Vagle retires after 30 years of coaching

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 11/5/96.

He started playing football in eighth grade and has been involved in the sport ever since. Virg Vagle came to Paynesville in 1965 to accept his first teaching position out of college. His first year in Paynesville, Vagle volunteered to be an assistant coach. The second year he was hired to be the assistant coach and the next year head coach. A position he has held for 30 years.

Vagle had made up his mind at the beginning of the season this would be his last season as Paynesvilleís head coach. He didnít tell the team about his decision until mid-season. ďThe teamís expectations were down. I thought if I broke the news this was my last season and that my expectations were also down, we could bridge a gap and that we could understand each other better,Ē Vagle added. The team won four in a row after that.

Vagle ended his career with a 138-131-1 record. The team was ranked some place in the top 10 eight years and two years received votes but didnít make the state rankings.

ďIím looking forward to fall next year when I can be doing something other than football,Ē Vagle said. ďI started playing football when I was in eighth grade. I played five years in high school, four years in college and have been coaching ever since.

ďI worked with a lot of different superintendents, principals and two athletic directors and many assistant coaches. They provided me with a lot of support. I owe a lot to everybody,Ē Vagle said. Vagle has a lot of fond memories when looking back over his 30 years as head coach. ďCoaching places a lot of demands on a personís time. I feel fortunate that I was able to make a career out of being head coach,Ē Vagle added.

Captains of his first football team were Rich Philabaum and Clayton Seeland, both still hold school records, Vagle said. He felt he could possibly name all his team captains, maybe not in the right order, but he remembers them all. In 1972 the team had only four seniors, Dave Heitke, Neal Jones, Dale Lauer and Keith Hemmesch. The team was also ranked in the top 10 in the state that year. ďWhen you work closely with kids, you remember a lot about them,Ē he added.

Among the games that stand out in his mind, the 1979 state semi-final against Apple Valley is one. Paynesville was a class B school at that time and Apple Valley an AA school in a class A conference.

Vagle explained play-offs at that time were not based on individual school size but teams were put in play-off classes based on the average size school in their conference. Paynesville finished either third or fourth in the state. ďWe beat Albany 36-20 for the right to advance to state. We played Albany in our final game of the season. It was a memorable game. We were rated fifth and Albany fourth in the state,Ē he added.

ďAnother memorable game was when we played Montevideo in the first round of state action here. We won 15-14. We were behind 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and came from behind to win,Ē Vagle recalls. Another game that stands out in his mindwas in 1985 when Paynesville and Albany played triple overtime. Albany was ranked #1 in the section and state. ďWe scored a touchdown in the final seconds but it was called back on an inadvertent whistle. The game went into overtime tied 0-0. Each team scored in every overtime before Paynesvilleís PAT attempt on the final play came up about six inches short,Ē he said.

ďFive years ago, 1991, the team struggled during the season but were hot at the end of the year. They reached the sectional finals. However, due to the Halloween snowstorm, nobody was able to play on their home fields and we got to play in the Metrodome. We played #1 ranked Pierz.We were ahead 14-0, Pierz came back and tied the game, beating us in overtime.Ē

Over the years, Paynesville has been associated with five different conferences: West Lake Conference, Central Gopher, West Central, West Central South and West Central North.

Vagle said with modern technology, it has been easier scouting teams. Scouts take video cameras and tape the plays. Vagle would then make six to nine copies of our last game and our next opponentís last game each weekend for the assistant coaches and players to analyze. ďI have two VCRs on which I watch and record tapes. We also exchange tapes with other schools. In the old days, all a volunteer scout had was a clipboard and you hoped he saw the formations. Now, we can replay the formations.

ďYou have to do your homework if you want to be competitive with the other teams,Ē Vagle stressed. ďCoaching can be a rat race which can burn you out. But what makes the difference is the relationships you build up with the kids. Watching the players grow up and mature into responsible adults makes all the time and effort worthwhile.

ďThe kids learn valuable lessons over the years. As they strive to be a team, they learn to take the rough times with the good. If the going is too easy, they get overconfident. But if they learn to take the good with the bad everything usually pays off in the long run. If you donít put a lot of work into it, be it school, athletics, or work, it wonít pay off.

Vagle feels now is the best time for him to step down. ďThere are a lot of good players in the junior class who are very coachable. I donít want to step out when the well is dry, it is only fair to my successor to leave him with a good class to work with.

One test a coach has to live with is the unexpected, Vagle said. After injuries or ineligibilities, a coach has to change, re-evaluate his teamís expectations and develop new options. Many people who complain about a coach donít always see the broad picture. ďThere are always a few situations that are hard to deal with,Ē he added.
Vagle explained that coaching isnít all a glamorous thing. There are stats to keep, phone calls to newspapers, preseason preparations, weekly preparations, daily preparations, organizing playbooks, inventory and more. ďThere are a lot of behind the scene things that need to take place. If you short change yourself or the players, then everybody will be nonproductive.

ďIím thankful to the administration and community for giving me the opportunity to coach for 30 years. A person needs to develop a tough skin because you are not out there to win a popularity contest. I canít give you a formula for success but I can give you one for failure...try to please everybody,Ē Vagle said.

ďAs a head coach you canít go in with blinders, you need to be aware of everything around you and do what you believe to be right. You need to be fair to every player on the team. You canít try to please one person at the expense of others. Often when an upset person calms down, I hope they realize I have been fair and I have still have their respect. What you did was in fairness, not in spite,Ē Vagle added.

ďIf I had to look back over the years, would I do it again, you bet,Ē Vagle said. ďIím not sour on the program and nobody is forcing me out. I just feel the time is right. Being a head coach takes a lot of time and energy. With coaching two sports, football and wrestling, and teaching, my family has had to give up a lot. All sports have their own unique demands.Ē Vagle will be starting his 31st year as head wrestling coach.

ďNext year, Iím looking forward to going to games, sitting with my wife and cheering on the team. I will support the kids and create the best situation I can for the staff taking over to make as smooth a transition as possible,Ē Vagle said.

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