Kirch moved to supporting role after two years at helm
The Forest Lake football program is now under its fourth leader in five years.
Forest Lake Activities Director Joel Olson and Principal Steve Massey announced Monday that former Rangers assistant coach Jeff Wilson will replace Billy Kirch as head coach.
The decision follows two winless seasons for the Rangers football squad under Kirch, who will stay on staff as associate head coach.
The administrators, along with Superintendant Linda Madsen, made the switch last week after analyzing the state of the program.
“We need some help with the program,” Olson said. “Jeff wanted to come back and we talked with Billy about it. We just saw there was a need to have help. It’s a big job.”
Kirch will have coaching responsibilities on the defensive side of the ball.
“Billy is on board for next year,” Olson said. “He has the attitude that it’s whatever is best for the program and the kids.”
Wilson, who stepped down as offensive coordinator after the 2011 season, has also led several other units over many years on the Rangers sideline. He comes from a background rich in football and coaching.
The Forest Lake High School physical education teacher graduated in 1982 from Minneapolis North High School, where a park and gymnasium are named after his father, Gary, who spent 30 years coaching a variety of sports. After high school, Wilson played baseball and football at Bethel College before scoring tryouts with three professional football teams. Wilson also spent a year coaching with the Eden Prairie program before heading to Forest Lake.
The early decision for the coaching change allows Wilson, a first-time head coach, to get a head start on restructuring some aspects of the program for 2014.
“Football should be on these kids’ minds all year round,” Wilson said. “We need to set up camps, clinics, get folks on staff, recruit, fund raise and order equipment. We have a lot to get done.”
On the field, Wilson’s goal is to get back to basics.
“The offense is different from what was run before,” Wilson said. “When I was offensive coordinator before, we were always up in the top rushing teams and had developed that solid offensive program and team. I like option football, too, so maybe we’ll incorporate that as well.”
Wilson’s proximity to students through his teaching position proved attractive to the administrators. Kirch also teaches at the high school, but several of his assistants are not district employees. Olson and Wilson said it is too early to know how the rest of next fall’s coaching staff will shape up.
“We want to have consistency with our coaches and to have more of those teacher-coaches back building those relationships during the school day,” Olson said. “They see those kids and can transfer that out to practice – just developing more bonds and things with those kids.”
Some in the Rangers football program are critical of the administration’s latest decision. Forest Lake Football Booster Club Treasurer Alisa Maciej said continued coaching changes are not the answer for the struggling program. She said some former coaches abandoned the team when Kirch was hired. The bulk of her frustration, though, lies with the Forest Lake administrative staff.
“No parents were aware of this coaching change and even coaches were wondering what was going on,” Maciej said. “I’m not saying they need our permission, but to not be made aware of this is a large step backwards. Forest Lake used to be known for its ‘boys club’ and we are headed right back to that.”
Rod Bierman has been an active booster club member for six years while two sons went through the program. He served as president two years and vice president for one year.
“I’ve seen a lot and have been involved with a lot,” Bierman said. “When you go through a 22-game losing streak and haven’t had a winning season in more than a decade, then you realize the potential in the student body, you can imagine my frustration. And as for moving forward? I have no idea what to expect.”
While Bierman didn’t have a definite opinion on the coaching change itself, he said the issues experienced by the Ranger football program are not to be blamed on the kids.
“I keep telling people there is nothing wrong with the water in Forest Lake,” Bierman said. “It takes finding the right coach to get an effective weight-lifting program in place and recruit kids, then giving him the proper leadership support to make this program successful. We had the opportunity two years ago to have a former NFL player here who wanted the job, who could attract football minds and build a program. It’s sad, because that was one of many missed opportunities.”
Kirch was unable to be reached for comment.