As you recall, I spent a day there last month trying to find the above home, but to also get to know the town where your head football coach was born in by getting my feet on the ground from which he grew.
Mount Pleasant is quite a place, quaint and calm without much commercialism, but without many indications that it is quite a place. It’s subdued, reserved, not really flaunting some of its accolades, but also tucking the medium-security prison safely in the town’s outskirts. You roll into town and see a sign saying this is the home of Iowa Wesleyan College, but also the Old Thresher Reunion.
That kind of place … though I gathered the town and its people preferred it that way.
It’s not slow and the people aren’t dull, but they’re at ease with the small town and their small-town ways. And it was from there where Dana Holgorsen came, growing up and then leaving before returning and then catapulting upward toward where he is right now.
Try as he might to say his is a simple life and an uncomplicated story, there really is a lot about his youth that explains his past and his present. Most of it fit into today’s opus on Holgorsen and his town, but some stories about Mount Pleasant had to make room for stories about Holgorsen and some things about Holgorsen were pushed aside to make room for Mount Pleasant.
I’ve swept the floor at the feet of our copy editors and lined up things we’d discarded before to tell you everything that didn’t make it into print.
- Holgorsen was a better athlete back then than he lets on today. Maybe he tempers it because he’s around such elite specimens now, but he wasn’t a scrub. Those who knew him remembered him as strong and muscled and adept at multiple sports.
Holgorsen was a starting guard on the basketball team and he could take that frame he’d built over the summer for the football season and put it to good use on the hardwood, just the same way he could will his way to a few more plays or points than an unsuspecting opponent or onlooker might expect. He was quick in the backcourt and he could apply that route-running precision to dribbling and driving.
He wasn’t great, and he knew that, but he wouldn’t let that limit him. In fact, he hated limitations and wouldn’t let his teammates settle for them, either. That led to a bit of a rivalry with the team’s other starting guard, Brent Broeker.
“They were both undersized, but both good athletes and both very intense,” former assistant and head football Coach Bob Jensen said. “And they would fight. Dana was more of a talker and Brett wouldn’t say much – and Dana knew it got under his skin.”
The Panthers were in the middle of a game that wasn’t going quite their way. With play going on in one half of the court, Broeker decided he’d had enough. He simply walked off the floor, past Jensen who was running the clock at the scorer’s table and by Jim Kelly, the coach who couldn’t believe Broeker had just left Holgorsen and his three teammates alone.
“What are you doing?” Kelley shouted. “Get back out there.”
“Coach,” he said, “if I go back out there, I’m going to have to kill him.”
- There are many stories about Holgorsen’s verve, about his competitiveness, about how it could rub some people the wrong way. There was one quote that put it all in perspective, though.
“The thing about Dana,” said Spence Evans, his high school quarterback, “is that once you were his friend, you were always his friend.”
- Holgorsen was a baller …
- The folks in and from Mount Pleasant follow him today.
“Honest to God, when you watch a football game, you’d think he was the only coach coaching in the game because the camera is always on Dana, but he’s that kind of guy,” Jensen said. “He’s always on TV. I watch him and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s the same guy.’ Nothing surprises me. Whatever he’s saying is exactly what’s going through his mind.”
- And those same people recognize who they see today as who they knew back then.
“He kind of lived on the edge and wanted to live on that edge, and I remember reading different articles about him skydiving when he got the job at West Virginia,” said Mike Hampton, an assistant varsity football coach and the head coach of the ninth-grade team who today is the athletic director and softball coach at Iowa Wesleyan.
“That didn’t surprise me. I don’t know what it was, but it didn’t surprise me. That’s what he does and he’s probably the type of guy now who calls a spade a spade. He’s probably very honest with his players and some people probably don’t like that.”
Press a little bit, ask what was on the edge back then, and the folks calm up a little bit. There will be no friendly fire.
“Dana might have lived on the edge a little bit, but he kept his nose clean,” Hampton said.
- Holgorsen was a name before he was a face, though. The ones who followed him started doing so right after he left Iowa Wesleyan and they tracked him through his smaller stops before his bigger breaks.
“They knew who he was,” said Chuck Allen, a friend of Holgorsen’s older brother. “They remembered him from Wesleyan and a lot of them followed him step by step. Not all of the locals, but a lot of them knew he was with Hal Mumme when Mumme was at Valdosta State and they kept track of him when he bounced around to the other places.
“Then when he got the gig at Texas Tech and as he grew there and moved to the other schools, more and more people started, ‘Hey, I remember him.’ I’ve had a lot of people come up and talk to me because they knew our families were close and they say, ‘Hey, have you talked to Dana lately? How’s Dana doing?’ “
- The Holgorsens were a popular popular family. Dana’s father worked for Snap-On Tools and sold to mechanics and auto dealerships. His mother worked in a management company that helped run Pizza Huts and the like in the area. Dana’s older and younger brothers were athletes and football stars and the parents were constantly involved in booster activities that kept them engaged through the years.
- “In high school, he had to have a good game for us to win,” said John Kuhens, the general manager and sports director of KILJ radio in town who called Holgorsen’s games.
Holgorsen frequently had good games.
- If you’ve ever thought Holgorsen acted like a promoter or trumpeted ideas he believed would be beneficial, like gray jerseys, understand he got that, too, from Mumme.
“Mumme called his offense ‘basketball on grass’ and he created a lot of fan interest for the townspeople to go out and watch him,” Kuhens said. “He had some local kids playing, where now it’s hard for the college to get the local kids playing. Everyone wants to go of somewhere else.
“But it was exciting and with Coach Mumme and his staff, there were a lot of personalities there. They came into town promoting Iowa Wesleyan College football and Iowa Wesleyan College. They wanted a booster club and they wanted tailgating and they wanted people at their games. They’d do halftime stuff for kids and they’d have a booster club coach of the game on the sideline. They really built it up.”
- Behold the sights of Mount Pleasant, from the signs that greet you and the history that resides at the Union Block all the way to the modest football complex the high school and college share.
- Consider the above a complement to the photos included in the story.
- Jensen succeeded Mount Pleasant High Coach Bob Evans in 1989 and retired after this past season. There were times in his career when he’d ask Holgorsen for help with pass routes and concepts and Holgorsen would oblige.
- Jensen leaned on Holgorsen’s older brother more, though. Brett Holgorsen is a successful high school coach and the offensive coordinator at Katy Tyler High in Houston. I got the feeling people thought he was just as good as his younger brother, but that he hadn’t gotten the breaks.
“He’s been snake-bitten,” Allen said.
Jensen was listing Holgorsen’s knack for getting in and out of jobs at the right time and said it’s the “absolute opposite of his older brother, who is just a tremendous football coach, but he hasn’t had that situation happen for him ever.”
Brett’s son, Clay, plays quarterback for his dad and will be a senior next season. Would I be surprised if Brett ends up with Dana one day? I would not.
- In some ways, Holgorsen really was in the right place at the right time in his career.
- Holgorsen hasn’t been uniquely blessed in his career, though. He’s had to overcome some hurdles along the way. And he was a hurdler in high school.
I can’t get enough of this picture, for so many reasons. I mean, it’s a yearbook photo and it’s great. I also had no clue he ran track and killed the hurdles. Lastly, you really can’t tell, but Dana is looking right at the camera in this shot. So good.
- One more for the road …