MARQUETTE - With his second trip in three years to the MHSAA state football finals looming, Ishpeming High School head coach Jeff Olson figured at one time that he'd be coaching a different sport instead.
"I always thought I wanted to be a basketball coach," Olson said Monday about his high school days at Marquette Senior High School. "Then Marquette came along and hired me to be the JV (football) offensive coordinator."
Olson was not only a multisport star at MSHS, but named to All-Upper Peninsula teams in both football and basketball.
Ishpeming High School football coach Jeff Olson motions to one of his players to come to the Superior Dome sidelines during the second half of the Hematites’ MHSAA Division 7 state semifinal victory on Saturday. Olson has a career record of 143-78 in 21 seasons as IHS head coach. (Journal photo by Matt Wellens)
"I can say I was recruited by Tom Izzo," he said. "That's all you have to say, you don't have to say anything else."
He said that last line with a laugh, since at the time of Olson's graduation in 1981 Izzo wasn't in his current position as head men's basketball coach at Michigan State University of the Big Ten, but instead an assistant coach at Northern Michigan University.
And, Olson had to add, all he was recruited to do was try out for the Wildcats as a walk-on.
Olson played point guard on the Redmen basketball team, and is still listed on the wall of the school's gymnasium with one of the team's oldest existing records, the 161 assists he had in the 1980-81 season.
In football, he was quarterback and defensive safety under the tutelage of Mike Mileski, who coincidentally coached the Hematites to the first-ever Class C state football title in 1975.
That game is known far and wide for Ishpeming's upset of Hudson, which had been on a national-record 72-game winning streak entering the contest.
Not long after his high school graduation he applied for and got his first coaching job in football, rather than basketball.
"Mike Mileski had only been there for two years (at Marquette), so they wanted somebody who knew how to run the option," he said.
And the rest became history.
Olson took the Hematites' head coaching job in 1992, and now he's completing his 21st year in the position and currently has a record of 143-78.
Not only is Ishpeming making its second Division 7 finals appearance in three seasons, but Olson has guided the school into the playoffs for 11 straight years and 13 of the past 14.
When he took over, the Hematites hadn't been to the playoffs since their second state championship run in 1979.
Olson guided them to an appearance in 1994 and back-to-back 6-3 seasons in 1995 and 1996 before the 13-of-14 playoff streak began in 1999.
"In high school football, the head coach does everything," Olson said. "You work on the Xs and Os, but you're also a manager, an administrator, a psychologist and a parent."
While Olson has and still currently does coach with the freshman and JV boys basketball teams at Ishpeming, he's become known around the U.P. and the state for football.
On Monday while attempting to view game films and work out strategies for Saturday's all-important, season-ending game, Olson said he still had calls waiting to come in from media outlets that included the Detroit Free Press and Fox Sports Detroit cable television station.
One of them asked him if he had any interesting stories to tell about this season.
"I asked them, 'How much time do you have?'" Olson said, alluding to challenges that have included the Eric Dompierre eligibility case, injuries to key personnel, and what he contended was the unwarranted suspension of All-U.P. lineman Brad Wootke for a previous playoff game.
It also included several deaths that have affected the team, most significantly for Olson his son Daniel, the star quarterback in the 2010 finals who died just before 2012 fall practice began.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246.