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Tom Miller / Forum News Service, Published August 17 2013

Familiar surroundings for UND first-year football coordinators

GRAND FORKS – A little more than 10 years ago, Josh Kotelnicki and Luke Schleusner lived in a house along the Red River dike in downtown Grand Forks.

Tecmo Super Bowl on the original Nintendo was a constant for the former University of North Dakota football teammates. Each night before a game, a Tecmo tournament typically ensued.

Kotelnicki played as the Kansas City Chiefs and Schleusner was the Philadelphia Eagles.

“That was a huge rivalry in the house,” said Craig Riendeau, former UND teammate and roommate. “Josh was very thorough in his play-calling. But Luke was always Randall Cunningham. He would throw up a pass at the end of the game and Josh would ultimately throw the controller.”

The video game rivalry now plays out daily on the practice fields of Memorial Stadium. Kotelnicki is in his first year as defensive coordinator at UND while Schleusner is in his first season as offensive coordinator with the program.

“Everything came full circle,” said Riendeau, a Grand Forks native who spent three years as a graduate assistant at UND after his playing days were over. “With them going all the way back to those Tecmo matchups, it just seems appropriate.”

It was a football house with four players who all would have at least a taste of collegiate coaching. Southern Illinois assistant Eric Schmidt, who now is an assistant on former UND coach Dale Lennon’s staff in Carbondale, also lived in the house.

“They all seemed to be football guys. The game meant something to them,” said UND head coach Chris Mussman, who was an assistant at the time. “As players, they didn’t make many mistakes and they worked hard. I’m not surprised at all with where they’re at.”

Kotelnicki and Schleusner are lifelong friends, but Riendeau says they couldn’t be more different when it comes to personality.

“Josh is the intense one,” said Riendeau, who now manages Thunder Lake Lodge in northern Minnesota. “Anyone who’s worked with him would agree with that. … Luke is the polar opposite. You’ll never see emotion out of him. He’s very low key.”

The college house experienced plenty of success on the field. The roommates played key roles in leading North Dakota to an NCAA Division II national title in 2001.

Kotelnicki and Schmidt were starting linebackers and captains, Riendeau was an All-America cornerback and Schleusner was a starting wide receiver.

Schleusner even turned in arguably the most memorable play in UND football history. UND’s national title hopes rested on fourth-and-4 with a minute to play against Grand Valley State. The Lakers had scored with less than three minutes to play to take a 14-10 lead.

UND quarterback Kelby Klosterman hit Schleusner over the middle. Schleusner caught the ball on a short route and broke a tackle for a 58-yard gain to the Grand Valley 1-yard line.

On the next play, Jed Perkerewicz ran into the end zone for the winning score.

Those playing days quickly turned to coaching careers.

“I started thinking I wanted to be a high school coach,” Schleusner said. “I went over to Grand Forks Central and sat in on a ninth-grade algebra class. I realized then that my passion was more on the coaching side than the teaching side. I went right over to UND and asked what I needed to do to become a college coach, and they talked me through the process.”

Kotelnicki might’ve been even quicker to know college coaching was in the cards.

“The second year of college, I was buying books about coaching,” he said. “I loved the game. By the time I was a senior, I was looking how to be a (graduate assistant).”

Kotelnicki began his coaching career at Murray State and later spent time at Truman State and Kansas State. Schleusner, meanwhile, spent time at Western Illinois and Minnesota State-Mankato.

But both came back to UND, first as position coaches and now as coordinators. Riendeau, for one, expects the two to succeed in new roles.

“I know both will do well,” he said. “I’m excited for both. Both care about the program. I know their heart is in the right place.”

It’s a unique situation at UND in that both coordinators are alums. In the

13-team Big Sky, only four programs other than UND have one alum as a coordinator. No team has both.


Miller writes for the Grand Forks Herald