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ISSUE 121 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/22/2008

Coach called to NFL

By Matt Tiano
Executive Editor

Friday, February 22, 2008

One week ago Monday, St. Olaf head football coach Chris Meidt called a team meeting. This time, however, off-season workout regiments were not the focus.

Instead, Meidt broke the news that the Washington Redskins had called his name. He answered, and before he knew it, Meidt made a monumental leap -- from Division III St. Olaf, where academic standards must measure up to excellence on the football field, to the NFL, where success is measured only by the win/loss column.

In his new capacity, Meidt will work under the direction of longtime friend and mentor Jim Zorn, who, in a surprising move, was named head coach soon after Joe Gibbs retired from the same post.

Meidt and Zorn began their relationship in 1995, when Meidt was an offensive coordinator at Bethel and Zorn the quarterbacks coach at the University of Minnesota.

"No question, in terms of relationships, [I'm entering unfamiliar territory]," Meidt said of his new position. "I don't personally know anyone else [besides Jim]."

Although the leap is big, and the stakes will be higher, Meidt asserts that St. Olaf has prepared him for football's greatest stage.

"As the head coach at St. Olaf, I've done everything," Meidt said. "There's nothing that I haven't worked on. At the NFL level, you're much more specialized. You have to have a great sense of responsibility and will to get things accomplished [at the NFL level]. I'll take on less responsibility but [there will be] really much more pressure attached."

Meidt will be responsible for quarterbacks, and his experience on the offensive end of the football will no doubt be beneficial.

"I'm more of an offensive guy," Meidt said. "I've been an offensive coach my entire career & 15 years at the college level and five years at the high school level. I've been calling plays my entire career."

During his tenure at St. Olaf, Meidt amassed a 40-20 record, including three consecutive eight-win seasons -- the first stretch of its kind since 1969-71. Over that three-season stretch, Meidt led one of the nation's most prolific offenses, ranking in the top eight in the nation in total offense and scoring.

He also worked to set school records for points (49.0/game) and total offense (512.8 yards/game) last fall.

"I love St. Olaf," Meidt said when asked if he would have left for other coaching positions. "The Lord has a plan. We have to be obedient to his call. I just felt like this was one of those times."

But for many St. Olaf football players, Meidt's presence in the lives of young people extended far beyond records, or football, for that matter.

Meidt and his staff recruited Deontae Hutchins '08 out of Pine Forest High School (Fla.) to play football, but Hutchins' reason for coming extended far beyond the prospects of a superior program.

"[Coach Meidt] recruited Horace [Gant '08] with me, and the first time he came down, he let us know that it's football, family and faith," Hutchins said. "That made us feel a lot more comfortable leaving where we were from to come all the way up here."

During that meeting last Monday, there was no sadness, no grief, no mention of the future. Rather, there were cheers of joy and of promise. Their coach, mentor and friend was making a huge step up in the coaching ladder.

"It was very emotional," Hutchins said. "He understands that where he is today, he wouldn't have gotten there without the group of guys that he has coached. He's a very, very, very good coach. There were tears, but those tears were tears of joy."

Zach Henschel '10 will have the opportunity to play for Meidt's replacement.

"We became Redskins fans on the spot," Henschel said. "We're sad, honestly. We looked up to him, loved him. We just want our new coach to continue the legacy that [Coach Meidt] asserted."

Meidt's evaluation of that final meeting was similar:

"When I announced that I'd be leaving, they erupted like we had just won the national title," Meidt said. "They were high-fiving, screaming and cheering. So the response was tremendous -- nothing of selfishness, but of pure joy."

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