Todd Neuendorf’s vision has always been clear.
But no one should be surprised.
It brought Mitchell High School from the Class AA boys basketball basement to the state tournament in the span of four years. This time Neuendorf’s vision means making the best decision for his family, even if it resulted in walking away from a dream job just as the program was on the cusp of taking off like a rocket.
When Neuendorf became head coach of the Mitchell program four years ago, it came with risks and a vision. He had enough confidence that his style and acumen would be enough to rebuild Mitchell, even as the situation turned more dire in terms of wins and losses.
Sleepless nights and a 4-46 record in the first 50 games would make anyone question if they were on the right path, especially after leaving a program that averaged 19 wins during his 11 seasons at Aberdeen Roncalli for a Kernel program that won a total of 15 games in the four years prior.
Ultimately, Neuendorf’s vision was correct. He was the right man for the job, especially for one that served a rightfully demanding fan base. The Kernel faithful set an unbending standard and the bar won’t be lowered under any circumstances.
Mitchell needed a head coach to match the intensity of its fan base and Neuendorf perhaps exceeded that passion, spending nights sleeping in a chair, attempting to figure out how to put an end to the string of losses that became so heart-wrenching it was almost comical enough to think the program was cursed.
Neuendorf was not able to simply take the Kernels from the Class AA basement to the state tournament through his vision. A core group of players — Zane Alm, Ben Helleloid, Caden Hinker, Carter Jacobsen, just to name a few — were tired of losing and worked with the coach that could help them stop it.
His presence loomed in every room. Without being loud and obnoxious or pounding his chest, Neuendorf always had the biggest personality in the room and it was magnetic for players. Like many of the best coaches, Neuendorf could be hard on a player without lowering his self-worth and build him back up with a quick one-liner or a witty joke.
Kids saw his preparation each day and wanted to match it. The passion boiled over to assistants like Ryker Kreutzfeldt, who took initiative to help create scouting reports for every game and the players followed them. In four years, Mitchell never lost a game because it was unprepared when it came to an opponent’s tendencies and personnel. It also didn’t hurt that Neuendorf had a knack for dialing up offensive plays that picked apart an opposing offense for easy layups.
Mitchell activities director Cory Aadland will undoubtedly find a suitable replacement in the coming weeks, but it is hard not to think Neuendorf’s hard work will pay off. He earned the right to see his vision translate into a state championship some day.
If Neuendorf, and his wife Jaime, felt the best family decision was to move closer to home, then it is hard to argue. Leaving a job he spent four years crafting, tweaking and rebuilding right before this program's crescendo will feel bittersweet.
But Mitchell has learned to trust his vision.