Bill Landry retires from Grand Forks Central after 41 years
Bill Landry sat on a desk in the middle of his second-floor Grand Forks Central classroom on Thursday afternoon.
One wall is covered with the senior picture of every student he's had since 1996.
Another wall is covered with political signs dating back to the early 1990s, a nod to his position as a government teacher.
There's a concrete pig with a Central logo in the room, too—a unique trophy that Landry, the longtime football assistant coach, handed to his top offensive lineman each year. The winners' names are written on it dating back to the 1979 season.
Landry's nametag still hangs on the classroom door, though a co-worker suggested that he take it down and bring it home as a keepsake.
Landry, who spent the past 41 years as a Central teacher and football offensive line coach, has decided to retire.
His last day on the football field was last fall. His last day in the classroom was last month. His last day teaching driver's education is today.
Landry, looking around his room, spoke to the Herald about his remarkable run with the school.
"I'm not comfortable getting acknowledged for this," he said, "because I'm the one who should be saying 'thank you.' I mean, really, this school and the people in it took me, who was a—well, a lot different than the way I am now, let's just put it that way—and taught me what it means to be a professional and how to act that way."
He looked at the students' senior photos on the wall. Then, he continued.
"There's something about this building that just does that to people."
Tenure at Central
Landry had an afro and a handlebar mustache when he was hired at Central in 1977.
He was one year removed from graduating at UND, where he played offensive line for the football team. Landry admits that his football background probably helped him land the teaching job.
"By today's standards, I would have never gotten hired," Landry said.
While his teaching job shifted throughout the years—from social studies to history of North Dakota to government—he was a staple with the Central football team.
Landry coached the offensive line for 41 years. He was on the sidelines for winless seasons and a state championship season. He saw several Division I players come through the program, including an NFL quarterback in Brooks Bollinger.
He coached two of his three sons, Tony and Jake. His oldest son, Nick, went to Red River.
Landry's tenure spanned three head coaches—Ron Bergh, Mike Berg and Bill Lorenz. A total of 78 football coaches, head and assistants, have come through during his time.
"He loved the game," said former Central head coach Mike Berg, who spent 28 years on the sidelines with Landry. "You don't do that for 41 years if you don't, especially when your kids never touch the ball. They're always getting their noses bloody and their hands down in the dirt. It's hard enough to get a kid to want to buy into that when all the other kids are getting recognition. But he reveled in that. He made kids play with that same type of attitude. To a man, every one of them came to appreciate the game for the basics of what it was.
"Just to know that the most important part of a football team was going to be taken care of and things were going to be done right was a blessing. Any coaching staff that has that consistency in the most difficult position to coach, it's a blessing. Staffs change, but never once over the last 41 years has Central had to find a new offensive line coach."
Landry said that he's changed a lot over his four decades at Central.
"When I first came here, I think I would have said I'm a coach first and then a teacher," he said. "That's certainly changed. I'm both, but I don't make a living being a coach."
How did Landry decide it was time to retire?
"There wasn't a moment where I said, 'I'm going to be done,'" Landry said. "I enjoyed the football season. I enjoyed my teaching. I started to think that it's been 50 years since I started playing football. Maybe it's time to get back to doing something else."
Landry has some plans already.
He's going to to watch his son, Jake, coach running backs at Northern Illinois. Bill already has plans to travel to Tallahassee to watch NIU take on national power Florida State. He's also going to try to attend NIU's game at Brigham Young.
Landry hopes to go to a Green Bay Packers game, too. The Green Bay native is a season-ticket holder, but has only been able to attend one game in the past 10 years.
He'd also like to take a vacation to Florida with his wife, Jill, and their friends.
"I don't know for sure what I'm going to do or even if I made the right decision (to retire)," Landry said. "But I left really liking my job."