Fond du Lac High School has its football coach, and the Cardinals didn’t have to look far to find him. Steve Jorgensen, who has been on staff the last six seasons as associate head coach, was named to the head coaching role, the school said Wednesday. Jorgensen replaces Mike Gnewuch, who stepped down in January after six seasons to take the head coaching position at Mukwonago High School. Jorgensen had been on Gnewuch’s staff during his entire tenure.
Jorgensen previously coached at Kimberly and Oshkosh North — winning WIAA state titles at each stop. He won the 2003 state title with the Spartans before leading the Papermakers to back-to-back crowns in 2007 and 2008. Leading a team from the sidelines again wasn’t necessarily in Jorgensen’s plan prior to Gnewuch stepping down. “This was not the goal I had,” Jorgensen said. “I was pretty content in the role I had been in here and never thought I’d get back into the head coaching world.”
When Gnewuch left, though, Jorgensen said he made the decision to take on the head coaching role to limit the amount of change the program had to deal with. “We had a group of kids that cycled through here that will be seniors next year that don’t need any more change than Coach Gnewuch leaving. This decision was based on them,” Jorgensen said. “I think change is good at times, but other than Coach Gnewuch leaving, this was not the time to bring someone in from the outside. We have somewhat of a play-ready football team other than a few holes and so this decision is based on them more than any desire I had to be a head coach.”
Jorgensen admitted that he is not the long-term solution for the program’s head coaching job but did not indicate how many seasons he planned to serve as head coach. He believes that the current coaching staff — which will remain nearly unchanged from last year — has potential candidates to take over the program but no other coaches were ready to step into the role at this time. “I’m filling the gap here for some good young coaches we have here at Fond du Lac right now,” Jorgensen said. “I’m the bridge to the younger coaches having greater responsibility in the near future.” Although this may not be a long-term situation for Jorgensen, he is ready to assume the full reins of the program. “I’m excited for the opportunity,” he said. “I’m energized, I don’t feel overwhelmed. We’ll be ready to go.”
When Jorgensen arrived at Fond du Lac, the Cardinals had made the playoffs just once from 2007 through the 2011 season.
Although the team fell short of the postseason in his first year in the program in 2012, Fond du Lac has made the postseason every year since and has reached the third round of the playoffs in each of the last four years. Last season, Fond du Lac finished 9-3 overall and tied with Neenah for the top spot in the Valley Football Association-South. With a strong nucleus of players returning from that team, Jorgensen didn’t want to disrupt the chemistry with a coaching change. “I think (the players) knew it was in the works. I’m with them every day as far as our strength classes. I think they knew what the plan was and that’s what we wanted,” Jorgensen said.
The Cardinals will open up next season against one of Jorgensen’s former schools in Kimberly, which is riding a state-record 70-game winning streak. Fond du Lac has played well in close losses to the Papermakers over the past few seasons, but Jorgensen downplays any added incentive for him to be the head coach to break the streak. “My focus isn’t there at all. We’ve had a few disappointing losses against them and they’ve just been a better football team,” Jorgensen said. “We’ve brought this program to be able to play with the best until the last minute and that says a lot because six years ago we were very, very bad.”