After nearly a quarter-century with the Bemidji State football program, longtime coach Rich Jahner is calling it a career. The Beavers’ associate head coach and defensive backs coach announced his retirement in February after 24 seasons on the staff.
“I’ve been coaching college football for 30 years. It’s been a great run,” Jahner said. “I’ve had a lot of fun. The timing is probably right for me, my family and our whole family dynamics at this time.”
With a son living in Arizona and a daughter in Iowa, Jahner’s retirement will give him and his wife, Sheri, plenty of opportunities to visit their seven grandchildren.
“My wife and I are looking forward to spending weekends, doing some traveling and spending a lot more time with our family,” said Jahner, 55. “Not only just our kids and our grandkids, but also our brothers and sisters, and our parents.”
As a constant presence on the BSU sideline for more than two decades, Jahner knows how rare it is to see that kind of stability in his profession, a stability that allowed his children to attend Bemidji schools from kindergarten through high school graduation.
“When you stop and think about it, how many college coaches are fortunate enough to spend 24 years in one program?” Jahner said.
“To see a program grow and be successful, and to be able to do so in an environment where you get to know, not only your players, but their families. And then players go on to become alumni, and then you get to see them come back as successful men, successful fathers, successful husbands, and to see their families. It’s just been a dynamic not many people get to experience, that not many coaches get to experience. Because of that, I just feel incredibly blessed.”
Jahner spent 18 seasons as defensive coordinator, including nine sharing the role with now-head coach Brent Bolte. He later transitioned into the role of associate head coach while still coaching the team’s defensive secondary.
As defensive backs coach, Jahner produced 23 All-NSIC selections and five All-Americans at the position, with one of his pupils, Gunner Olszewski, reaching the NFL.
Jahner’s stature within the program goes beyond his on-field duties.
“Rich has done a great job of being the face of the program,” Bolte said. “He does a lot of our alumni outreach. He’s overseen that ever since I’ve been here, keeping the alumni connected back with the program.
“... He’s going to be sorely missed because he’s been kind of synonymous with the turnaround, with him and coach Tesch getting the program turned around after some tough years. He was part of that turnaround. He got us to the postseason, got to the Mineral Water Bowl and made BSU into a heck of a good program.”
Jahner arrived at Bemidji State in 1996 at a time when the Beavers had gone 10 years without a winning season. As the defensive coordinator on newly-hired head coach Jeff Tesch’s staff, BSU reversed fortunes by 1998 and has since achieved winning seasons in 19 of the last 22 years. The Beavers went 158-104 during Jahner’s tenure, and made program history with their first postseason victory in the 2016 Mineral Water Bowl.
“At that time when we first got to Bemidji State, the program was certainly at the bottom of the barrel in the conference,” Jahner said. “Once we got it turned around in ‘98, we had a period where we had 10 consecutive winning seasons. … I’m just very proud of the fact that our program has gained the level of respect that it has around the Division II landscape.”
A native of Regent, N.D., Jahner played collegiately for Minot State where he graduated in 1986. He then coached high school football for three seasons in North Dakota before beginning his college coaching career in 1990 at Central Missouri State, followed by stops at Valley City State (N.D.) and Lindenwood (Mo.).
“I think it was the culture that coach Jeff Tesch established within our program,” Jahner said as to why he stayed with BSU for so many years. “It was the culture that transcended not only on how we treated our players, but actually how the staff was treated. Family always came first within the program because the program was family-centered.”
Jahner served under only two head coaches in Bemidji: Tesch for the first 20 seasons and Bolte for the last four.
“There’s been so much consistency with the staff, and especially the consistency in the values and the culture in which the program was founded,” Jahner said, “Between coach Tesch, myself and coach Bolte, you have years and years and years of continuity on how things are done.”
Speaking of continuity, Bolte coached alongside Jahner for nearly two decades, including a good chunk of time running the defense together.
“We’ve worked well together and understood each other’s points,” Bolte said. “I’ve always joked about it that he’s kind of my second wife. I spend more time with him than I probably do with my own wife.
“Being around each other, we obviously have a lot of mutual respect. He works hard, understands how to coach kids and get them to do what he wants. He’s a good teacher in that regard. That’s some of the stuff we’ll sorely miss about not having him around.”
Jahner’s teaching extended beyond the gridiron and into the classroom at BSU, where he’s served as an assistant and associate professor in the Department of Human Performance, Sport and Health. He’ll continue teaching for one more year before retiring.
For Jahner, it all comes back to his players. That’s what he says he’ll miss the most about coaching.
“The highlight of every day for me was our defensive back position group meetings, especially pre-practice meetings when you’d be reviewing film and installing a game plan,” he said.
“That’s when I got to know them as people. Their personalities came out, you got to know what their goals were, what made them tick, what was bothering them, and then find out what they were really about inside that helmet. And you realize that they were young men that love the sport of football. That’s what I’m really going to miss.”