Jerry Olszewski, a humble, confident man is beginning his first year as head football coach for the Augustana Vikings, and after establishing a plan of action for the team and himself, has high hopes for what the student-athletes will do next season.
Olszewski (Ol-“SHEH”-skee), 44, served as the St. Olaf College head coach from 2008 to 2012, yielding a 32-18 record before taking over at Augustana following the release of former head coach Mike Aldrich.
“[St. Olaf] created a wonderful situation that was very difficult to leave. The opportunity that was presented at Augustana was obviously a level up; it’s an institution that I believe in strongly,” Olszewski said. “[Augustana] is a great place, with some great people. I think we can do some wonderful things.”
Olszewski was among three top-caliber finalists for the vacant position. Despite being the only of the three without Division-I experience, director of athletics Bill Gross named Olszewski the 21st Augustana head football coach on Dec. 12.
Gross said Olszewski has proven his ability to develop a winning program and looks forward to seeing the football team compete at high levels under his leadership.
“Coach Olszewski will provide Augustana with a strong leader for our football program in the years ahead,” Gross said. “His personal values, experience and outstanding communication skills are attributes which will excite Viking football student-athletes and fans,” Gross said.
Having a chance to connect with some returning players, Olszewski said he thinks the athletes are ready to move forward, regardless of feelings toward the coaching changes.
“The process has taken its course and now we become the best football team that we can be and represent Augustana College in the best way that it can be represented,” he said.
Freshman defensive back AJ Scarborough was cautious of how the transition would be between Aldrich and the new coach, but he speaks highly of Olszewski.
“He is a genuine guy,” Scarborough said. “He’s the type of guy that will go out of his way to interact and get to know you. He’s also very goal-oriented and he showed that from day one. I see us doing big things with him here.”
Committing to a winning system will be crucial for Augustana football in the years ahead in the NSIC.
Olszewski has never had a losing season, and it’s unlikely he wants 2013 to be his first.
“It’s not going to matter who we line up against; we need to be at our personal best every week. It really doesn’t matter to me the rankings nationally, the color of the other team’s jersey; it’s really going to be more about believing in us and making sure that we’re up at our personal best every game we go out there,” he said.
Despite his success on the gridiron and experience as a former CEO of the Mankato YMCA, Olszewski remains humble and amicable.
“God made me humble,” he said.
“We are to be servants to Him and, as a servant leader, I’m humbled, but also I am confident in what we’re doing. I think we should all be a bit humbled… We’re just people.”
Being a leader off the field matters too, since few make it to the NFL – just four alumni have in the college’s history.
“That’s why I got into this profession in the first place: to build men of character – teach them how to compete and compete in life. If you get a degree from Augustana, you should raise your personal bar every day…to reach for the ‘best them’ they can be, and at the end of the day, that’s got to be good enough.”
Senior offensive lineman Bo Adams said Olszewski always leaves his office door open for him and other players to stop in, and Adams is excited for the direction the coach has planned.
“Change is never easy, but sometimes it is exactly what’s needed,” Adams said.
Olszewski set forward a simple plan to get through the coming months:
“Plan number one was to get an excellent recruiting class and that was my primary focus from the day I was hired until February,” he said.
“I was hired at a time that was decent enough to gain relationships with those young men that the staff had [scouted] previously,” he said. “We added some different men to the pool and realigned the board, if you will, and added some people that I was [watching].”
Augustana signed 36 student-athletes on National Signing Day, including three students who transferred from St. Olaf College.
“[The St. Olaf College transfer students] totally reached out to me. I answered the calls and asked, ‘What is your future? What are you thinking?’ By NCAA rules, I can’t recruit from another college. It was absolutely their doing – it just happens to be that they’re three freshmen, very bright newcomers that I recruited at St. Olaf College.”
Recruiting athletes is a time-consuming, difficult process, but Olszewski finds Augustana’s graduation and job-placement rates to be an advantage, as well as being competitive in a strong Division-II conference.
Using the academic success stories and a promising look forward for Viking football, Augustana brought in what Olszewski tabbed a “very solid class.” With recruiting and signing completed, at least for a short while, Olszewski moved on to the next part of his plan: ensuring he had a strong coaching staff behind him.
As it stands right now, there is no offensive or defensive coordinator on the coaching staff listings. Aldrich had served as the head coach and defensive coordinator while Steve Olinger, who was let go with Aldrich in November, served as the offensive coordinator.
“Come March, we will be in install-periods of staffing, making sure playbooks are ready and spring ball instillation is in place,” he said.
The third and final stage of Olszewski’s plan is to relocate his family. Olszewski and his wife, Deana, will close on their current house in March and plan to rent a house in Sioux Falls before settling into a new home.
Augustana ended the 2012 season 5-6, including especially tough losses on senior day, homecoming, and in the double-overtime inner-city game against University of Sioux Falls.
Olszewski has not had a great deal of time to watch last year’s film, but has picked out some core strengths and weaknesses:
“[Our] running backs situation is very good,” he said. Augie returns Dajon Newell and CJ Ham among others.
“We’re starting over at quarterback. That position is an area of immediate attention.” Former starting quarterback Josh Hanson graduated, setting a single-season record touchdown passes in 2012 with 32. He also became the all-time leading touchdown passer in school history.
“Our wide receiving core is very deep. We need to be more skilled and more competitive,” he said. Receivers Grant Gebhardt, Noah Huisman, and Darren Niklason, to name a few, will all return this fall.
Olszewski said the team’s weaknesses in the areas of the linebacker, safety, and corner position have been addressed and he will continue to work on the lack of depth in the defensive line with hopes that the players can thrive on their strengths.
The work ethic displayed by the players this winter in the strength and conditioning area has proven to Olszewski he has competitive and hardworking athletes.
“We have some kids that are competitive – they want to be better. They want to improve on that mark and prove to people that Augustana is for real,” he said.
The Vikings’ season starts with a home opener against Minnesota State University-Moorhead on Sept. 9.
This recruiting class includes eight defensive lineman, seven linebackers, seven wide receivers, five defensive backs, two quarterbacks, two tight ends, two offensive linemen, one running back, one fullback and one kicker/punter from 10 different states.
Minnesota (14), South Dakota (6), Nebraska (5), Colorado (3), Iowa (3), Florida (1), Illinois (1), Kansas (1), Oklahoma (1) and Wisconsin (1).