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Kevin Schnepf, Published October 15 2013

Schnepf: Mayville State coach's commitment pays big dividends on the field

Fargo - Mayville State University is not known for football. In fact, when Derek Schlieve showed up three years ago, the football team experienced only 13 wins during the previous decade.

Nonetheless, the 34-year-old Schlieve wouldn’t mind being Mayville State’s head football coach for the rest of his life.

“My goal is to be able to walk into President (Gary) Hagen’s office and have him sign me to a lifetime contract,” Schlieve said with about as much conviction as he has devoted to his football program.

Hagen, chuckling at such an encounter, said he wouldn’t doubt such a request. After all, when he hired Schlieve three years ago, he saw a little bit of himself when he was hired as Mayville State’s president in 2007.

“When I took over the presidency when the campus wasn’t doing real well, I was a local person who really wanted to be here,” said Hagen, a Northwood, N.D., native who had been a part of the Mayville State faculty since 1976. “I saw that same kind of desire and determination in coach Schlieve.”

While Hagen’s plan to retain more students helped create a record enrollment of 1,065 this fall, Schlieve has created some impressive numbers as well.

Schlieve, who grew up in North Dakota before attending high school in Wisconsin, has a football roster of more than 120 players – enough to field a junior varsity team. He has recruited players from more than 20 states to Mayville, population 1,800 – one of the smallest towns in the country with a four-year college.

In Schlieve’s first year, Mayville State won five games – more than the previous three seasons combined. With five more wins in his second season, Mayville State had its highest two-year win total in more than two decades.

It all came to a rousing crescendo last weekend, when the Comets – before a homecoming crowd yearning for a winner – beat nationally ranked Valley City State 14-9 and claimed the Mayor’s Cup for the first time since 1998.

“We’ve waited awhile for that signature win, and to me, that was it,” Hagen said.

“Everybody is pretty excited about it,” said Schlieve, who after Saturday’s win showed off the Mayor’s Cup to alumni at the local golf course. “It was about as good of a win as you can get.”

Schlieve was a senior linebacker for a 2001 Mayville State team that lost all 10 of its games. It was the beginning of that dismal decade of only 13 wins.

“There was little or no discipline,” Schlieve said.

Now there is. Players – most of whom come from Florida, California, North Dakota, and Minnesota –know they better behave and better study. They also know they will be on the practice field most mornings before sunrise – a ritual Schlieve started so his players don’t miss any afternoon classes.

“Coach Schlieve is running the program like it should be,” said assistant coach James Gremmels. “He’s demanding a lot. He’s treating them like men, and now they are acting like men.”

Gremmels, who will turn 50 at the end of this season, calls himself “the old coot” of the coaching staff. During the last 20 years as an assistant and equipment manager, he has seen six football coaches come and go.

Coaches in many sports have come and gone at Mayville State, some using the school as a stepping stone to bigger things.

Tim Miles comes to mind. The former Mayville State basketball coach is now the head man at the University of Nebraska.

But Gremmels has a feeling he may be working with Schlieve for awhile, and that’s a good thing.

“I think coach Schlieve has made it fun to be here at Mayville State,” said Gremmels, a 1983 Mayville-Portland High School grad who played quarterback at Mayville State. “I see the program going in the right direction.”

The Comets’ next goal is to produce its first winning season in 24 years. With four games remaining, they have a 4-3 record.

But the ultimate goal for Schlieve is that lifetime contract.

“A lot of people move on,” Schlieve said. “But I have two young boys, and there is not a better place to raise them than right here in Mayville.”

So what if a bigger school comes knocking on his door.

“It will be flattering,” Schlieve said. “I just hope Dr. Hagen will beat them to the punch.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com