MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — They seem like they will coach forever. Then one day you are reminded that nothing lasts forever.
Dave Nelson spent better than four decades as a high school football coach, winning state titles at Blaine and Minnetonka.
Nelson’s father was a football coach at Anoka, and one day he asked his son something.
“’Dave, what are you going to do?’ And I go, ‘I want to be a coach.’ And he said, ‘Don’t do that.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you be a dentist?’” Nelson said. “I go, ‘Dad, I don’t want to be a dentist.’ And he said, ‘Why do you want to coach?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve watched you, your influence.’ And he didn’t see the impact he had on others, but I did. And I said, ‘You always look like you’re having fun.’ And he said, ‘I can’t argue with that.’”
For 42 years, he’s been doing just that. And this week he decided that’s enough — announcing his retirement.
“I’ve heard other coaches say, ‘You just kind of know in your heart.’ And I started to get the feeling toward the end of last season, even went through this whole year,” Nelson said. “For me personally, the lows were lower than any highs were high.”
What a run it has been, winning state championships at Blaine and Minnetonka, with his son as the quarterback, in 2004.
“It was a blessing, kind of like you’re in a movie. Like, this is really happening, you know,” he said. “Minnetonka had never been to a state tournament before, and here we are in the prep bowl with our son, the quarterback, and just a magical year. So it was just a great memory.”
He has now grown into a dean of coaching. And as he reflects, he has advice for the younger coaches: Get into this profession for the right reasons.
“Be where you are, make big-time where you are. Enjoy it. Focus on the positive things, not the negative things. Understand the power of your words, that you can never take them back,” Nelson said. “What a privilege it is to coach.”
Two weeks ago, had more room for pause. His 8-year-old grandson Rigins, who was born with a rare genetic condition, passed away. Nelson says he learned a lot from that special boy.
“To be grateful. You know, when people complain about things, losing the game, it gave me perspective on what’s really important, and what life’s really all about,” Nelson said.
He believes life is really all about family. His son and son in law are on his staff. His wife Maureen is always by his side.
“My wife is unbelievable, you know. She is a coach’s wife. Never missed a game in 42 years. I mean, sophomore games in Blaine, she was there, you know,” Nelson said. “She’s remarkable. She’s really a strong person.”
And this week he thinks about a lot. But those Friday nights, and those coaches and players, have made for a wonderful life.
“Hopefully [my former players think] that I believe in them, I was fair, honest, and that it was a great experience, no matter how it ended up on the scoreboard,” Nelson said.
Nelson’s father will turn 100 in September. His brother played for the New England Patriots, and his sister was a successful track coach at Anoka High School.