BY JEREMY HOECK
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.