SMSU All-American Cade Steffen (Photo/SMSU athletics)
And then there was one. There is just one final head coaching gig available in Division II right now. The promotion of three-time Division III finalist Bebeto Yewah to head coach at Davenport University means that only Southwest Minnesota State University is without a leader. The clock is ticking for the Mustangs to add a captain to steer this ship and we have seen no real sense of urgency thus far.
The Mustangs are coming off their best NCAA finish in the last 22 years. This is a program that will return All-Americans in sophomore Cade Steffen and super senior Jackson Ryan. Ryan became the first Mustang to reach the semifinals of the national tournament since Steffen's father, Link, accomplished the feat in 1998 on his way to winning the only NCAA title for SMSU. This is a team that put two unseeded wrestlers onto the podium in this crazy season and will return them both. What a place to build from!
After the season, Southwest Minnesota State University athletics went through a bit of an upheaval, losing head coach Jesse Nelson and athletics director Chris Hmielewski. That is a recipe for, if not disaster, then at the very least apathy towards locking down a new Mustang coach. That being the case, I feel like I should just go ahead and make the program a perfect landing spot; I have even found them their new head coach.
Why Southwest Minnesota State University? Who better to sell SMSU than their last NCAA champion, Link Steffen? I asked him this question and here is what he had to say.
"SMSU is an attractive spot because there is more to do there than the average high school student-athlete may realize. If the next coach can sell that philosophy, along with the idea that sometimes a quieter place is the perfect place to focus on life, academic, and athletic goals, I think even more recruits may show up. It's kinda like taking a 4-year vacation at the cabin….less hustle & bustle and more focus on yourself and those immediately around you. This is why SMSU was attractive to me and helped me reach my potential as a student-athlete.
It's also an excellent opportunity to start building onto what Jesse has created at SMSU wrestling. They are a young team with talent but also have a couple of All-Americans returning to the lineup. The foundation is set and with a few more top recruits, SMSU wrestling could climb the ranks quickly."
He is not wrong. The campus is located in Marshall, Minnesota. A small community of fewer than 15,000 residents, the University boasts an enrollment of less than 9,000. For those prospective student-athletes wanting to wrestle at the Division II level, but do not want to be in a large city, this is the perfect place. A head coach can recruit Minnesota, both Dakotas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa with ease. There is so much talent surrounding this location. A head coach familiar with the midwest and with ties to the area could build a talented team traveling less than six hours in any direction. Sell the small town midwest location to parents as well as affordability. Full-time tuition with room and board can run an undergrad student less than $15,000 a year after student aid. Price out some of the other institutions competing at Division II and you will see this is a bargain!
Why did I ask alumni Link Steffen about Southwest Minnesota State? Because I have decided that he is the perfect fit for the job! If you want to be successful, you go out and find a person who has done just that. Link Steffen was a two-time All-American for the Mustangs and is the last Southwest Minnesota State wrestler to win a national title. He is the only one to do so since the program joined Division II. Those who can, do. He has done it as an athlete. He knows intimately what it takes to be successful at the NCAA Division II level. He can also help energize an alumni base that is ripe for some excitement. Bringing a national champion back to the athletic department is an immediate win for a new athletic director as well.
I know what you are thinking; what about his coaching chops? How about being the head coach of two different state championship teams? How about a team seemingly always putting athletes on the podium, including his two-time state champion son Cade. How about being the coach of a program that every other college coach in the region knows? If college coaches know and respect him, then what do you think other high school coaches think? He already has a built-in recruiting base there.
Look at the splash that the University of Wisconsin-Parkside just made in hiring their all-time great Nick Becker to head up their program after long-time head coach Corey VanGroll moved on. An immediate impact hire that returned a fabled son to the fold. That is what this would be. Bringing back a Hall of Fame athlete to head up a program trending upwards. The NSIC is quickly becoming one of the toughest conferences in the country, right up there with GVLC and if SMSU wants to keep up, they need to make a big move.
I even took the time to ask Link if he was wanted to be a head coach and found out he is already taking the steps in his professional career to be an even better candidate.
"I have thought about coaching at the next level and am in the process of earning my masters to make me a more qualified candidate. Right now, I'm just a high school coach, which qualifies me for not much more than that…..a high school wrestling coach. Even with a master's and if the right opportunity was offered, it would be a big decision I'd have to discuss with my family. But, I like change, I like goals, and feel it's important to challenge ourselves daily to find out who you really are as a person."
He is too humble and kind! His wife is a saint. His sons are amazing. And with the graduation of his daughter, the Steffen's are officially "empty-nesters." Let's start a whole new chapter! Come back to Southwest Minnesota State University. I promise to make the drive to watch you on the sideline live.
In closing, if you have a better candidate for this job, I would love to hear from you, that way I can tell you you are wrong.