Photos courtesy of Phil Hoffmann, the Baltimore Ravens and NDSU Athletics
Ardell Wiegandt was a marine. He had a crew cut and a no-nonsense type of attitude prototypical of college football coaches during the 1960s and 70s. The military-esque mystique followed the former linebacker who was on NDSU’s first national championship team in 1965.
Wiegandt later became a football coach at NDSU, and in 1974, he took a recruiting trip to Fairmont, Minnesota. He arrived at the office of Tom Mahoney, the Minnesota State High School League Hall of Famer and head football coach at Fairmont High School.
The military veterans arranged a meeting with high school senior Jerry Rosburg in an enclosed counseling room Rosburg would later describe as “almost like lockdown.”
“I was anything but a marine at that point of my life,” Rosburg said. “You have to understand, this is the early 70s, let’s just say I didn’t have as much discipline in my life as I did later on.”
Rosburg was intimidated and didn’t know much about the North Central Conference. He tried being polite and acknowledge that he had seen Wiegandt’s North Dakota State team on television the year prior, referencing a fullback by the name Michael Deutsch.
“Now listen,” Wiegandt told Rosburg, in the windowless room. “There are two schools in our conference from North Dakota. Deutsch plays for North Dakota. I’m from North Dakota State.”
Rosburg shot up straight in his chair and bellowed, “Yessir!”
The relationship blossomed from there, said Rosburg. He went to Fargo for a visit and said his decision to play for North Dakota State was a “no-brainer.”
Unfortunately, Wiegandt left before Rosburg’s freshman season. Bison head coach Ev Kjelbertson was fired the next season, but luckily, for Rosburg, defensive coordinator Jim Driscoll stayed to lead the Bison defense.
Rosburg flourished under Driscoll’s defense. He would lead the Bison in total tackles during the 1976 and 1977 seasons. Rosburg remains in the Top 10 of most tackles all-time at NDSU. During Rosburg’s senior year, he was named a first-team Division II All-American and led the Bison defense to the Grantland Rice Bowl.
Rosburg graduated from NDSU and went into teaching. While he was at Fargo Shanley High School, his former defensive coordinator, Driscoll, asked Rosburg to come to Northern Michigan to help at a football camp. It was the beginning of a long coaching career for Rosburg that continues today on the NFL stage for the Baltimore Ravens.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL ACCEPTANCE
The college football coaching carousel bounced Jerry Rosburg around to six campuses in 19 years. Rosburg’s journey began in Fargo at Shanley High School, where he was the defensive coordinator for the Deacons in 1979, a year after completing his college degree at North Dakota State.
Rosburg’s connection with his former defensive coordinator Jim Driscoll at NDSU led Rosburg to his graduate assistant position at Northern Michigan. While in Marquette, Michigan, Rosburg found himself in college coaching utopia.
“It’s a great place to vacation,” Rosburg said. “That’s how I got to know these guys and got intrigued by the whole coaching part of the job.”
Rosburg would work camps with football coaches around the Midwest. Coaches like Hank Bullough—the father of the zone blitz—who was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. And Craig Bohl’s predecessor at the University of Nebraska, the legendary Charlie McBride, would also come to Marquette for the week.
Coaches outside of football would also pass through. At one point, while Rosburg was at Northern Michigan, he lived in a house with Dean Ellis, who would go on to win 358 games for the men’s basketball program at Northern Michigan. Also in that house was a young, star coach in the making at Michigan State named Tom Izzo.
In fact, the room Rosburg moved into in Marquette was Steve Mariucci’s who had just left to become the quarterbacks’ coach at Cal State-Fullerton.
BREAKING INTO THE LEAGUE
Jerry Rosburg was at Notre Dame recruiting future NFL safety Antrel Rolle in South Florida. It just so happened that current Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was recruiting the defensive back prospect to the University of Miami, causing the two coaches to cross paths.
The two coaches again encountered each other at the national coaching convention after Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl appearance and Miami’s Sugar Bowl appearance. They were both speaking about special teams at the convention. Pagano told Rosburg that Gregg Schiano (now defensive coordinator at Ohio State) was leaving Miami to become the head coach at Rutgers and they had a position to fill on staff.
“I said, ‘Chuck, we’re recruiting the same guy. Wait until signing day, then we can talk,’” laughed Rosburg, retelling the classic tale. “So not long thereafter, Butch Davis (then-Miami head coach) takes the Cleveland job, and Chuck goes with him. I don’t hear from him and then on Signing Day, Chuck calls. He says, ‘Hey, you still interested?’ I said, ‘Sure, in Cleveland now, right?’”
Rosburg packed up his office in South Bend, Indiana, and moved a state over to Ohio, where he began his first coaching job in the NFL as the Cleveland Browns’ special teams coordinator.