HAVRE – Andrew Rolin was named the new head football coach at MSU-Northern in December and started on the job after the New Year.
The 31-year-old first-time head coach sat down with MTN Sports recently to discuss the job, recruiting, coaching philosophy and turning around a program that has won just two games in three years.
MTN SPORTS: THANKS FOR TAKING THE TIME TO CHAT WITH US, COACH. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE FIRST FEW WEEKS ON THE JOB?
Andrew Rolin: “It’s been crazy. I think I’ve been on the job for 14 days, and it feels like I’ve been on the job for two days. But it’s been exciting. What a great time to be in Havre, it’s not only a great opportunity for me and my family, but a great opportunity to be a part of this university and the vision that comes from the top, starting with Greg Kegel the chancellor and athletic director Christian Oberquell. It’s been awesome. I took this job because of their vision and what they see in this program, and I see the potential in this place and it’s lived up to it. It’s been exciting. Obviously I’ve been on the road recruiting and hiring staff and getting my ducks in line. But I’m excited, I’m excited about the future here, and I wish it was already April here and we were starting spring ball. I love being out and coaching ball, but definitely excited to be here. It’s been a fun couple of weeks.”
MTN SPORTS: I KNOW YOU’VE HIT THE ROAD HARD SINCE YOU STARTED, VISITING HIGH SCHOOLS ALL OVER MONTANA. WHAT HAVE YOUR INTERACTIONS WITH COACHES AND PLAYERS ACROSS THE STATE BEEN LIKE SO FAR?
AR: “I’ve wanted to make an emphasis on hitting the state. I have not left the state of Montana in recruiting yet. When I came into this position, that was something I really wanted to emphasize, is recruiting the state of Montana. There’s a lot of good football players in the state of Montana that I think are overlooked. And that’s why I think the Frontier Conference is so successful, because there’s a lot of good Frontier Conference-level football players in the state and we’ve got to do a good job of finding those guys, so I’ve been on the road. I think I’ve put 1,000 miles on my car in the past few days. It’s important to me to get in-state guys. Central Montana guys is kind of where I started, making my way through Fort Benton and making my way through Belt and then into Great Falls and down to Helena and then going through western Montana, too, finding those guys that fit this program and what we’re trying to accomplish here, because there’s enough good players out there. My job right now is changing the perception right now of Northern football, changing the perception of Havre, Montana. That’s what we’re doing as a staff, and that’s exciting for me, finding those kids that want to play football, that love football and are tough kids from the state of Montana. They’ll fit in here.”
MTN SPORTS: WHAT’S YOUR PITCH? HOW DO YOU SELL NORTHERN AND HAVRE TO A POTENTIAL RECRUIT?
AR: “A couple things, you have to sell yourselves as a staff and sell yourself as a head coach. Knowing that these kids are going to be playing for you and their parents are going to be investing in me as a head coach, I think it’s important that they understand who I am and my background from a football standpoint, but also who I am as a person, too. So I think it’s important that they understand who I am and that they put their trust in me, and that’s where it starts, is building that trust. And I think also, when I talk about the perception of Havre – this is a great football town. It’s different, I think, than even other Montana towns in the Frontier. It’s all about the Lights, it’s all about athletics. People will surround themselves around the athletic community, especially football. People are thirsty for a good football team and they will support you in any way possible to help you be successful. That in and of itself, if I can get a kid up here to Havre, they’ll find that out really quickly about this town. And then from an education standpoint, we’re the highest-earning graduate in the state of Montana, out of any college, Missoula, Bozeman. The stats are out there. You’re going to get a great education here. It’s not a four-year decision, it’s a 40-year decision. Obviously we have the diesel mechanic program and everyone knows that program, but we’re more than that. In terms of education and business, there’s a lot of opportunities and avenues for these kids to study. It’s more than just the perception of what Northern or Havre is, and that’s my goal is to change that perception. And I got to get them up here, so they can see what this community, what this program and what this campus is all about.”
MTN SPORTS: DID YOU HAVE MONTANA CONNECTIONS WITH HIGH SCHOOLS COMING INTO THIS JOB, OR ARE YOU BUILDING MOST OF THOSE FROM SCRATCH?
AR: “I have a lot of connections from friends and family, but I’ll tell you what, there’s been a lot of relationship building in the last few weeks since I got the job and started to hit the road. What’s amazing is how many ex-Northern players are coaching high school football in the state of Montana. You go around the state, whether you’re in Bozeman or whether you’re on the Flathead with Kyle Samson up there, a lot of ex-players are coaching in the state of Montana. There are a lot of guys that want to see this program be successful, so if that’s not an advantage on our end in terms of recruiting, I don’t know what is. It’s exciting to go out and meet all of those guys. I haven’t been everywhere yet, I still need to hit the Hi-Line, still need to get down to Bozeman. I’ve been through Billings and western Montana but there’s still a lot of schools I need to hit. And I’m excited to meet a lot of those coaches and just forge those relationships. I think it’s important that those coaches know who I am, I know who they are and that they trust me with their players when they send them off to college.”
MTN SPORTS: YOU’VE BEEN AROUND AND COACHED AT SEVERAL FBS PROGRAMS, BUT MOVING TO LIBBY LAST YEAR AND SERVING AS A LOGGERS ASSISTANT – WHAT DID THAT TEACH YOU ABOUT FOOTBALL IN MONTANA?
AR: “It was awesome. It was such a great experience, those kids were unbelievable. They worked hard. Neal Fuller, the head coach, is a great guy and a great coach who’s been there for a long time and had a lot of success at Libby, and it put things in perspective. It went from where it was truly a seven-day-a-week job, either I’m on the road recruiting or coaching or whatever, there was never really a day of, especially at the Division I level — coaching high school football was back to its purest form. Kids are out there for the love of the game, which they still are at the college level, I’m looking for kids that love college football, but it was truly at its purest form. It was so fun to be around those guys and fun to see them grow exponentially throughout the season, fun to see them mature, not only as football players, but as young men, and I’m excited to see what the Libby Loggers will do in the future.”
MTN SPORTS: HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SPEAK WITH THE PLAYERS CURRENTLY ON THE ROSTER?
AR: “We actually just had our first full team meeting (recently). I think it was a positive meeting, I was very straightforward about what I expect. I talked a lot about my standards, our standard of excellence and my code of conduct, kind of laying the groundwork of what I expect moving forward and what I expect out of these guys. And for the guys that are on the team right now, for this spring, I’m asking a lot out of them, but they’re buying in. They’re putting their trust into me and into what I’m asking them to do. And I’m asking them to jump in with two feet, and that’s what I’m all about, making sure that they’re putting everything into what we’re trying to do. And it’s not going to be easy and nothing great ever is, but I think we’ve got a good attitude so far. Winter conditioning is going to start this week, so I’m excited about that getting under way. But I really can’t wait until spring to get a football out there, start seeing what these guys can do. But it’s a great positive attitude. I think there’s excitement and a little bit of anticipation on top of it, but I think they’re all excited and ready to get to work and get this thing going.”
MTN SPORTS: THERE’S BEEN A LOT OF BUMPS FOR THEM. NOT A LOT OF WINS, AND NOW FOUR COACHING CHANGES IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS. HOW DO YOU KEEP THEM OPTIMISTIC THAT THINGS ARE CHANGING FOR THE BETTER?
AR: “We touched on it (recently), but I don’t want to get stuck in the past, though. I just want to move forward from here. These kids do, too. They’re ready for something new. There’s some new blood, obviously, in terms of staff, but I think there’s a new vision of kind of where we want to be. We’re going to face adversity in the future, too, we always will, and it’s how we handle those situations. And I always tell them, what’s going to happen next is going to determine how you handle that situation. It’s going to happen. Just because we have a new staff doesn’t mean there’s not going to be tough times and adversity ahead. We’ll continue to have those, but how we handle those as a team is going to determine what kind of team we’re going to be.
MTN SPORTS: HOW IS THE COACHING STAFF COMING TOGETHER?
AR: “I’m fired up about the staff. There’s some guys that I’ve coached and some former players at the University of Washington, guys that have come in from different staffs across the country and offensive line coach from the University of Idaho. Really excited about the staff. I think they have the same vision I have. A lot of energy on the staff, it’s going to be a younger staff. A lot of energy coupled with some great experience from successful programs that have won some championships or have been a part of championships in the past as players and coaches. I’m just ready to get everyone here together and start working towards our common goal.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Rolin couldn’t mention names at the time of the interview until the contracts were final, but since then Jake Chestnut was named the new Defensive Coordinator, Steve Oliver is the offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, and Jonathan Amosa is the running backs and tight ends coach.)
MTN SPORTS: HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO SPEAK WITH ANY OTHER COACHES IN THE FRONTIER?
AR: “Haven’t heard from any yet, but look forward to meeting them on the field next year. I know it’s a great conference with great coaches and it has a history of great football, and I’m excited to be a part of it and to get to know some of these coaches. There’s been a lot of really successful coaches at the NAIA level. Welcome any calls and will pick their brains a little, but really looking forward to competing against them and getting to know them, as well.”
MTN SPORTS: HOW IS YOUR FAMILY (WIFE, JESSICA, AND DAUGHTER PAYTON) LIKING HAVRE?
AR: “Good, my wife and daughter are in town, but they’re heading back to Libby and hopefully be moving out here pretty soon.”
MTN SPORTS: YOUR WIFE COMES FROM A STRONG SPORTS BACKGROUND, AS WELL, RIGHT?
AR: “Yeah, she played volleyball at San Diego where I played. She worked at Stanford as a strength and conditioning coach in the women’s Olympic sports and men’s volleyball specifically. But yeah, she’s helping me out with winter conditioning. She’s the most knowledgeable in that sense, so I told her I need to lean on her a little bit with winter conditioning (laughs).”