After 53 years of coaching at St. Ansgar, track coach and former head football coach Rich Sherman is retiring from his duties after this year.
Sherman came to St. Ansgar in the fall of 1966 after two years at Plainfield High School, and went on to help establish a culture of success that for decades has persisted within the young men and women who have walked the halls of St. Ansgar High School.
We caught up with Sherman to talk about his retirement and look back on his extraordinary career with the Saints. Here are his remarks, lightly edited for clarity:
What was your first coaching job with the Saints? How did your first season go?
My first year coaching football at St. Ansgar, we were 0-8. We started with 20 players so I dressed our two managers so we could practice. We did pick up a couple of players during the season but really couldn’t compete. We got beat by Rockford 66-0 — probably the worst defeat in school history. As I remember it, they dressed eighteen seniors and twenty-two juniors so we didn’t present much of a challenge. Of course, four years later we were conference champions. During the decade of the 70s we had four unbeaten teams.
What are some of your most memorable seasons? What stood out about them?
As to memorable seasons, every season qualified. The 1976 season was perhaps one of the best, at least in my memory. We were unbeaten, and only gave up a total of 16 points all season. But I had other really, really good teams during those 30 years. I was fortunate enough to have great assistant coaches who helped develop some outstanding football players.
I was also head track coach for several years. Very fortunate to have outstanding individuals who worked extremely hard and enjoyed outstanding success. We were conference champions for most of those years. We qualified lots and lots of individuals
and teams for State.
You coached your kids, too, who had successful athletic careers. What did it mean to you to be able to play a role in you kids’ development?
Coaching my own kids was something that I enjoyed probably more than they did. Matt was forced into playing in his freshmen year after both varsity QB’s were hurt during that season. I would be the first to admit that it was somewhat stressful — more so at home than at school. Finally my wife put the hammer down one night at dinner and declared “absolutely no more football will be discussed at this table”.
After that, things seemed to calm down somewhat. While my older son Joe was also an all-State football player, my daughter Sara was probably the best athlete of the three. She qualified for State on 14 different teams during her 4 years. Something neither Joe or Matt could match.
How did the landscape or the nature of high school athletics evolve over the course of your career?
The biggest change that took place in my 50+ years of being involved with Saints athletics is the year-round weight training and conditioning that happens today. Coach Clevenger and Coach Nielsen both do a great job of getting our athletes in condition to compete.
And it’s just not the boys but our girls have the opportunity to get bigger, stronger, faster. The added emphasis on strength makes for a safer environment for all concerned.
Coaches often times have catch-phrases or sayings that they like to use, or anecdotes they tell to their teams when they’re coaching. Are there any that you liked to use over the years?
I have several that I have used over the years. Most still apply today. Challenge is just another word for opportunity. I was always looking for “NOW” athletes — the acronym for “no opportunity wasted” or “never out worked”. Effort and attitude mean the same thing. Want more out of track, you have to give more. Words are cheap, action wins the prize. The most talented don’t always win, it takes talent, hard-work, discipline, focus and passion as the necessary ingredients to create success — I could go on and on but I don’t think that’s what you want!
If there was one play, or one situation in a game or contest you could go back and give your team another shot at, what would it be and why?
I don’t really live to much in past experiences. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, so live today — that’s pretty much my mantra. So no I really can’t think of any one moment that I would like a do-over. Perhaps the Luke Porisch State Track meet experience would be better the second time around.
What sort of lessons or attitudes do you hope to inspire in those you’ve coached?
I would hope that the students and athletes that I worked with would realize that it doesn’t take much talent to work hard. Really, effort and attitude mean the same thing. Sometimes in life, it is “will” before “skill”, and talent just gives you a chance to be successful but you have to earn success with hard-work, discipline, and effort. I would hope that all my students, whether it’s music, science, athletics or farming, understand that to really be successful. you have to develop a passion for that endeavor. And then they would discover that “passion jobs” aren’t really jobs at all.
Do you plan to still help out?
I am hoping to continue coaching the throwing events. Luke has indicated that he would love my help. Now if I can just stay healthy and my wife agrees, I will be at most practices. However I will probably give up my reserved seat in the yellow greyhound bus!