WHS grid coach resigns

ISHPEMING – Westwood High School head varsity football coach John Jessen has officially resigned his position with the Patriots.

According to the NICE Community School District Facebook page, Jessen submitted his letter to resignation to Superintendent Bryan DeAugustine on Thursday.

In the letter posted to the NICE district’s Facebook website, Jessen mentions working with former Ishpeming assistant coach Scott Syrjala over the past few days and that he is recommending Syrjala for the job as his replacement.

“I feel that Scott is better qualified and more suited to lead our program in a direction that will best benefit the athletes of our district,” Jessen said in the letter.

The NICE district just announced on Wednesday that Syrjala had been hired as a physical education teacher, junior varsity boys basketball coach and assistant track coach.

DeAugustine indicated on Wednesday that Syrjala was working with the football program and the district was looking at adding him to that coaching staff, too, though no indication had been given about Jessen leaving his job.

In Jessen’s letter posted online, he also says that he looked closely at what he’s done as head coach as he tried to evaluate himself.

“It is often difficult for coaches to evaluate themselves honestly and even more difficult to acknowledge that others are more capable, but this is what I feel is best for our program,” he said. “I would like to state that I have come to this decision on my own.

“In my nine seasons as a football coach in the NICE District, our people have always acted in a professional manner and have always gone over and above the call of duty.

“We are truly blessed to have a coaching staff and district that cares so much about our kids and the game of football.”

Jessen served as head varsity football coach the past two seasons, and while only recording a 2-7 record in 2013, the team improved to 6-3 in the regular season last fall and earned just its fifth-ever MHSAA playoff berth before losing to Ishpeming in the first round of the Division 7 playoffs.

Even though he will no longer be head coach, Jessen said in his letter that he would like to still remain on the Patriots staff as an assistant coach under Syrjala.

“As many people in our district may know, I love the game of football and have always been a fan of it at all levels,” he said. “This is why I would like to be considered as an Assistant Football Coach under Scott Syrjala.

“I think that it is time for Westwood to take the next step forward so it is time for me to step down.”

DeAugustine accepted Jessen’s resignation and said he would “wholeheartedly recommend” Jessen to the board of education as an assistant coach in a response also listed on the district’s Facebook page. He also said that Jessen is welcome to serve as a Patriots assistant coach on an interim basis until the board approves him for the position.

The superintendent also praised Jessen for his service as head coach and what he has done for student athletes at Westwood.

“While I support you in whatever decision you feel is best for you, our student-athletes and our football program, I want you to know that I believe you are an excellent role model for our students and our student-athletes,” DeAugustine said.

“You are humble, hardworking and dedicated, and prove it through selfless actions such as this. Thank you for your service to our district in the classroom and on the field. You are a good teacher and a good coach.”

DeAugustine also says that he, Patriots athletic director Jon Beckman and Westwood principal David Boase met after Jessen’s resignation, and after talking with Syrjala about the position, they will recommend Syrjala to the board of education as head football coach.

Syrjala will serve as the interim head coach until the board makes its decision.

Until this week, Syrjala had been a long-time teacher and coach at Ishpeming High School. He was head track and field coach and an assistant football and basketball coach.

Notably, he had been the top football assistant under head varsity coach Jeff Olson, who has guided Ishpeming to the MHSAA state Division 7 finals four times in the past five seasons, winning a state championship twice, and has led the Hematites to the MHSAA playoffs in each of the past 13 seasons.

In track, Syrjala led Ishpeming to a sweep of the MHSAA Upper Peninsula Division 2 boys and girls titles this spring, and it was the second consecutive year the boys earned that distinction.

Information compiled by Journal Sports Writer Ryan Stieg and Journal Sports Editor Steve Brownlee.