Prep football: ACGC’s Karlsgodt retires after 39 years

Football coaching careers are too often defined by numbers. Terry Karlsgodt certainly has them, but he prefers to sum up his time as Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City's head football coach with memories of the people who made it possible.

Terry Karlsgodt
Tribune file photo Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City head football coach Terry Karlsgodt talks with his team on the field in this 2010 file photo. Karlsgodt, 60, retired from coaching last week with a 246-137 record (a .642 winning percentage) in 39 years as the Falcons’ head coach.

Football coaching careers are too often defined by numbers. Terry Karlsgodt certainly has them, but he prefers to sum up his time as Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City’s head football coach with memories of the people who made it possible.

“We always took the position that we wanted to be better at the end of the year than we were at the beginning,” said Karlsgodt, who retired last week after 39 years leading the Falcons. “And to see that confidence grow, that understanding of what they needed to do and see them build that esprit de corps, that’s the best part of coaching. If you win your share of games along the way, that just makes it more fun, that they’ve been confirmed for the effort they put forth. To me, that was as good as it gets.”

Karlsgodt, an Alexandria native, stepped down with a 246-137 record and a .642 winning percentage. The Falcons earned trips to the state tournament in 1998, 2001, 2010 and 2012 and they won the Class AA Prep Bowl championship with a 27-20 win over Windom in 2001.

Karlsgodt, 60, played football and baseball and he wrestled at Alexandria before his 1971 graduation. He then graduated from Bethel with an education degree and joined the Atwater School District in 1975.

After one season as former coach Fred Anderson’s defensive assistant, Karlsgodt became head coach at age 22. But he also came into a program with a sound foundation, parts of which are still intact.


Former coaches Jan Dorn and Jerry Ness both put in more than 30 years in the program. Current coaches like Doug Torgerson (42 years), Jeff Tanner (36 years) and Mike Maurer (29 years) have been staples of ACGC football.

“It’s unheard of,” Karlsgodt said. “Who really lasts that long anymore, period? And then to think it’s six or seven guys who do it together at the same place. We’ve done well with the facilities and the growth of the whole thing. The bottom line is they’re good people. They have good hearts, they believe in the program and were loyal.”

Karlsgodt and the Falcons obviously adapted to changes in the game, which is evident in their successes the last 15 years. But it’s an old-school approach to coaching that made the program viable. Coaches never met during the weekends after games - “That’s family time,” Karlsgodt said. - and post-game analysis consisted of coaches sitting in the office for a while, chatting like the friends they are, he said.

“We didn’t do four hours on Sunday,” Karlsgodt said. “I never felt like we wanted to go there. It wasn’t that we didn’t have a game plan and we didn’t get it ready. But who’s the coach - Dick Vermeil - who slept in his office? I think that’s the wrong way to go. I don’t think you can last if you do it that way.”

The stable environment and football tradition made it possible for Karlsgodt to go 23-6 in his first three seasons, to weather the consolidation of the Atwater, Cosmos and Grove City school districts and changes that put the Falcons in three different conferences over the years.

Karlsgodt can remember games like they happened yesterday, such as the Falcons’ win over Granite Falls after the state-power Kilowatts dominated the 1980s meetings. He recalls fondly the state championship season, but equally seared into his conscience is the 1998 state semifinals game against Mahnomen when the Falcons surrendered 16 points in the final 61 seconds to lose 22-21.

“How about that?” he said with a chuckle.

And he remembers standing in the parking lot of Rice Hospital in 1999, watching a helicopter airlift two key senior players who were seriously injured in an auto accident early in the season.


“We went 1-7 that year but I’ve never been more proud of a group of kids,” Karlsgodt said. “We kept playing and they were right there in several of those games. Going through the tough times they faced and the bond they had, it was a memorable year for tough reasons.”

Karlsgodt’s wife since 1976, Jane, retired from teaching last year and her husband acknowledged that it’s difficult to keep plowing ahead with his family undergoing major life changes.

Son Brandon, a 2001 ACGC graduate, added his first baby, a son, to his family in Maine last summer. Daughter Kara, a 2004 grad, gave birth to a son last month and lives in Oregon. Daughter Kjersten, a 2008 grad, has an 18-month-old daughter and her family lives in the Twin Cities.

“It’s a little tough when you have a spouse who is retired,” Karlsgodt said with a laugh. “She’s off to see the grandkids and I’m cleaning the house and teaching school. She posts the to-do list and heads out the door.”

Karlsgodt for years has coached throwers during the track season, and this spring will be his last. He’s not yet decided if he will retire from teaching sixth grade. Either way, he considers himself blessed.

“You love what you do, but there are a lot of other things to do,” he said. “It’s been a great life.”

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