S.6 E.2: “Have Thick Skin and a Soft Heart”

Learning for Life @ Gustavus host Greg Kaster interviews Gustavus head football coach Peter Haugen.
Posted on December 10th, 2020 by

Gustavus Head Football Coach Peter Haugen on his path to coaching, football as a vehicle for bringing diverse people together and promoting growth on and off the field, and the challenges, responsibilities, and rewards of being a college head coach.

Season 6, Episode 2: “Have a Thick Skin and a Soft Heart”

Greg Kaster:

Learning for Life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of Gustavus Office of Marketing. Will Clark, senior communications studies major and videographer at Gustavus, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast, and me, your host, Greg Kaster. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Pandemics have way of disrupting things, including college athletics. On November 1st, 1918, a Gustavus student publication, lamented that, “The influenza epidemic stepped in to mix up our football schedule by clamping the lid on the Luther game on October 19th.” What about football like Gustavus today amid the worst pandemic since 1918. And what is the role of football and athletics more broadly at a liberal arts college like Gustavus? No one is better positioned to speak to both questions than my colleague, Peter Haugen, head football coach at Gustavus. Peter became head coach in 2009 after 15 quite successful years in the same position at Washburn High School in Minneapolis. Where he and his teams compiled a league record of 66 and eight 76 and eight, sorry, and one 11 league championships. He began his coaching career [inaudible 00:01:12] Bethel university in St. Paul, where he had played hockey, baseball, and of course football as a starting tight end, turning all conference honors his senior year.

As so many others and I have witnessed firsthand numerous times, Peter cares deeply about his players, not only his athletes. But even more so I’d say as students and individuals as well, which we’ll get into shortly. As a somewhat ambivalent fan of the game who has enjoyed teaching a fair number of players over the years of Gustavus. I’ve been very much looking forward to talking with Coach Haugen about his work and the football program at Gustavus. Welcome coach, it’s great to have you on the podcast.

Peter Haugen:

Hey Greg. I really appreciate the opportunity. It’s a pleasure. It’s a privilege and we’re very thankful for this opportunity.

Greg Kaster:

Likewise, thanks so much. Let’s start with where we’re at in the football program in COVID-19. Gustavus is an NCAA Division III school and part of the Minnesota intercollegiate what’s it called MIAC –Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Thank you. MIAC and where are we at? Is there no program? No, everything has been canceled. What’s going on?

Peter Haugen:

You’re right, I mean, we were canceled here this fall. And the first, what happened is they shut down the non-conference games. And we kind of thought at that point in time, we’d play a conference schedule. Shortly thereafter, we learned that the conference had made a decision that they would cancel the football season and push it to the spring. And at that point in time, we got into a different mode. And then the expectation at that point in time was the fall season then would ramp back up in the spring. And that’s kind of where we’re at right now. And the details of that have not been flushed out by the MIAC athletic directors and presidents yet. And that’s something that they’re just working on right now, but a very strange time.

Greg Kaster:

I think that’s interesting about this spring. A couple of questions about that. One, to what extent were coaches involved in that decision making or is it strictly the athletic directors?

Peter Haugen:

That was an athletic director and presidents of our league-

Greg Kaster:

Sure.

Peter Haugen:

… in those decisions there about the fall season.

Greg Kaster:

And what does that mean practical terms for the team? Are the players all on campus now able to work out practice? Are you holding practices?

Peter Haugen:

Yeah. What we did is, this year, again, very non-traditional is that the first three weeks at Gustavus normally, in a normal cycle, we would come in about two to three weeks before the school year would start with our players. This year we came in right at the beginning of when school started, but only with our first year students. And then for three weeks, we worked with them in a practice format, socially distance in pods of 11. And then after three weeks the rest of our sophomores juniors and seniors were allowed to come on campus. And then that’s where the first time that we were together as a full team was three weeks into the academic year.

And then we kind of reparted and all these new COVID terms. And really been practicing really from that the 9th of September. And then we finished up our practice sessions the end of October. And in that full duration of time from September there to the end of October, we were in pretty much t-shirts and shorts. We did get helmets for the last couple of weeks. But really it was no contact, masks on, socially distance. And that’s kind of was our practice environment along with strength and conditioning this fall.

Greg Kaster:

That must seem weird, too strange. I sure you’ve never had anything quite like that. I know what happened. Actually, maybe no, even after the tornado at Gustavus in ’98. I think things probably were relatively back to normal for the athletics by that fall. Strange times indeed. What about your own trajectory? You played football and hockey and baseball at Bethel. What made you interested in football in particular as an undergraduate and then how did you get interested in coaching?

Peter Haugen:

I really think that I grew up in a household where with my father who was a math teacher and a football coach. He taught Minneapolis public schools for 34 years, was a coach South High School. And my mom who stayed home with my brother and I, and then when we kind of got into school, she was an educator as well. She was a physical education teacher at Golden Valley Lutheran College, and then after that went to Bethel university. I was just really fortunate to be in an environment growing up where I was able to witness my parents daily in their interactions with their players and with their students. And really fell in love with the fact that they loved what they did for a profession.

And I think that’s what kind of sparked the interest to me is just kind of seeking down the education pathway. And then of course, growing up, I was really involved with sports. My dad was a coach of mine in football when I was in little league. And so, all that really had a pretty big impact on me and really me seeing the impact that they had on the lives of people around them. And I think that’s what got me going down that pathway when I was younger. And then when I got to Bethel, I actually was a really big … Hockey was probably my main sport. But I played football as well and baseball, and really, as I left college football became really my passion.

Greg Kaster:

And you did some coaching at Bethel right after you graduated?

Peter Haugen:

Yeah. For two years, I was the offensive line coach. And then I coached goaltenders in hockey for Bethel as well for a couple of years, ’97 through ’99, somewhere in there.

Greg Kaster:

Now this may be a naive question, but let’s imagine I’m younger than I am and I want to grow up and be a football coach. I mean, is there a particular path. I mean, does one take lessons in coaching as you get a certificate in coaching? How does it work?

Peter Haugen:

I got an undergrad in teaching. My degree was in physical education K-12 was a health minor. And at the time I also minored in coaching. And that certification in coaching was really important. You take extra classes, whether they’re first aid type classes, philosophy of coaching classes. But same type of classes that they offer here at Gustavus to really prepare your young men and young women for a career in coaching. Or it’s a supplemental, as, maybe they’re an education and they want to also coach as part of that. That was really the preparation in terms of the academic part of it. But honestly, growing up in an athletic household, in a household where education was front and center. I feel like I learned a ton from great models of my parents. And of course, you learn a lot from coaches that you’ve had and people that you work with.

Greg Kaster:

That all makes great sense. I don’t know if I’ve ever shared with you, I did play football in high school. I’m laughing as it was not great. [crosstalk 00:09:16]. My freshman year, I went through all the summer practices. I can still remember the aches and pains. And then this was in Park Forest, a suburb of Chicago. We were the Rich East Rockets. And then I just decided I felt kind of overwhelmed by the academic stuff. And I summed this, I’m kind of just not going to continue with the football. Then I went out again, made the team sophomore year and we then stuck it out, I didn’t play much probably for the team, the team went to the some championship game we lost, but it was fun.

But what I mostly remember though, that I was given a helmet, I was a defensive tackle or an offensive tackle. And I had one of those to me, punters helmets, with the sort of one, I don’t know what they’re called Peter, the guard [crosstalk 00:10:08]. It was crazy. I think back on that I don’t how I survive. But it was fun and my coaches were amazing. One of them, if I’m remembering correctly, maybe had been in the pros a little bit. Another one had been over, did a paratrooper, they were really something. And I’ve always loved the game. I’ll come back to that. My ambivalence about it now we can talk more about that later. But anyway, what is it you love about the game? I mean, you must love the game apart from, the coaching, which we’ll also say more about shortly, but what is it about football as a game that you enjoy.

Peter Haugen:

There’s something really special that happens when you bring people together around a common goal, around a common purpose, around some values, that kind of become your culture, kind of become your framework. And then to see those different pieces on the team that are all unique. And that’s what I love about this game. We’ve been very intentional about bringing people together on this football team staff and players that represent economic geographic and racial diversity. And what happens when you bring people together around a common purpose, where you got all those differences going on. But all sudden those differences don’t seem to become that important, because you’re focused on each other and you’re focused on relationships and you’re focused on goals. And there’s something that I love being a part of that, I’ve enjoyed leading that. I’ve loved how you build something, all of that has been something that really has been incredible.

And so football is this vehicle that allows these incredible things to happen. If it doesn’t happen by chance, you have to be intentional about it. And that’s what really draws me to the game of football. And then there’s that toughness and there’s the adversity. And there’s all that, those other things that are just so part of it where you just need each other. And I think that’s what really drawn me in.

Greg Kaster:

And you don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but are you a Vikings fan?

Peter Haugen:

I am a Vikings fan. I remember we would hustle home from church every Sunday when I was a kid and we’d get that TV on. That was about the size of a shoe box. And we would watch the Vikings. And I’ve always been a Vikings fan. Of course, that’s sometimes a little bit difficult, other times it’s kind of fun, but that’s just life.

Greg Kaster:

I grew up, as I said, in the suburbs of Chicago. And I was a Bears fan. I mean, the Bears, the Bears, the Bears . And then it also meant if you were a Bears fan, you watch the Packers. Right? You watched Detroit, you watched the Vikings, of course. And I’ve become a Vikings fan for better and worse now that I’ve lived here 30 some years. And Kate and I lived downtown Minneapolis. Now we’re not too far from the new stadium. And finally made it to a Vikings game. Some years ago, they were playing Arizona. It was a great game. Have you been in that stadium?

Peter Haugen:

I have. I haven’t watched the Vikings in that stadium, But I have on some of my recruiting trips to watch high school football. When they run the state tournament in US bank stadium. I’ve been able to be inside. And it is really something…

Greg Kaster:

It’s amazing. We were there with my wife, Kate’s sister and her husband, and then another couple. And the guy and the other the husband and the other couple is the architect. And he was just helping us understand, it’s an engineering Marvel it’s really amazing. But I have to say the excitement of that game was really fun. It’s fun to be there in person. What about coaching? Let’s think a little bit more about that. We watch football on TV and we see the coaches on the sidelines pacing, whatever. But there’s much more, I would think to your job. I mean, I know there is, especially at a place like a state of Liberal Arts College. Tell us a little bit about what being head coach involves, aside from conducting practices and calling plays on the field important those are.

Peter Haugen:

The thing I love about my job is not two days are the same. That one thing for sure. But I think what we’re trying to do the lives of the young men that we get the privilege of working with, is we, our program values, our growth effort and trust. And we talk about how we grow each day, then the level of effort that it takes and how important relationships are to building trust. And we talk about those things in three specific arenas. One you mentioned, which is on the football field. And I mean, what goes into the preparation to a game each week is amazing from our coaches to our players and what’s going on schematically in the preparation there. But we’re also trying to take those same things of growth effort and trust and applying them to our academic life and to try them to apply them to our personal lives.

And there is a lot of moving pieces to that as to how we engage our players. It’s about preparation with X’s and O’s, but we are really focused on mindset and strengthening our brains for performance and for impact as to how we live our lives. And then it’s about organization and it’s all these different pieces. We want football as an incredible vehicle. It kind of allows us to branch off and have contact with these young men in not just in just on the field, but in these other areas. And there’s a lot of work that gets done with our players in all those different realms. Whether academically goal setting, career preparation, a lot of different stuff goes into it and it’s just what we love.

And what we’re trying to do is create a consistent model where guys are going to bring those same levels of growth effort and trust to kind of each one of those areas. Instead of saying, Hey, I’m going to bring growth effort and trust to the football field, but forget about the classroom. That’s not the kind of young men that we work with. We are working with young men who care about these other areas. What we’re trying to do is put really good people around them with our coaching staff that are going to mentor them and then can try to really push growth.

Greg Kaster:

I wanted to ask you about growth effort and trust, and we’ll maybe come back to trust a bit. I’d say I saw that on your signature, on your email. And I have to say I’ve taught well for a long time, but more so recent years, I don’t know what it is. I feel like I have a chain migration of football players in my history courses. And I’ve really, really enjoyed them. And if any one of them starts to underperform, shall we say, I quickly cite you. And I quickly remind them, it’s not tolerated on the football field and it’s not going to be tolerated in the classroom either. And you are really good at that as a coach at bridging what everyone or the athletic and the academic. I mean, they’re so intertwined. We’ll talk a little bit about these Saturday sessions you have that a number of faculty colleagues and I have participated in.

Peter Haugen:

We have winter visits, spring visits for recruits. And one of the things that we’re always trying to do is we want perspective student athletes to get a really good picture of what  Gustavus is about academically, athletically or community. In one way, we’ve done that is on some of these Saturday visits where we’ll have the recruits come in with their families and we’ll put our players in front of them where they have a player panel. A couple of years ago, the academic part of the decision for our young men and women that go to Gustavus is a really big thing. And we thought, why not talk to our players and say, which professors have been really impactful in your academic experience?

And we had our guys kind of came up with one or two professors. And what we did is we reached out to professors and said, would you be willing to talk about academics here, our environment, the students that you work with, why you love teaching here at Gustavus. And now we have this professor panel, and of course you’re a huge part of that. And we’re very thankful for that, but that’s a reflection Greg of you, and you’ve had an incredible impact on the lives of the young men that I get to coach and our coaches get to coach. You’ve had that impact in the classroom.

And what we’ve tried to do with that, is to give those recruits, a really kind of a firsthand look at our professors and what they teach in the different domains and what they love about Gustavus and where the challenges are. And what their experience has been with the students that they work with. It was just something that we brainstormed in a meeting one day, and it’s just been very good. We’ve gotten tremendous feedback from parents and families about that professor panel. And we certainly appreciate you being part of it. You come highly acclaimed by our football.

Greg Kaster:

Well, thank you for all those kind words. I just think it’s terrific. I love it, I love doing it. And I’m honored actually quite honored to do it. And it says so much about you and your approach, as we were saying to the whole student where it’s not enough to be an athlete or an outstanding athlete. You need to make the same kind of effort academically as well. I was so impressed the last one we did where you were, I can’t remember the details, but you knew a players grade point average, for example. The other thing I want to talk about with you is sort of the, again, you’ve touched on this a little bit, you’ve talked about the rewards, I guess, of coaching, if you want to say more about that by all means. What are some of the toughest aspects of the job of being head coach of a football team?

Peter Haugen:

I think we were living in a very dynamic fluid situation. The challenges I think are that, you have to be equipped to handle change. This is a really incredible example of it right now. If you’re going to try to start down the leadership road in the middle of a very difficult situation that we’re in right now, then you’re too late. And so one of the things that I think is a really big challenge is the consistent daily grind of trying to just become better at your craft at what we’re trying to do. And then when those big moments come, those big moments, like right now with COVID, where now you’ve got to really function at an incredibly high level that is not going to just be there unless you’ve really prepared that.

We live in a very fluid situation that way. That’s for sure a challenge as a head coach you always … I always tell my wife, don’t sit in the stands, go sit over on the side. Because whether you’re winning or whether you’re losing, there’s always going to be people who are thinking you’re doing a great job and others that are thinking maybe not so much. And I think one of the big things with coaching is that people see those 10 dates on Saturday where you get to be on the field with the headphones. And that is a joy for us. It’s unbelievable. But the challenges is, is the grind behind the scenes of rehearsal. It’s really trying to embrace the … I don’t mean mundane in a bad way, but more of the basic things you have to do daily to get yourself dialed in with that.

But I think one of the things that I get this question from our players that are taking a coaching class that is offered here at Gustavus and they say, what’s your one bit of advice if you want to get into coaching. And I say, I always say, have thick skin and a soft heart. And I really believe that’s a really important thing because if you have thin skin and a cold heart, I’ve had coaches like that. And it is really unpredictable what’s you’re going to get each day. The challenges are many, we’re dealing with obviously game plan stuff, but we’re dealing with emotional health, we’re dealing with academic issues, we’re dealing with all these different pieces. And I think it’s trying your best to just put an incredible team of people together with coaches that have a passion and a heart. To me that’s where the challenge is. It’s not good enough just to be a good football coach. I want to hire guys who are just committed to mentoring into committed to the lives of our guys.

Greg Kaster:

That’s why I wish I had worked that into my introduction. I’d love what you just said, thick skin and soft heart. You’re triggering a memory I have when I was a sophomore at a game, and there’s some parent in the stands. My dad was there too. My dad didn’t really know much about sports. I’m not sure he knew the difference between the Bears and the Cubs. But in any case he was there and there was another father just screaming, bloody murder at our coach. I mean, just non stop. And I remember my father asking, “What the hell is that [crosstalk 00:24:52].” I mean, I don’t know, but the coach never talk about thick skin. The coach never turned, never responded, just kept doing, doing the thing. I don’t remember whether we won the game or not. It doesn’t matter. But it’s just a great description of you too, by the way. I know that describes you so well. And everyone knows that.

Tell us a little bit about that word growth, effort and trust. What do you mean by that? How does that play into the football program?

Peter Haugen:

Well, we read books as a staff. We have book studies that we do in the off season and going back several years ago, and now this is a core read for our entire team. For our incoming class every year has been for the last six years is a book called the Trust Edge by David Horsager. And when we read that book, we really felt he has several different pillars of trust that kind of make up a trusted organization. It’s kind of a business book, but it has a lot of really great applications. But really trust is, is about the depth of our relationships and the more energy and the more effort that we put into relationships. It builds this level of trust. That becomes pretty amazing. And as you kind of get involved in this organization, and I always tell our guys like, growth, effort and trust is not an end game.It’s not all of a sudden you’ve got it. We’re just trying to get better at it.

When it comes to trust, it is the depth of our relationships. It’s the clarity of our communication. It is, how clear can we be with our communication? That’s going to develop trust. Can we get back to people right away? What are talking about, recruiting, if we’re not getting back to people that doesn’t build trust. There’s all these different components that build trust, but they’re all foundationally around this passion to kind of deepen our relationships. And I always tell recruits like, “Hey, we have 110 guys on the team, and that’s really cool. You’re going to have a 110 friends, guys you’ll just know, and you’ll be able to say hi to, but you’re probably going to go really deep and college with, a handful of those guys. I mean, you spend so much time with each other and you really connect. And that trust part is really important. To me at the end of the day, although it’s our third component the growth, effort and trust. I think we tried to get GET, G-E-T, I think. The trust part is so, because I think when you get that, then the impact opportunities are really something.

Greg Kaster:

Makes good sense. I guess that’s the acronym, G-E-T-R. I just don’t realize that myself as you said it. You started to talk about recruit or you at least mentioned recruiting, and that’s actually where I wanted to go next and ask you a little bit about how you and your team. You and your fellow coaches and how you recruit and build a team. How does that work? There are 110 players. I mean, anyone who wants to be a player, a football player for Gustavus can be, or how, tell us a little bit about the process of creating a team.

Peter Haugen:

I think it’s something that we learn, humility, I mean, when I got here in 2009, it was something that, I really felt like from a relationship standpoint. I was prepared incredibly well with the work that I had brought to Gustavus being in public education and coaching. But recruiting something that you also have to continue to work on your craft. And we have found that the relationship, the personal relationship piece of recruiting is what gives you the most traction. In other words, you can have a cool Twitter account, and that’s okay, and you got to have one of these days. But the Twitter account without a phone call, a Twitter account without a personal note, is nothing. And what we’ve tried to do is, we want to clearly define our culture at Gustavus football, growth, effort and trust.

And then the one thing I did learn from being in high school. When we’d have all these coaches come in and recruit my players, sometimes they would disparage other institutions. Would say, “You come to my school, don’t go to that school.” Or they would say, you have to come to this school. And I just always really turned me off. And what we’re trying to do is find the right fit. And that fit is really important. We’re saying, we are going to have a culture of growth, effort and trust. Is that something that you want part of your football and college experience? If it is then maybe this could be a really good fit, but if it’s not, we have to be okay with that. And we have to be okay then going to another school.

And in our league, our league is made up of great schools. It’s like, we’re recruiting against a bunch of dogs. I mean, this is, we’re recruiting against fine institutions. And we want to find that right fit. And then what we’ve done is, we have a urban presence. We have a suburban presence, we have an out-state presence, and then we have an out of state presence. And we’ve tried to be really diligent with those different demographics, geographical racial, and in any economic. Because at the end of the day, I want our players’ experience to be something that is going to be somewhat replicated in real life. And I want to have a very vibrant environment within our team that is going to hopefully reflect when they go out into the real world. That is, they’re not going to be shell shocked.

And that stuff’s important to me. but the recruiting process, it starts with a database. And we kind of make a cutoff line at some academics where we think that the young man’s got a pretty good chance of getting into Gustavus. And then we start communicating. And then what happens is, you just keep moving down that road. And our goal each year is to bring in 40 or 50 new first year players. And that also would include transfers. And we have very set goals and we have specific metrics coaching wise that we’re trying to meet each week with how many phone calls we make, and in context we make. That’s kind of recruiting, not in a nutshell that was probably longer than you want.

Greg Kaster:

No, I find it so interesting. Couple of questions about that, the database, is that something you created or are schools able to buy such a database?

Peter Haugen:

Yeah, we do buy our data. We do buy it from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association in Minnesota. But then we’ll also buy data from a couple of national places, where recruiting data is very prevalent. And then it’s all regional. We’ve made some inroads in a couple of places. But it hasn’t been again by chance, it’s kind of goes back to that trust and relationship thing. We have tried to put some roots down out of the state of Minnesota in some places where have contacts or where coaches that are on our staff have had some experience. It’s kind of a … because you can, if you’re just too many places and you just don’t have connections, you can spin your wheels [crosstalk 00:32:57].

Greg Kaster:

Spine your wheels. Exactly what I was just thinking. When you talk about these different areas where we’re in for recruiting, are those areas covered by different coaches? Is that how it works?

Peter Haugen:

It’s all territorial to begin with. We’ll have our, [inaudible 00:33:15] and coach, we’ll have a part of the Metro area and then the Northeastern quadrant of Minnesota plus Wisconsin. And then we’ll have another coach who will have a part of the Metro plus Southwest Minnesota and South Dakota. And then we’ll have one coach who does only Colorado and Texas. But then as we get going down the recruiting process where now this relationship thing becomes important. If I’m an offensive coach and you’re in my territory, but you’re a defensive player, after we get going on that recruiting process, that offensive coach now is going to connect that young man with our defensive coach. There can begin that relationship going because if the kid’s going to play defense, he’ll want to start talking to that defensive coach.

Greg Kaster:

Sure. You must build or have relationships with high school coaches, I assume.?

Peter Haugen:

Yeah. For sure. That’s a big part of it and those relationships take a long time to form. I think, again, something that really helped me, was being at the high school level for 15 years where I was able to make some of those contexts. We’ve got an incredible staff of guys who work their tails off, who are out building those relationships. And like I said it’s that part of the job. That’s the grind. I mean, that’s the difficult behind the scenes work that has to take place.

Greg Kaster:

That point, which you’ve come back to is so important. I actually want to come back to it earlier, you talked about the behind the scenes grind and what we don’t see on the field. And you also talked about the importance of being able to adapt to change. And so much of that I think is really at the heart of what a good education I would say, liberal arts education is all about, it doesn’t matter what you major in, what sport you play, whether you play a sport, what matters is, do you understand how to adapt and how to move with change even as you’re buffeted by it. And then the point about the grind, I do think that, it’s always a danger to generalize, but I do think there are some young people who want to get to point wherever without the work.

And I do. And I remind my students, I’ll say, you have a favorite musician or whatever, the amount of practice. The amount of, you used the word craft earlier, which I think is away to think about just recruiting as a craft, not only coaching, but that is important to understand. It takes work, it takes practice. Anyway, I appreciate you saying all that. The other thing I wanted to ask you about this is recruiting. There are these scenes in my head and from movies, or whether there’s the scout in the stands. I mean, does that really happen? Did we have our coaches there watching some of these high school kids play? Is that how it works?

Peter Haugen:

Yeah, we are. And I will tell you that this year it’s been a little bit more challenging because they put the COVID restrictions in with 250 people at each game. Normally you would just done a given year, on Friday nights what happens at Gustavus is our practices are fairly short on Fridays, on a normal year, not this year, not being normal. But we would normally be done about 5 o’clock on a Friday with our practice. And then we just get in a car, well, we won’t have everybody out on the road every single week, but I give our guys a target to try to hit six games out of eight weeks or five games out of eight weeks, because I do really believe in family balance too. And these guys are working really, really hard. I really believe that, our coaches being able to find that balance between their work and their family is critically important.

But to answer your question. I mean, we’re out there. I was at dinner last Friday night, Delano was playing Rocori at Monticello. I was in the car and went and watched that game. And then the athletic director was able to get me into the game, which was great. And then we had another coach who was at the Hopkins game and another coach who was at a Rosemount game. And it does happen. I can’t speak for the other programs. I mean, we’ll see other coaches there from time to time, but It’s pretty important to us.

Greg Kaster:

Thank you for answering that question. What about once that once the 40 or 50 players arrive, so you have a roster of about, is it about 100, 110 or something like that? How does it I mean, at a place like a Gustavus, does everyone get some playing time or are there players who are there on the team, but don’t, and I guess we have junior varsity too, then not everyone is on the senior team, I guess. But just talk a little bit about what it’s like for a new player. Right? How do you work the  way up to playing?

Peter Haugen:

New players will come in. A lot of these guys were the best players on their high school team. One of the biggest transitions that they’ll make is the fact that now they’re around a bunch of guys who are really good football players and them never held a blocking dummy before. And all of a sudden they’re doing that. And that’s like a challenging thing for them emotionally and mentally. But we play our best players. I mean, if you’re a freshman and you’re coming in and you’re ready to play, most of the time the young person maybe be ready more physically than they will be mentally. They’ll have a lot to learn. But we’ll play them if they’re ready to. Generally you talked about our JV, we all practice together the whole group of 110, but then we’ll have JV teams on Mondays and that’s a developmental deal.

But, I mean, now I know when you get to college football, not everybody plays, and I think that’s why we’re trying to cultivate a culture that values lots of stuff instead of just playing because [crosstalk 00:39:55]. It’s a very competitive environment we play in what’s regarded as the first or second most difficult league in the entire country. It’s not like JV or excuse me, like junior high football where, they try to get everybody’s everybody out there. We do really work hard at respecting all of our players with, if you got a senior, who’s just as good as a sophomore, we’re going to give that senior every opportunity to win that spot. But at the end of the day, the guy who’s production and performance does matter.

Greg Kaster:

I would think that would be hard for me to sort of, I assume you have to, you sit down with the player and say, I’m sorry, you’re not going to be starting. Or how does that work?

Peter Haugen:

Kind of going back what I said about that trusting with communication. And what I also said is it’s not an end game, is something we’re always trying to get better at. But one of the goals that we have, is that if we move a young man from maybe a starting position to a second string position, or a second string position to a third string position, that we want to have that conversation, we want to be able to do that. And I can just tell you firsthand that we’ve done that really, really well at times. And there is also times where, I’ll send you this, you think about it, I didn’t handle that situation as good as I could have with that young man. I think the goal is to communicate.

Greg Kaster:

Let’s talk football, let’s talk about the football team this past season. I think though, what was the overall record? Seven and three and maybe five and three in conference. What’s your sense of the sort of trajectory of the team since you’ve you’ve arrived and you are maybe the 17th head coach, I think, and team a program that’s been around [inaudible 00:41:59], is it a 100 years? Something like that.

Peter Haugen:

Over a 100 now, yeah.

Greg Kaster:

Over a 100, okay. I mean, any team has its ups and downs, and you had a few fantastic, record as a head coach at Washburn. But how would you describe the Gustavus team, over the last, let’s say 10 years.

Peter Haugen:

I mean, I think you’re you’ll see a trajectory. Can you still hear me there okay?

Greg Kaster:

I can hear you fine. Yes.

Peter Haugen:

If you watched us, our trajectory has been just pointed in the right direction. And so we just continue to make strides. And you mentioned seven and three last year, probably one game out of the playoffs. And we’ve just made kind of continuous progress in, and of course, everybody looks at the seven and three, and that’s important. That’s how we’re always going to be judged to a degree. But I think you start looking at the larger body of work of what’s going on with the team, not just wins and losses. And, we’re certainly, we’re winning a lot of games which is great. And we’re trying to now make that next step. What I’ve told our, our staff and players is that, there’s no easy solutions here. We’ve got to continue to just continue to grind out at this thing. We got to continue to get better. But if you look at our trajectory, it is just going in a really positive direction. And I think people have seen that. I think that’s helped our recruiting because they see us playing at a national level now,

Greg Kaster:

St. John’s moved was in MIAC. Right? And then they moved into, is it NCAA Division II or I? What did they do?

Peter Haugen:

No, that was St. Thomas .

Greg Kaster:

St. Thomas Thomas .

Peter Haugen:

That was a league decision in the MIAC presidents that St. Thomas was going to leave the league. And most recently in the last few months, they were granted division one status. I think they’re going to be playing in maybe three different conferences. A conference for football, like with Drake and Valparaiso and teams like that to hockey is playing, I believe in the WCAJ for divisional I. And then all the other sports I believe are going to be playing in, I believe it’s called the Summit League and like that, and that’s going to be some of the South Dakota schools and stuff like that. St Thomas will leave the league and they’ve been in the league a very, very long time.

Greg Kaster:

Well, another institution come into the league or we just simply will play fewer conference games. How does it work?

Peter Haugen:

Yeah. What happened was Macalester several years ago, like many years ago left the MIAC in football only. Now they are rejoining the MIAC in football. They stayed in the MIAC in the other sports, but they had just pulled himself out of football. Now they’re back in and St. Scholastica is now in and all the sports. So actually we went from a nine team league to a 10 team league. St. Thomas is out, Macalester and Scholastica are in.

Greg Kaster:

Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that. Thank you. The issue of concussions and CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, how you pronounce it? [crosstalk 00:46:01] That has just … I love watching football. I still watch it. I don’t watch it as much as I used to but I still watch it. And that’s mostly because I’m too busy sometimes on a Sunday, especially during, the school year. Anyway, but I confess, as I said earlier, I’m somewhat ambivalent as I watch. I wonder what your thoughts about that are and what you can tell listeners about how the Gustavus program, I’m sure other programs too, but what you do to try to minimize concussions and other sorts of not just concussions, other sorts of injuries.

Peter Haugen:

Yeah. Greg, thanks for asking that because, we’ve made some definite adjustments and I think the game in general whether it’s the NFL or college football has put a lot more rules in place that are protecting the player than we saw say 10 years ago. We’re just doing a better job of that. We have more data, we have more information, there’s more science. And then it’s like, what are we doing? A traditional college model would be kind of full contact Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. And what I mean full contact, generally, not in college. Are you doing a lot of tackling, but there’s still a lot of contact. A lot of colleges now have pulled back from that old traditional model.

And what we’re doing now, is we’re kind of in a contact mode in practice one day a week instead of three. And so we’re just trying to take a lot of those shots off of the guys, both to their head, although they shouldn’t be leading with their head, but also just the body in general. And then we’ve done a lot of work with our athletic training staff who does a great job. They screen one of our players before the season. They have to have an impact test. They have a balanced test. We’ve had electronic most cards, that gauge impact on a particular hit. Then it goes right to the cell phone of an athletic trainer. And if that hit was, too much on their little sensor, there’s a sensors in a mouse guard. We’ll bring that young man to the side. We were not using that technology last year. We tried it a couple of years ago. It was pretty good, a little bit cumbersome.

One of the other things we actually put like a beanie cap over every helmet. And if you look at us out there, it looks kind of funny, but you’re seeing them used a lot in practice. And essentially that cut down on our practice concussions by over 50%.

Greg Kaster:

Wow. High tech helps out, and I guess-

Peter Haugen:

We are trying be smart with it, the other thing that helps, I think when you’re, you’re playing in a league, like we are at a school like a Gustavus is, we are always trying to strike that perfect balance of how do you practice enough to be playing for championships and where’s that perfect balance between practice and academics? And I think we have struck a balance. Right now we like pretty well in terms of how long we practice and the intensity level.

Greg Kaster:

I was just thinking fewer concussions I know of this semester but then there’s no footfall. It’s [crosstalk 00:49:34] sort of silver lining. What about, there’s this talk it’s an issue in the NFL. I mean, just how white the coaching staffs are the head coaches in particular, a couple of questions here. I mean, to what extent are there coaches of color within MIAC? I really have no idea at Gustavus. And also, they’re related, but different question. Is it always going to be a male sport at the college level? I mean, are there women involved in any schools or any plans for that at Gustavus? Let me take the coaching question first diversity of coaches in MIAC.

Peter Haugen:

I can’t speak to every school in the MIAC, but most of them are going to have some diversity within their staff. We certainly do. And that didn’t happen right away. I remember at Washburn it didn’t happen right away either. And yet I think it’s really important. I think it’s important to put a staff of coaches together that again, they share that what’s, you’re going after in terms of, and culture, but you have to create, and you have to put a staff together that can meet the needs of the players that you coach. And so in other words, if there’s seven guys like coach Haugen on our staff, we would be in trouble. I mean coaches coming from lots of different places, lots of different experiences geographically, racially, the whole deal, our conference, I would say right now there’s representation with diversity, maybe not every school, but many it’s something that is definitely important to us.

I know it’s been a huge topic of conversation at the NFL level that it seems guys that have done the grinding away that have put a body of work together, sometimes getting passed up. I don’t know enough about those situations to really comment on them specifically, but I can see where the tension is in those types of situations. You see it in the NBA as well. In terms of women, I think the NFL has got I think two women right now, maybe … I’ll probably screw this up, but I know that there’s at least a couple of coaching right now in the NFL. But what we’ve also seen if you watch is that now we’re seeing more officiating, we’re seeing more women officials. And so there has been that level of diversity from a gender perspective.

Greg Kaster:

We don’t have a women’s football team. Do we [inaudible 00:52:34] such a thing?

Peter Haugen:

No. They play Rugby

Greg Kaster:

Rugby, more dangerous. What about your own favorite coaches? Do you have a particular, aside from your dad, particular football coach that you really admire?

Peter Haugen:

You mentioned my dad and he passed away in 2005. I miss him every day, but I [inaudible 00:53:04] incredible lessons from him about his competitiveness. And yet he was pretty soft-spoken. I learned so much through him, I was keen for sure, he just kind of is my guy.I still kind of I get emotional when I think about him quite a bit, but I had a hockey coach, Jake McCoy.

Greg Kaster:

Great name.

Peter Haugen:

And he was tough. I mean, and he was good and he was smart and he always had time for his players. That’s one thing I really remember was him. And he’s my hockey coach. And he sat me down and he told me, “Hey, Peter …” He said, “You’re a goaltender, but I need you to get these three things better.” And I remember leaving being really because I kind of thought maybe I was really good or something, I don’t know but there was a coach who was willing to be honest with me. And I think there’s one of the things in coaching that you have to be honest with your players. That’s one thing I learned with him and I tell him it. Now, when I see him, I’ll say, I just said that it’s such a memorable moment, that when he said those things to me, I hated it. But now I look back and it was such a pivotal part of my development because he told me the truth.

And I think that’s what we’re really called to do. We’re called to tell young men the truth. We’re also called to be told the truth. And I think those things go on, well I’d say those couple of guys really big influence on my development.

Greg Kaster:

I think that point about honesty it’s so important. It’s hard sometimes, it’s hard to hear, It’s hard to do, but it’s, important teaching, which is a form of coaching. In fact, I sometimes tell the students, I feel like I should come in a coaches outfit and whistle around my coaching history or historical thinking. But that really is this true, being honest in a way that’s constructive and supportive and that’s not easy. And I know you’re good at it. I’m still learning. It’s not easy to do. What about, I have to ask about that TV show what was it called Friday night lights? Did you watch that? I confess I didn’t watch it. It got great reviews.

Peter Haugen:

I did not either.

Greg Kaster:

Okay, good. We can move on then. That’s fine with me. In the time remaining we have, by way of conclusion, let’s hear your pitch for the  Gustavus program. I’m torn between two schools. Let’s say one of them is Gustavus, and you’re not going to say anything bad about the other school, I know. But what’s the pitch?

Peter Haugen:

I think one of the biggest things that we talked about is fit. And so we want, first of all, that young man would have come on campus. He would have gotten a chance to connect. As much as we’re talking right now and the coaches important, I think that we want those recruits to spend time with our current student athletes. But if you’re looking for a place that we’re excellence is not compromised in the classroom, excellence is not compromised on the football field that marriage that can exist between the two. Gustavus to me, is that place where you’re going to be playing in facilities. You’re going to be a student in facilities that just scream excellence. And so to me, what’s special about Gustavus and  Gustavus football and Gustavus athletics is that you’re coming to a place where you can have both. There are some schools where their academics is the high priority, and they do not give the attention to athletics that they need to.

Others that you might have a great athletic experience, but the academic experience is not up to snuff.  Gustavus is a place where there can be excellence in. There is excellence in both.

Greg Kaster:

All well said, and I certainly agree against some of the best students I’ve ever had are athletes. I sometimes think it’s just because they have that self-discipline they’re developing it which transfers to the classroom and vice versa. Peter, this has been a pleasure. I’m actually thinking of your now I want to run outside and throw a football. But I guess I won’t do that since I’m 67 years old and terribly out of shape. So it’s a real pleasure, here’s to the game coming back in the spring and Gustavus continuing on that trajectory that you described.

Peter Haugen:

No, I just really appreciate the offer to be on the podcast today, Greg. And really thankful for that. I’m humbled by this opportunity and appreciate all your work.

Greg Kaster:

Thanks so much, Peter, and take good care.

Peter Haugen:

Thank you. Take care.

Greg Kaster:

Bye. Thanks. Bye-bye.

 

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin
jakin@gustavus.edu
507-933-7510

 

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