Calling it a career: Ishpeming’s Olson ends football coaching run after 27 seasons

Ishpeming varsity football head coach Jeff Olson talks with players Owen Morton, center, and Devon Nyman, left, during their game against Lake Linden-Hubbell on Aug. 31 at the Hematites’ field. (Journal file photo by Trinity Carey)

“Telling my players, especially my junior players, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.” — Jeff Olson, former Ishpeming High School football coach, on breaking the news about his coaching retirement

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ISHPEMING — A legendary coach has decided to call it a career.

On Monday afternoon, the Ishpeming athletic department announced that longtime football coach Jeff Olson had retired after 27 seasons on the sidelines.

“When you look at it, I’ve been coaching football for 37 years and basketball for 30 and track for probably about 15, and it takes a lot out of you,” Olson said in a phone interview. “I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of years now.

“I guess the best way to describe it is that I’m tired. It’s been a grind for a long time, so it’s been something I’ve been thinking about and it’s time.”

That didn’t mean that decision was all that easy to make, as he also had to announce his retirement to his players — a hard task for Olson.

“Telling my players, especially my junior players, was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do because those kids are phenomenal and they’re what Ishpeming football is all about,” he said. “I feel like I’m turning my back on them, but when you look at it, we did have a great year this year with them and we’ve had some great years with some great kids in the past. I’ll definitely have those memories to look back on.”

Ishpeming athletic director Terry Roberts talked about how much Olson meant to the Hematites, not only as a coach, but as a person.

“He’s going to be missed as a coach at the high school, but he was more than just a coach,” Roberts said. “He impacted the lives of many young men at the high school.

“He was a tremendous role model and a great mentor for kids. He cared about his players. He wanted them to be successful.

“He got his players to always do the right thing, both on and off the field all the time. His players loved him, that’s for sure.”

To say Olson had an impressive coaching career would be an understatement, as he led the Hematites to the MHSAA Division 7 state championship game five times, including four straight appearances from 2012 to 2015, and winning state titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

He was awarded Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Small School Coach of the Year this past fall after leading Ishpeming to an undefeated regular season and a West PAC Iron Division title. The Hematites were also named UPSSA Division 8 Team of the Year.

In addition to that award, Olson earned the Detroit Lions’ Coach of the Week in the middle of the season and notched his 200th win during a playoff victory over West Iron County.

Olson firmly established himself as a legendary coach a couple of years before that, though, when he was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2016, just a couple months after winning his third state championship.

When asked if there was one moment that stood out to him during his time with the Hematites, Olson had a hard time choosing just one, saying that what he’ll remember coaching both of his sons (Daniel and Isaac) along with his other players.

“It’s hard to say one is going to stand out more than the other because there were a lot of them,” he said. “But what I’ll cherish the most is being able to coach both of my sons and having both of my sons make it to Ford Field and be successful and really enjoying playing, not only for me, but playing for Ishpeming.

“That’s always going to be special in my heart, but there’s been so many great kids that I’ve coached. There’s been so many great groups of parents that I’ve been around.

“Those types of things are what make this job worthwhile and make it really hard to end it. Now we’re going to move on to a different chapter and see where that goes.”

What will that new chapter be? Olson said he’s not sure yet, but right now, he’s just going to enjoy his time away from the gridiron. However, he did have a message that he wanted to pass on to the people of Ishpeming and what they’ve done for him during his time as coach.

“I just want to thank everybody that I’ve been in touch with,” Olson said. “First and foremost, the community of Ishpeming, who has been so phenomenal to me and my family and really wrapped our arms around us when we went through some tough times.

“Just for their support for everything, and everything they’ve done to help our football program. It’s not one thing or two things that make a team successful. There’s got to be a lot of moving parts and the way our school and our community and our football family has really followed us and supported us in the past really makes a huge difference.”

Olson has also made a huge difference, not just with his three state titles, but also as an all-around good coach and person. His legacy at Ishpeming will always be remembered, but it may never be surpassed.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.