SchweigertOf all places, one of the biggest decisions with the Southern Illinois football program in the last several years happened at the Olive Garden restaurant on 13th Avenue South in Fargo.
FARGO — Of all places, one of the biggest decisions with the Southern Illinois football program in the last several years happened at the Olive Garden restaurant on 13th Avenue South in Fargo.
That’s where recently appointed SIU head coach Dale Lennon met with Bubba Schweigert over the Christmas holiday to talk about salad, bread sticks and the defensive coordinator position. The two were a team before at the University of North Dakota, but Schweigert resigned to take the head coaching job at Minnesota-Duluth.
The Bulldogs were on the rise, winning a North Central Conference title and reaching the NCAA Division II playoffs in two of his four years. Lennon had just put behind his status as the all-time winningest head coach at UND to take the SIU position.
“Division II was going in a different direction,” Lennon said. “It was a good experience when we were together, but both of us were in the same boat. By doing this move, we felt like young coaches again starting over. It gave us extra energy and it’s still there.”
There will be plenty of energy today at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome when SIU takes on No. 3-ranked North Dakota State. It will be full of Bison fans with the exception of the northwest corner, where 84-year-old Virginia Schweigert, who probably shouldn’t be climbing stairs, will do so anyway to watch the only one of her six sons who doesn’t live in North Dakota.
“She won’t sit on the concourse,” said Shannon Schweigert of Fargo, the youngest of the six boys. “She’s a gamer.”
The Schweigert boys helped put Zeeland on the North Dakota football map back in their day. They’ve all maintained their state roots with Lowell living in Grand Forks, Keith in Fargo, Mahlon in Hettinger and Kent in Bismarck.
All except Bubba.
“We’re pretty much homebodies,” he said. “We grew up a conservative family that was taught not to take too many chances. That’s the way we were raised.”
That probably makes Bubba the bandit of the brothers. Not only did he shun the relative security of being a head coach at Duluth, he runs a defense that can be high risk at times with its blitzing schemes.
The 3-4 scheme has given NDSU troubles over the years, first at UND and now just more than 1,000 miles away from Zeeland, where Virginia still lives. That was the hardest part, Bubba said – leaving mom.
He and his wife, Laura, have two sons in second and fourth grade and leaving the North Dakota/Minnesota neighborhood meant Virginia would only be able to see them once or twice a year.
“Being away from the grandkids was sure hard on her,” Bubba said. “That was the hardest thing about her boy going away. Once I get to a certain age, that’s OK, but leaving the grandkids was probably different.”
But Bubba, in accepting Jamestown College’s Rollie Greeno Award for outstanding commitment in education and coaching, described his mother as the ultimate team player.
Shannon, in fact, said the move to Illinois was harder on Bubba than it was on mom.
“I think everyone is supportive of his move,” Shannon said. “Bubba always set his own path, and that part has been a lot different than the rest of us.”
This will be Bubba’s third trip back to his home state with SIU, and the first two didn’t treat the Salukis well. The Bison won 35-27 in 2008 and 20-6 two years ago.
There’s been some impatience in Carbondale, too. SIU is coming off back-to-back losing seasons of 5-6 and 4-7. And for a program that recently built a new stadium and was accustomed to winning – it reached the FCS playoffs seven straight years from 2003-09 – there were questions.
Lennon won a Missouri Valley Football Conference title in each of his first two years at SIU in ’08 and ’09. The Salukis reached the FCS quarterfinals in 2009.
At 5-3 overall this year, SIU needs a win today to stay in playoff contention. It means Bubba will have to wear two hats when he’s in town: See the family but maintain the business trip mentality.
“There’s always a personal aspect to it, but there’s also a work aspect to it,” he said. “The personal aspect is a lot of fun, yet you have to keep your focus. We talk to our players about that. We know it’s a tough opponent we’ll take on in their own place. It’s quite an environment what they accomplished in the last couple of years.”
All of the brothers will be at the game including Kent, who is an assistant coach at Bismarck Century. The Patriots played in the Class AAA playoffs Friday night. There will be grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Up in the Fargodome’s visiting coaching booth, Bubba will be more intense than a harsh winter on Zeeland’s Main Street. But at least for three hours, all of Virginia’s six boys will be in the same building.