MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Sit down with Gov. Tim Walz and you are sitting down with more than a politician. He is part of the fraternity that have coached high school football.

“[I] coached in a lot of places. No matter how big the town was, it pretty much shut down, that was it,” Walz said. “There’s times in life that you go back and look, I can still remember fourth-down plays.”

He’s moved on since he was on the sideline. Now he’s in the fire a different way, serving as governor, with some lessons learned that helped prepare him by coaching football.

“I think that it’s great preparation. This idea that you … don’t win on the game night, you win many months before,” Walz said. “Everybody wants to win. Who wants to prepare to win? Who’s thinking about it? Who’s putting in the work?”

On this night, he is center stage to a group of high school football coaches. You sense this is his comfort zone, being with people who speak the same language, and leaving them with some motivation.

“Being away from [coaching] now, it really comes into focus. My message is going to be, I hope to just tell them to enjoy every minute of that and to understand, because it shapes all of us,” Walz said. “The first … 40 years of my life were either playing this game or coaching it.”

Tim Walz, in his days as assistant football coach at Mankato West High School (credit: CBS)

Because what high school football does for high school players, it does for coaches. It helps you grow into something bigger.

“It was an opportunity to treat these kids as adults, and start to learn those life skills and watch you model it. And you know, some of those times were of telling them, ‘Fellas, I got that wrong, I’m sorry about that.’ And for them to see that in their life, to see their coach tell them, ‘You know what, I did that wrong,’ I think they take those lessons.”

It seems learning to communicate in football has served him well in selling his message, that understanding people is like understanding football people. That’s why it’s important to him to not forget his roots, because at his heart he gets it, like football people do.

“I just think that with the things that we can do together, how they can be so much bigger than ourselves, and that idea of when you’re in that with somebody and trusting that comradery you get, and these coaches all of had that feeling, when you have that team that really bonds, and they’re all good, you know, and sometimes you don’t have as much success, but you still enjoy the kids. But sometimes when that clicks, that is really special,” Walz said.

Mike Max