Max Hawk still knows his football

Former Yankton football coach Max Hawk watches the action at Saturday's University of South Dakota football game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)

Former Yankton football coach Max Hawk watches the action at Saturday’s University of South Dakota football game at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D)


Max Hawk still knows his football.

And he still likes to talk about the game that made him a legend in the South Dakota football coaching world.

Hawk, now 82 and still living in Yankton, has not coached a high school football game in 21 years. Yet, his name is back in the news as his all-time wins record is about to fall.

Sioux Falls O’Gorman coach Steve Kueter tied Hawk’s record at 284 — oddly enough, in Yankton on Friday night — and will likely break the record next week in Rapid City.

When I ran into Max on Saturday at the University of South Dakota football game at the DakotaDome — where he won all those state titles with the Bucks — I naturally brought up the record.

A smile came across his face when I asked if we could set up an interview for next week.

“I thought all that was over,” he said.

Almost, Max, almost, I replied.

Though I’ve been working for the Press & Dakotan for nine years, I’ve never had more than a casual chat with Hawk. And I really don’t know why. I certainly see him enough around Yankton and at USD games.

That’s why I relished the opportunity to sit and talk with him Saturday in Vermillion.

He ventured up to the press box and sat between me and another reporter during the first half. There were no shortage of great one-liners.

“They’re going behind right guard on this one,” he said at one point in the first quarter.

Sure enough, Youngstown State’s Martin Ruiz followed the right guard for a short gain.

Hawk looked over and smiled.

“You know how I knew that?” he asks me. No, I said.

“The quarterback tapped the right guard on the butt,” he says.

Those are things only a coach would notice. Sure, it wasn’t something he guessed would happen. Nostradomus, he’s not.

But that quick observation proved that while he’s getting up there in age — he jokes that if he ever fell down, he may never get up — he still knows his football.

It’s still in his blood.

He likes to remind people, even those like me who have heard it before, that he coached the first-ever football game in the DakotaDome.

“I still remember the first touchdown and what the play was,” he says, before describing a 63-yard running play by a kid named Fred Boyles — a Yankton High School Hall of Famer.

See, he’s as sharp as ever.

USD out for respect in the Missouri Valley


South Dakota's Nick Meyer, 13, is congratulated by teammate Eric Shufford after a first half touchdown during the Coyotes' victory over Drake last Saturday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (James D. Cimburek/P&D

South Dakota’s Nick Meyer, 13, is congratulated by teammate Eric Shufford after a first half touchdown during the Coyotes’ victory over Drake last Saturday at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. (James D. Cimburek/P&D

VERMILLION – Joe Glenn had somewhere to be in a half-hour, but the University of South Dakota football coach took 15 minutes to address his team after a practice this week.

The message was clear: If you want respect, go out and earn it.

Glenn, whose Coyotes (2-1) open Missouri Valley Conference action Saturday against Youngstown State, was asked later what it will take to beat the No. 10-ranked Penguins.

His response? A win.

“Nothing else would fill that hole,” Glenn said.

Wins in the Missouri Valley – which boasts six ranked teams this week – have, however, been elusive for the Coyotes. Twice, USD has gone winless in league play, and the program’s record in the conference is 3-21.

Picked to finish last, by a wide margin, the Coyotes have long since realized that close losses mean little in the big picture.

“We have no reason to think we should be respected in the MVFC at this point, from what we’ve done in the last three years,” junior offensive lineman Nile Banks said.

It’s not as though the Coyotes are wholly unfamiliar with competing with the best of the best in what is arguably the best FCS league. There were signs (four league losses by a touchdown or less in 2012). There was progress (three league wins in 2013). But then there was a step backward (the closest league loss in 2014 was seven points).

Developing confidence was a key area of focus, perhaps the first step in many, according to sophomore receiver Brandt Van Roekel.

“Overall, we got people to buy into the program and not worry about what other people think,” he said. “That’s got the culture flipped around; got people believing.

“And that’s the first part of the battle. When we believe we can do it, we’ll be able to.”

On the other hand, though, the Coyotes couldn’t exactly afford to concern themselves with outside perception, as tempting as it may be to find out what people think.

Wins, not solid performances in a loss, is what USD what will be judged on, as Van Roekel pointed out.

“We know we can do it, it’s just a matter of going out and proving to everyone else we can do it,” he said.

And, as Banks said matter-of-factly, more than once. One win Saturday over Youngstown State won’t mean much unless the Coyotes string together victories – like they did in 2013, when they won three straight.

“If we want to be respected in this league, we have to go into the Valley and win some games to earn respect,” Banks said.

Working in USD’s favor is back-to-back convincing wins over UC Davis and Drake, performances that certainly created a little bit of a buzz around the program. It was the long-awaited momentum Glenn consistently refers to.

“I think our kids feel it, our coaches feel it, but we’ve got to prove it on that thing right there,” he said, pointing to the DakotaDome scoreboard.

The combination of experience and health are playing to USD’s advantage right now, as the Coyotes gear up for a homecoming date with Bo Pelini and Youngstown State. Those two factors, along with that confidence, will eventually result in wins, Glenn said.

“I want our kids to feel that what they’ve done makes them worthy of winning,” he said. “They work hard, and something good is going to happen to them.”

Follow @jhoeck on Twitter

Q&A with DWU football coach Ross Cimpl


Dakota Wesleyan football coach Ross Cimpl, right, chats with a Yankton resident after speaking at Wednesday's Yankton Quarterback Club luncheon. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D

Dakota Wesleyan football coach Ross Cimpl, right, chats with a Yankton resident after speaking at Wednesday’s Yankton Quarterback Club luncheon. (Jeremy Hoeck/P&D

Three years ago, Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell took a chance on a 27-year-old former college football player who had zero head coaching experience.

Ross Cimpl has made that decision look increasingly smart.

The Wagner native, now 31, has guided the Tigers (5-0) to an undefeated start and a No. 13 national ranking in his fourth season.

Cimpl, a former standout at the University of South Dakota, was the featured speaker at Wednesday’s Yankton Quarterback Club luncheon. He talked to the crowd about the early success this season of his Tigers, who are off this week and still have three games remaining against ranked Great Plains Athletic Conference teams.

He took a few minutes after his speech Wednesday to talk with the Press & Dakotan about the momentum of his program, its recruitment of South Dakota players and its future.

P&D: It seems like there’s quite a buzz up there at Dakota Wesleyan. Do you feel like there is?

Cimpl: Yeah, I think there is. A lot of it has to do with our kids. They’re local names, they’re guys have heard of and want to follow. It’s exciting. And I think part of it has to do with the success of our basketball team, and our football guys loved it. They were supportive. It’s a very unique relationship with football and basketball, you don’t get that all the time at every school. And it’s one of those things where success breeds success. That’s something we’re seeing, people want to be associated with the football team or with DWU athletics. That’s really exciting.

When you got hired, did you anticipate this kind of success within a couple of years?

I think that was the goal. The thing we’ve learned is that it takes a lot of work. We have to get the right guys in and our guys have to be prepared. Our administration has done a great job of being supportive. They took a chance on a kid who was 28 years old and had never been a head coach before. But I give a lot of credit to our coaches and players, they work hard. Dakota Wesleyan has always had talent, they’ve always had the ability, but they weren’t really able to put it together consistently. Even for us the last three years, we haven’t been able to do it consistently. Now we’re in a position where we’re learning from those mistakes, and hopefully learning from those means we don’t have to learn the hard way.

So it’s been a process then? Has there been a process for you as a coach?

Absolutely. If our seniors were here right now, they would describe me a lot differently now than I was three years ago. Right away, it was trying to build a culture, trying to set those expectations. And as a coaching staff, you had to constantly remind guys and make examples of what you were expecting to do. You really had to have your thumb on guys. Now our players are doing that on their own, we don’t have to remind guys. Now, if I’m upset about something in a practice or I want to get my point across, it’s an exception, not the norm. That’s probably the biggest difference, our players understand what’s expected of them. They have high goals and know what it takes to reach those goals.

And how much of that is based on recruiting South Dakota kids?

I don’t think there’s any secret why we’ve been able to do what we’ve done or create the buzz you’re talking about. We couldn’t do that without South Dakota kids. Luke Loudenburg (former Howard standout) hasn’t played a game this fall, but there are tons of people that ask about him. They come to games and ask about him at the tailgate, but those are the kids we need to have in our program, and we do. They’re the headliners. They’re the cover-of-the-program type of guys. Those are the guys we’re able to get and they want to be associated with what we’re doing. In the past, it was, ‘Let’s go somewhere else’ and now there’s a positive for them to be part of what we’re doing.

Is it fun to stop and think sometimes about the future, with some of the new facilities (DWU will break ground early next year on a $15 million wellness center) and the culture?

Yeah it really is. That’s the goal. For our guys, though, that’s the unknown. That puts a little pressure on you sometimes because we haven’t been in a situation yet where we’ve got the target on our back. Guys have to understand, and we say this all the time, the process has gotten us to this point but what is it going forward? If we deviate, that’s when we start having questions or doubt what we’re doing. Good or bad, all those learning experiences got us to this point, and that’s what we have to continue to do.