Players say Cimpl improving DWU’s football programRoss Cimpl is leading the charge toward a major improvement with the Dakota Wesleyan University football program. The first-year head coach — who was hired to take over for the resigned Brad Pole — has held his current title for only four months, but it’s obvious he’s making waves at the school, which has not won a conference title in football since 1994.
By: Luke Hagen, The Daily Republic
Ross Cimpl is leading the charge toward a major improvement with the Dakota Wesleyan University football program.
The first-year head coach — who was hired to take over for the resigned Brad Pole — has held his current title for only four months, but it’s obvious he’s making waves at the school, which has not won a conference title in football since 1994.
“I want to push guys,” Cimpl said. “I want guys who can make a difference in our football program, not only on the field but in what we’re trying to do.”
Forget that Cimpl is 28 years old, making him the youngest and most inexperienced coach in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. After three weeks of coaching the Tigers in spring football practice, Cimpl is drawing rave reviews from his players.
“I’ve known Coach Cimpl for quite a few years, and it seems like he’s pretty wise and mature beyond his years,” DWU safety Dustin Bergmeier said. “The team relates to him and respects him, because they know how hard he works and that he only wants us to be the best team that we can be.”
Today will be the 14th spring practice Dakota Wesleyan has held since March 29. At 10 a.m. Saturday, the Tigers — who finished fourth in the GPAC last year with a 6-4 overall record — will conclude their workouts with a spring football scrimmage on Dakota Wesleyan University’s campus that’s open to the public. Although not all of Cimpl’s impressions on the team thus far will be visible immediately this weekend, the Tigers’ long-term success is in good hands, according to many of his players.
“For me, I just want everything to be perfect and I want everything to be the most important thing, whether it’s a little run play or any little drill,” Cimpl said.
Cimpl’s years with USF
Cimpl, a Wagner native, chose the University of Sioux Falls to play football collegiately. He played in the secondary but wasn’t much of a standout, totaling 59 career tackles, three passes defended, one sack and one interception in four seasons.
His leadership characteristics showed early, though.
He was named team captain in his junior and senior seasons and helped the Cougars win a national NAIA championship in 2006. After graduating, he became a graduate assistant at USF, coaching several positions.
Bergmeier started his college football career at USF and eventually transferred to Dakota Wesleyan. Cimpl was Bergmeier’s defensive backs coach for spring practice one year, and that’s where his qualities to become a strong football coach started.
“He was in the weight room a lot and ran the summer workouts,” Bergmeier said. “He soaked up a lot of information there. It really furthered his coaching career, I believe.”
Cimpl coached at USF from 2007 to 2009 and helped the school to national championships his last two years. All three years he coached with the Cougars, the school won GPAC titles.
“He’s been involved in winning before,” said DWU nose guard Matt Tuttle, an Ethan native. “He’s experienced and he knows what it takes to win. I was glad they went ahead and hired him.”
Practicing with a purpose
In 2010, Pole hired Cimpl as the team’s defensive coordinator, a position he’s held since he was promoted earlier this year. When Pole resigned, many players on the team were in favor of hiring Cimpl.
When Athletic Director Curt Hart announced Cimpl as the 32nd head football coach in Dakota Wesleyan history at a public introduction, the team gave approval with a large standing ovation.
“I think he’s a great coach and great for the program,” said Tigers offensive lineman Skyler Eriksen, who has sat out all of spring practice with an injured left foot that required surgery.
Eriksen said watching from the sidelines, he’s noticed a different work ethic in his teammates under Cimpl. He said the new coach is more intense than Pole and practices are run with a purpose.
“I think a lot more is expected from us, and I think the guys have responded really well,” Eriksen said.
Cimpl says the team’s run game, pass defense and overall understanding of schemes have improved through spring camp. But he says the most important thing players need to take from practice is simply getting better each day.
In one of the first practices in late March, Cimpl had the team work on a routine punting drill for several minutes. After practice, he recalled the Tigers’ 24-17 win over Nebraska Wesleyan last season, a game where DWU had five mishaps on punts.
“Practice has been a lot more intense and there’s a lot more focus on getting better every day,” Bergmeier said. “The idea is that if you didn’t get better, you failed.”
Added Eriksen: “Everything we do, from the time we start meetings at 3 to the time we end practice at 6, guys are zoned in and ready to go. The way practice is run now is a lot more up-tempo. … There’s no one ever just standing around at practice.”
Intense is the most common way players describe Cimpl.
DWU All-American running back Josh Endres said the team has improved immensely from spring practice because of Cimpl’s intensity.
“During practice, he gets really involved,” said Endres, who led the team in rushing and all-purpose yards last season. “If someone is sluffing off, he’s not afraid to stop things and get in someone’s face and let them know about it.”
Tuttle, who played high school football for Emery/Ethan under coaches Jeff VanLeur and Tim Hawkins, said Cimpl is drilling it into his players’ minds that winning is an expectation.
Tuttle was on a state high school championship team in 2007 with Emery/Ethan. He also played on a team that took runner-up at state in 2009.
“He’s very high-intensity,” Tuttle said. “Practice has been really intense and it’s organized … I’ve been under Cimpl for two years now and have loved pretty much every second of it.”
Cimpl said he’s glad he’s known as an intense coach, but he added it’s not important for him to be known as a well-liked coach.
“I’m not here to make friends,” Cimpl said. “This isn’t a popularity contest for me or something where I’m running for mayor. I’ve told the guys that they don’t have to like me, but they better respect me.”
Cimpl seems to be winning the respect of his players, who are buying into his philosophy on how to build a mediocre football team into a powerhouse like the one he was at in Sioux Falls.
“I think the future of this program will progress to much higher than what it is now,” said inside linebacker Jordan Hermanson, who will be a junior next year. “This is just the beginning. He’s going to bring this program to a higher standard than it has ever been.”
Cimpl said he’s enjoyed the first few months of his head-coaching tenure, and he plans to stay with Dakota Wesleyan for the long haul to see the team develop into a winner.
“There’s no reason for me to leave here,” Cimpl said. “We’re trying to implement so many new things in the program in terms of scheme. … I want to be a part of that. I want to see the things we implement this year, and see what’s good and what we want to go forward with, what’s bad, what we need to adjust. I want to see that. … For me, there’s no reason to leave.”