The Simpsonian

Men’s basketball head coach prove worriers win

by Brock Borgeson, Sports Editor

If Simpson (13-8, 6-4 Iowa Conference) doesn’t win another game the rest of the year, this season would be a success considering the last three years the men’s basketball team has had.

The feeling about the team is different. Players are performing better. Students aren’t just showing up to games. A small, boisterous and creative student section has popped up.

None of that was there last year.

Only one key player, senior shooting guard Charles Swain, was lost from last year.

But what’s here this year that wasn’t last year? Head coach Brad Bjorkgren.

Bjorkgren, a 27-year veteran Urbandale High School coach and Simpson alumnus, was hired on April 15 – fondly known as tax day. It’s a day associated with worry and concern for taxpayers every year, which is fitting because Bjorkgren is a worrier.

“Brad really is a worrier,” assistant coach Brandon Stromer said. “When I say he is a worrier, that’s a good thing. Bob Knight used to say, ‘Worry if you don’t have anything to worry about.’ If you don’t have anything to worry about you should worry about that. That’s good, because when you’re worried you’re more of a detailed guy, which is huge.”

At the start of the year, Bjorkgren expressed making the conference tournament as a feasible goal after finishing last in 2014-15. But even after defeating Central on the road on Jan. 27 to move into a tie for first place in the Iowa Conference, the guard wasn’t let down.

Bjorkgren recalled in an interview with Dave Mchugh, of d3hoops.com, and “Hoopsville” that, “I asked Stromer after the game, ‘Are we mathematically in this tournament?’ Because I need to see an X next to our name. I know how things go. Bottom teams are beating top teams, and it’s going to be a wild race all the way through.”

Along with the worrying is his detail.

Bjorkgren also recalled an impressive fact about his team when asked about what was bringing his team success.

“We are practicing for the 60th time today, and we always bring it at practice,” Bjorkgren said. “That’s why we are having success.”

A good coach sweats the small stuff, knowing even the most minute of details, such as the number of wood boards on the court and the number of times they’ve practiced on it.

But Bjorkgren doesn’t chalk up the team’s improvement to anything he has physically done. He said he thinks his wife could have caused the turnaround.

“Yeah, I think it was a welcomed change by the guys,” Bjorkgren. “I tell my wife, I think she could go in there as I think they were just ready for some change. Not that what the previous coach was doing was wrong, but they were ready for some change and thirsty for some success.”

Xs and Os may have been difficult in that situation, but Bjorkgren did what any leader does. From coaching to the business world, he created relationships.

Five days after being hired, Bjorkgren called up the team’s seniors and met with them, looking to assess needed to be done with the team while getting a barometer of where the program was.

“My first goal was to establish a relationship with these guys so I could get a trust going, and I think they’re all on board,” Bjorkgren said. “I’m very convinced in the game of basketball that if you play together offensively and defensively, that you can have success regardless of what your talent is.”

Two years ago, the men’s basketball team was riddled by dissension on the team and players who ultimately ended up quitting.

Senior guard Dillon Gretzky, who has endured a 17-59 record over the past three years, feels Bjorkgren’s goal to generate relationships and cohesion, has been accomplished from the start.

“I know this year, my fourth year, that this is the team that I would consider a team 100 percent. Everyone is unified and together. We aren’t going for statistics or anything like that and that we can have anyone lead us in scoring, and that’s one of the reasons why we have been so successful because we are playing to win and reach our goal.”

The intangibles, such as confidence, attention to detail and humor, have helped bind this team together and bring out its strengths. Even Bjorkgren’s clever comments from the sidelines and in practice strike a chord with the players.

Looking at the complexities of a coaching job, this seems minor, but it provides motivation and the important reminder for a player that a coach is human and likes to laugh like anyone else.

“He can be sarcastic at practices, but that’s just how he is at practices,” fifth-year senior forward Tyler Anderson said. “He definitely gets us going. We will be like, ‘Oh, OK, that was a funny comment. I’m going to do better.’ That’s a good coaching style right there.”

Even though Bjorkgren has been in the game for a long time, he clarified he was “no Norman Dale” – the head coach from Hoosiers. Coaching is doing the opposite for Bjorkgren and is actually keeping him young even though the film watching, practice counting, wood board counting, recruiting and worrying would appear to do the opposite.

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