C-I’s Jerry Carlson inducted into Minnesota Football Coaches Hall of Fame –
By Barry Bruss, Guest columnist
“Okay, here we go.” These are simple, common words to most people but are an iconic catchphrase from a Cambridge institution. Hundreds of Bluejacket football, softball, and baseball players forever remember this deep call to action from their beloved teacher, coach, mentor and friend known as Mr. C.
With Jerry Carlson’s induction into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame April 6, he was officially recognized as the legend Cambridge High School alumni have long known him to be. He joined former head coach George Larson there.
Behind every head coach is an assistant or two. Often, the integral role that assistant coaches contribute to program success is largely unknown. Dean Allen received the MFCA Butch Nash Award which is granted explicitly to an assistant coach. Carlson’s entry into the Hall of Fame is the capstone acknowledging the finest high school football staff in Minnesota history.
Fondly remembered for his softball and baseball coaching as well, he ended his CHS career as athletic director for several years, the perfect role for a man blessed with profound “people skills” and gifted with organizational expertise. Even the meticulous handwriting that reflected his coaching style was memorable.
Much could be learned from Jerry’s life and career to correct today’s toxic youth sports culture, to serve as a model for coaching reform. While George Larson provided the firm leadership and discipline essential for high achievement, Jerry Carlson exuded a calm, quiet strength that he infused into his players. He did this without berating them or ranting on the sidelines. He loved his players, and they knew it. He also cried with them, most notably following the 1983 Hutchinson heartbreaker.
Charismatic in a profession largely lacking humor, he entertained his teams singing “Big Bad John” and accompanied Dennis Miller (the one from Cambridge) singing “You Are My Sunshine” with his ukulele cradled in his massive mitts. These were the same hands that easily dismantled the metro phone book.
A fundamentalist, Jerry developed outstanding linemen and outstanding lines. He coached all of his players, focusing not only on individuals and their skills but also on bringing the players together into a cohesive unit. His technical detail, coupled with his team vision, created blocking forces that fueled Bluejacket football success. Every 1,000 yard rusher had five guys leading the way for him.
His approach to coaching and his dedication produced results on the field and devotion in the hearts of his players off. Devoted players were the product of this competent, caring coach; both were necessary to create a successful program. JC was and is the hallmark of excellence.
The goal of successful coaching should and must be the development of all kids. That was Jerry’s way. Certainly, his system is very difficult to duplicate as today’s unreasonable demands and expectations discourage coaches from long-term commitments to programs and patient development of players. It takes time to develop late bloomers and focused attention to maximize the abilities of natural athletes. Outstanding coaches give both. While Carlson’s philosophy is in stark contrast to the current mentality which is one of tunnel vision focused on a few “chosen” ones, it remains the best philosophy. Jerry’s substance and style provide a map that would help sports regain their success and sanity on and off the field.
During five years of college football, I learned some things about the game, but I never had coaches invested in their players like Jerry Carlson was. Now, with four kids in numerous sports, I continue to see a coaching spectrum ranging from awful to average. What I thought was standard operating procedure I now realize was an amazing gift.
Affectionately recalling coaches and events from the past is not merely an exercise in nostalgia, it is required gratitude. Thirty years later, not only do I recall the wins and losses, but I also remember the great men who gave me that gift.
– Barry P. Bruss is a 1985 graduate of Cambridge High School who also credits Dave Zieba, Lowell Schweigert, and Dick Humphrey for their contributions to his positive memories of CHS football. Dick, as well as Kay Pekel, taught him how to write. He lives in Rochester with his wife and four children.