Traxler: With hire of Jimmy Rogers, SDSU trusts John Stiegelmeier one more time
“(Jimmy) turned down a lot of different things along the way to have this opportunity,” Stiegelmeier said. “... I want this to be No. 200 or whatever this is. I want to count this as a win.”
BROOKINGS, S.D. — Win No. 199 in John Stiegelmeier’s coaching career was the national championship game on Jan. 8, 2023 in Frisco, Texas.
Win No. 200, in his book, was Friday, with the introduction of Jimmy Rogers as Stiegelmeier’s successor as South Dakota State University’s new head football coach.
“He turned down a lot of different things along the way to have this opportunity,” Stiegelmeier said. “This is a win. I want this to be No. 200 or whatever this is. I want to count this as a win.”
Stiegelmeier said he would not have retired at this time if the job wasn’t going to someone in house. It’s a final element of trust for Stiegelmeier and how he stayed the course for 26 years as SDSU’s head coach through a change in classification, upgrades in talent and facilities and took the program to places they’ve never been before, including the national championship.
Friday’s announcement was the final touch on a succession plan enacted by SDSU President Barry Dunn, Athletic Director Justin Sell and Stiegelmeier three years ago. In another sign of trust in the longtime head coach, Dunn and Sell took Stiegelmeier’s input, watched Rogers work over the last few years and followed through on the coach’s wishes to continue Jackrabbit football on a familiar path.
“It’s a good feeling and we have unbelievable leaders in Justin and President Dunn. I mean, unbelievable. I don’t want that to be a cliche,” Stiegelmeier said. “They had some time to watch people in the program, they could evaluate Jimmy, sit in on meetings, they had time to listen to him address the defense. He was being interviewed along the way.”
Watching Rogers speak in the SDSU football facility showed why he was the selection for the job. He’s intense and emotional, experienced and youthful and he said he’s not soon going to let the expectations of Jackrabbit football diminish. Stiegelmeier called him the picture of leadership and dedication for the SDSU program.
It's the second time recently that SDSU has immediately turned over a high-profile coaching job without conducting a coaching search. In 2019, Sell hired assistant coach Eric Henderson to replace outgoing coach T.J. Otzelberger to lead the men’s basketball program. That move has worked out nicely, with a win rate of 71.5%, a record of 75-38 overall and 45-8 in conference play and a trip to the NCAA tournament in 2022.
In the case of Rogers, Sell has known him as an athlete and a coach for nearly the entire time he has been SDSU’s athletic director dating back to being hired in 2009, having time to watch him develop as a coach and person.
Sell said hiring from within is a necessary part of being a mid-major, as SDSU is for athletics. They need to compete with the rest of Division I, they don’t have infinite funds to “throw at our problems,” he said, and larger schools are always threatening to poach away athletes and coaches. Holding together SDSU’s culture as a program was a high priority, he said.
“Coaching, in particular, the biggest challenge isn’t finding a new coach,” Sell said. “It’s as soon as an announcement is made, all of your student-athletes get contacted and people start getting into them, (asking), ‘Are you thinking about leaving?’ That churn creates issues. If you get a bunch of that, you understand why your culture can change quick. … Anytime I can continue to develop that, I will do that.”
Consider what SDSU has been built into and that they’re at the peak of their successes and you understand why Rogers, 34, is the guy. He appears to be a rising figure in coaching and receives widespread praise from his players and peers. Off a 14-1 national championship season, you could do worse than hiring the CEO of the nation’s best defense to take over the entire Jackrabbit program. Rogers made clear how excited he was to have the head coaching role, in part because he would get to interact and speak to the entire team.
There’s no question that expectations are as high as ever, and that creates some pressure on Rogers. He’s going to have a tough time coaching for 26 years in one place or winning 199 games. But he clearly has what SDSU wants to continue and build on.
Rogers said, to the outside world, he doesn’t expect SDSU football to look much different. Considering what they’ve accomplished, and coming from the mold of Stiegelmeier, that should be a welcomed asset for SDSU fans.
“The landscape of college football has changed but our approach has never changed,” Stiegelmeier said. “... We don’t recruit our guys, we love our guys and Jimmy will magnify that.”