He has yet to coach a game, but impressions of new Buffalo football coach Todd Bouman — yes, that Todd Bouman, who lists the Vikings as the first of six NFL franchises for whom he played quarterback — are already plentiful.
“The first time I shook his hand, it felt like it went all the way around mine,” senior quarterback Taylor Spier said. “Twice.”
“The first thing I noticed was that he has great facial hair,” senior safety Pierce Moline said. “With that and his big smile, he can be pretty disarming.”
Senior kicker Luke Folkerds summed up what pretty much everyone thought.
“It was a little intimidating talking to him at first, because of who he is,” he said. “I mean, he played for the Vikings. That’s insane.”
Despite an NFL career that spanned 14 seasons, including six with the Vikings from 1997 through 2002, Bouman has always envisioned himself in the position he’s in now. The idea of retiring to South Beach or landing a big-time broadcasting gig never really interested him. Coaching high school football, he said, is exactly where he wants to be.
“It’s funny,” said the 42-year-old graduate of Russell-Tyler-Ruthton high school in southwestern Minnesota. “My old track coach, Tom Thomas, told me that, when he asked me what I wanted to do when I got older, I said I wanted to be a high school football coach. I don’t remember saying that, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Bouman, who played in college at St. Cloud State, got a taste of coaching high school football in 2007 as an assistant at Buffalo before he got another chance at a pro career when the St. Louis Rams called. He ended his NFL career after a stint with Jacksonville in 2010 and headed back to southwest Minnesota, where he took the offensive coordinator position at Pipestone High School under head coach and twin brother Troy.
When Gerard Rohl, Buffalo’s head coach since 1992, resigned last spring, Bouman became the school’s target as a replacement.
“I’d heard rumors that they were trying to hire him,” said senior captain Zach Dahl, a wide receiver/safety. “When it was finally announced, there was a lot of excitement. It was really cool.”
While Bouman has been around football his entire life, he admits that he’s still learning the ins and outs of heading up a program.
“There’s a learning curve that I don’t think is ever going to go away,” he said. “Right now, everything is a little bit new. My brother said to me ‘You don’t know how many more aspects go into being a head coach than being a coordinator.’ The phone calls, the e-mails, stuff like that. I’m still getting used to it, but I’m loving every minute of it.”
The adjustment process extends to the Buffalo players as well.
“In our first team meeting, he spit out one of the plays from [his days in] New Orleans,” Dahl recalled. “It was something like 20 words long. We were looking at each other like, ‘OK. What do we do now?’ ”
The football team at Buffalo has struggled recently, winning just 12 games over the past four years. Playing in the Mississippi 8 Conference, the football buzz at the school has grown faint. The conference is home to powerhouses Rogers, St. Michael-Albertville and Cambridge-Isanti as well as emerging programs in Monticello, St. Francis and Chisago Lakes.
Bouman’s arrival has restored some of the hope for successful Friday nights this fall.
“There is absolutely a different atmosphere here now,” Moline said. “Everything is new and fresh. Everyone here is more hopeful.”
After years in the NFL, Bouman is gregarious and outgoing, yet also savvy enough to know the importance of not burning any bridges.
“Gerard [Rohl] has been great, coming down to talk about the program and how things have been done in the past,” Bouman said. “But any time there’s a new coach, even if it’s the Cincinnati Bengals, there’s added excitement because it’s different. It’s what we do with it going forward that makes the difference.”
He knows there are no quick fixes. His primary goal, Bouman said, is helping the players get the most out of the experience and establishing a winning attitude.
“I have such fond memories of high school. I’ve always wanted to give something back,” he said. “It’s such an influential time in a kid’s life. I was very blessed to do what I did for many years, but nobody will ever tell me that there’s anything better than playing with your buddies under the lights on Friday night.”