BISMARCK, N.D. — Craig Bagnell first thought he wanted to be a rodeo cowboy. But once he started playing football, he found he never wanted to leave the gridiron.

That passion and a bright mind have led the Polson native to the top position at his alma mater at 27 years old, making Bagnell the youngest head football coach in the NCAA.

The University of Mary hired Bagnell two weeks ago. He starred at quarterback for the Marauders from 2010 to 2013, breaking most of the passing records at the school.

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After graduation, he immediately joined Mary’s Division II rival, Bemidji State in Minnesota, as a graduate assistant. After only one season, Bagnell was promoted to offensive coordinator. His teams put up huge offensive numbers over the past three years, and when Mary needed a new head coach, he suddenly became the man for the job before he knew what hit him.

“I got a call a couple days later after the season was over and asked if I’d be interested in the job,” said Bagnell. “A couple days later I was out on an interview. Got done with the interview. A couple days after that I was offered the job. Took about a day to pack everything up, and I was out here right away.”

Bagnell knew the success his Bemidji State teams were having could lead to other opportunities in the future, but he admitted he didn’t expect this so soon.

“It’s something I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to be a head coach, really. About halfway through my career here, I knew that was something I wanted to do,” said Bagnell. “I’m pretty fortunate I was at the right place at the right time in Minnesota. It gave me a great opportunity to get things started, so I’d have an opportunity to get a job as a head coach. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t thinking it was going to happen this quickly, but it’s definitely exciting.”

Bagnell said he feels prepared for the job, but one part of being a head coach has created an adjustment: time management. With people constantly ducking into his office and more getting added to his to-do list every day, Bagnell has learned to take advantage of early mornings and late nights. He says he can actually start checking things off the list in the hours when most people aren’t working.

The fans in Bismarck have largely shown excitement for the hire and not concern because Bagnell is only a few years older than some of his players. The former quarterback acknowledges his previous playing success at Mary probably makes the unique situation easier for everyone.

“It was just kind of the right fit,” said Bagnell. “I was very thankful that they trust me with this. That’s the process now, that we’ve got to get things going here again.”

Bagnell does have his work cut out for him. The Marauders finished 1-10 in each of the past three seasons, but Mary finished 19-25 over the four years when the former Polson Pirate was in the backfield, so he’s confident better times will arrive soon.

“I know you can win here,” said Bagnell. “It’s just a matter of getting things going in the right direction.”