High school feature: It's hard to give up

After 35 years in the classroom at Fertile-Beltrami, Dick Braun retired as a teacher in 1999. Now the 67-year-old is planning to leave his other classroom -- the football field. Braun has continued as an assistant coach for the Falcons for the pa...

After 35 years in the classroom at Fertile-Beltrami, Dick Braun retired as a teacher in 1999.

Now the 67-year-old is planning to leave his other classroom -- the football field. Braun has continued as an assistant coach for the Falcons for the past 10 seasons, but he recently informed Fertile-Beltrami head coach Brian Nelson that he doesn't intend to coach next fall.

"Brian asked if I wanted to coach next year and I said, 'No, you guys can handle it quite well,' " Braun said. "Right now, there's nothing on the horizon as far as coaching for me.

"But you can never say never again."

Braun is one of several coaches in the area who, after retiring as teachers, continued their careers as coaches.


"It's not for the money," Central Valley head football coach and retired teacher Randy Vigen said. "I enjoy the camaraderie that you build up with other coaches over the years. And it's working with the kids, in the sport you love. It keeps you feeling young."

Not just about wins

Rick Koivisto spent 34 years teaching at Plummer. But when the school was talking about teacher cuts last spring and he was eligible for retirement, he decided it was time to make a move.

"If I retired, they wouldn't have to cut somebody else," Koivisto said. "The school has been good to me. But 34 years in one room gets to be a long time."

Koivisto stayed on as head girls basketball coach, and he was rewarded. This past winter, Red Lake County Central won the Section 8A tournament to earn its first appearance in the Minnesota Class A state tournament.

"I had to have something to do, especially during the long winter," Koivisto said. "I enjoy coaching. And when you have fairly decent players coming back, you don't want to walk away from that."

Many of those top players were seniors who won't be back next season. But Koivisto plans to return as coach. Staying involved with coaching isn't just about winning.

Vigen, for example, retired from teaching in May 2006. That fall, in his first season as a retired teacher, Vigen's team went 7-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the state playoffs before being eliminated. But the Valiants have been sub-.500 teams and failed to qualify for the playoffs each of the past two seasons.


"If you're looking only at wins and losses, it (the end of the 2006 season) would have been a good time to walk away," Vigen said. "It was a senior-heavy team. We knew there was rebuilding to do. And the wins are nice. But it isn't just about winning and losing. It's working with the kids. And we felt we had good kids coming up, that we could turn the corner again.

"A lot of people, when they retired they want to completely walk away from it. But coaching gets in your blood. It's tough to get out of it. Some people golf or fish or travel when they retire. Football is my hobby."

Different relationship with the athletes

One big difference with coaching after leaving the classroom, coaches say, is the relationship with students.

Jim Howson, who retired from teaching in 1997 but has continued to coach basketball, calls that a double-edged sword.

"When you're in the classroom, you know if the kids are having problems in academic areas," said Howson, who has been Larimore's head basketball coach the past three seasons. "You can be in contact with other teachers and stay on top of things as far as making sure the kids are academically eligible.

"But the good thing now is that you come to practice fresh. You haven't had to do any disciplinary action with the students during the day. The kids aren't mad at you coming to practice; you're not mad at them for anything that might have happened at school during the day."

Being away from the school setting does mean at least one adjustment, Braun said. There's a learning curve when new athletes arrive in the program. "I think you have to go a little slower with new kids at first, getting to know them and where they're coming from. Once you get over that, you move forward with things as usual,'' he said.


Coaches also find that not teaching allows them more time to work as a coach.

As teachers, their days were spent in the classrooms. There was preparation time for the next day's classes as well as grading papers. Now, without classroom duties, they have more time, or time at their own convenience, for coaching duties like planning for practices and studying game tapes.

"Your coaching philosophy doesn't change," Vigen said. "But now you're not rushing around, getting ready for practice 20 minutes after your last class is done. You feel more refreshed when you go to practice."

And coaching, as a whole, keeps the former teachers feeling more refreshed.

"Coaching is what I love to do," Howson said. "It's what I've done since I was 15 years old. People I talk to say keep it up, do it as long as you can. Being around young kids keeps you young."

Said Braun: "Somebody asked me if I was going to miss it when they found out I was done coaching. I thought that was a silly question. You do something for 45 years, you love doing it, of course you're going to miss it. But life moves on."

DeVillers reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1128; (800) 477-6572, ext. 128; or send e-mail to .

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