Verndale's Mike Mahlen (file photo)
One Minnesota high school football coach is on the verge of a never-before reached milestone while another has engineered a remarkably quick turnaround.
If Verndale, No. 10 in the most recent AP Nine-Man state rankings, wins its regular-season finale at Rothsay on Wednesday – and it should, considering Rothsay has won just twice this season – it would be Pirates coach Mike Mahlen’s 400th career victory. He would be the first high school coach in state history to reach that number.
Under Mahlen, who is in his 51st season, Verndale has made 17 trips to the state tournament and won state championships in 1997 and 2002.
Interestingly, the four winningest coaches in state history are all still active. Mahlen is followed by Brainerd’s Ron Stolski (388 victories), Becker’s Dwight Lundeen (365) and Eden Prairie’s Mike Grant (349).
Winona's John Casellius
Winona’s John Cassellius isn’t close to numbers put up by the coaches above, but what he’s done for the Winhawks is no less impressive.
When he took over the program in 2007, Winona was in the middle of a 37-game losing streak, Cassellius was 1-26 in his first three seasons.
Since then, he’s not only pumped the water out of a sinking ship, he’s got Winona sailing faster than at any time in the program’s history.
Winona (7-0) is ranked No. 4 in Class 4A, has won 23 consecutive games and 28 of its last 30. The Winhawks are 47-6 since the start of the 2015 season.
“It is, by far, the best four-year stretch in the history of the program,” wrote John Casper, the former sports editor at the Winona Daily News and now communications coordinator for Winona Area Public Schools, in an e-mail.
Winona’s most recent victory, a 35-0 shellacking of Rochester Mayo (its first victory over Mayo since 1992) pushed Cassellius over the .500 mark for the first time. With one game left in the regular season, his career record stands at 74-73-0.