Photos By NDSU Athletics & St. Mary’s Springs Academy
When you’ve been coaching for almost 40 years like Bob Hyland has at St. Mary’s Springs High School, there’s one policy that stays the same every year.
“One game at a time, that’s all we ever talk about,” said Hyland, who’s been a head football coach in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, since 1971.
Each new season of Ledger football marks the start of a quest to add another gold football to an already overcrowded trophy case, but years of success start with humble beginnings.
Before he accrued 30 conference championship titles, 14 state championships and enough victories to rank in the top five-winningest active high school football coaches in America, Hyland learned the fundamentals of good football, as a Bison, under Ron Erhardt in the late 1960s.
“He never let us get let down, that was one of the things, but we also had the talent,” remembered Hyland. “We threw the ball very well but yet we were a running team, so that caused some problems for our opponents.”
Ahead of his time in the realm of college football, Erhardt ran the veer option before it became a mainstay tactic for football programs across the country. With a broad variety of talent, NDSU maintained a consistent aerial assault and outpaced competitors with their speed and agility.
“Football is played with legs and eyes. To me, those are the two most important things,” Hyland said. “Fundamentals have changed drastically over the years, but the two things that really have never changed is, you have to be able to see the game and adjust to every play, and then your feet get you there.”
LEARNING NEW PERSPECTIVES
As part of a group of guys from Central Wisconsin on the 1969 national championship team, Hyland made the jump from running back at Wisconsin Rapids Assumption High School to lineman for the Bison. He also threw on the men’s track and field team during the off-season. As a three-sport athlete in high school, Hyland eventually became teammates with former high school rivals, like quarterback Bruce Grasamke, whom Hyland knew since seventh grade from basketball tournaments in their home state.
“I got to know everything about the game and I think that has really helped me in my career,” Hyland said about his change from running back to the offensive line. He went on to open up holes in the defense for backs like Paul Hatchett and Tim Mjos, who led the Bison to national championships in 1968 and 1969.
Even though he’s had a consistent position for some time now, Hyland still maintains a constant evolution towards safety and strategy on the field, explaining, “A lot of things have changed, and you have to change with them or fall by the wayside.”
While the game of football has changed considerably from when he played for the Bison, time hasn’t changed Hyland’s connection to the Herd. In fact, St. Mary’s Springs has been a hotbed for coaching talent and future NDSU Athletics staff, like the present executive director of Team Makers, Pat Simmers.
“I gave Pat Simmers his first job. He was on the freshman squad at NDSU in 1970 and afterward, he came out and started his career in coaching at St. Mary’s Springs,” said Hyland. “Most of the time, I’ve had as many as three or four coaches who played at NDSU on my staff.”
GENERATIONS OF BISON
Married to NDSU alumni Carol (Braaten) Hyland from Mayville, North Dakota, Hyland and his wife continued their Bison lineage when their son Rob chose to head to Fargo for school. Rob Hyland backed up all-American quarterback Arden Beachy and replaced him during the Fargodome opener in 1993 against Pitt State after Beachy blew out his knee.
“Our son chose to go to NDSU strictly for the engineering program, and he started at quarterback for three years with a very successful career out there,” Hyland said. “We enjoyed those times because my wife never missed a game. I was unable to go to some of them because we had games at the same time, but that was a neat time for us.”
While daughter Molly Johnson didn’t study at NDSU, she found a connection to the area as a technology coordinator in the West Fargo School District. Now living back in Fond du Lac, Rob helps with the grade school football program at St. Mary’s Springs. In true Hyland fashion, Bob plans to coach Rob’s two boys, one in eighth grade and one in fifth grade, before his coaching career comes to a close.
As a 1972 graduate of NDSU, Carol met Hyland during her freshman year in college. After the couple moved back to Wisconsin, Carol went on to a career in the hospital and healthcare industry, serving as President and CEO of Consultants Laboratory since 2000.
“The only reason she went out with me was because I was the captain of the football team,” joked Hyland. “I met her at NDSU and she worked in Weible Hall at the desk and one night I convinced her to go out with me. I basically begged her to go out with me.”
Only time will tell how far the Bison spirit will live on through the Hyland family, but with any luck, Bob and Carol’s meeting that night in an NDSU dormitory will lead to a third generation of Bison in the Hyland family.