13 passes for 161 yards while Conor Feckley threw three TD passes in Dubuque’s 32-26 win at Bethel. … Ian Kolste passed for 473 yards and six touchdowns – three of which were caught by Kevin Thomas – as Whitworth cruised to a 56-13 win at Central. … UW-Stevens Point prevailed over St. Norbert, 34-33, in double OT. After the Pointers blocked a PAT attempt, Jonte Webb caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Swigart and Hayden Neidert converted the extra point to give UW-SP the victory. … Robert Fernandez picked up 104 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries to help La Verne beat visiting Puget Sound, 33-25. … Ricardo Johnson III threw three touchdown passes while Kosey Mitchell ran for three scores to lift St. Olaf to a 56-13 win over Grinnell. … Ike Cloward and Cody Mighell combined for 169 rushing yards and four touchdowns as Loras defeated Elmhurst 41-9. … Tarek Yaeggi passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns, guiding UW-La Crosse to a 27-7 win over Luther. Nick Holcomb caught nine passes for 115 yards and a score in the win. … Jordan Roberts ran for 72 yards while Tucker Trettel added 63, and the duo combined for three touchdowns in St. Thomas’ 47-13 win over UW-Eau Claire. … Chazz Middlebrook ran the ball 39 times, amassing 288 yards and three touchdowns, as MacMurray took down Rockford, 22-14. … The Gustavus Adolphus defense racked up 12 tackles for a loss, including four quarterback sacks, in a 38-0 shutout over Westminster (Mo.). Casey Decker led the way with 1.5 sacks and nine total tackles. … Coe’s defense intercepted three passes and recovered a pair of fumbles, leading the Kohawks to a 13-9 win at UW-River Falls. … Concordia-Moorhead got 134 yards and two touchdowns from Chad Johnson and defeated Nebraska Wesleyan, 34-14. … Nathan Hierlihy connected on 4-of-5 field goal attempts, including a school-record 55-yard field goal, during Redlands’ 32-7 win over Trinity (Texas). … Augsburg quarterback Quinn Frisell threw for 333 yards and four touchdowns while Nick Heeni and Jeremy Hallowanger both eclipsed 100 yards receiving during a 42-7 win over Northwestern (Minn.). … The UW-Stout defense broke up eight passes, came up with three turnovers and sacked Sam Sasso twice in a 17-0 shutout at Simpson.

Rank ‘em

Eight teams from the West Region were ranked in the Week 1 Top 25 poll.

UW-Oshkosh and St. Thomas each moved up one place from the preseason poll to Nos. 3 and 4, respectively. Meanwhile, both Linfield and St. John’s climbed two spots to Nos. 7 and 8.

UW-Platteville checked in two places higher at No. 13 while WIAC rival UW-Whitewater tumbled from the third spot to No. 15.

Redlands rose five places to No. 20, and Whitworth entered the poll at No. 24.

Coe (59) and Dubuque (2) received votes in this week’s Top 25.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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