We’re a generation or more removed from the last time the Dickinson State football team had a season this bad.
Before Saturday, the Blue Hawks had never lost 10 games in a season.
It marked only the second time since World War II that a DSU football team has finished a season with one win. When the Blue Hawks were still the Savages in 1966 under head coach Orlo Sundree, they went 1-7. Sundree would only last one more season and DSU would go through two other coaches before promoting Hank Biesiot to the head position in 1976.
More than three decades of success followed. Few team records still stand that weren’t set in the Biesiot coaching era.
DSU football helped build the $16 million stadium the team plays in and was last year renamed the Henry Biesiot Activities Center in the coach’s honor.
This season, however, those successful days seemed so far away and you could sense it in the home-game crowds — or lack thereof — and in talk among DSU fans and alumni.
To say the 2013 season was disappointing is an understatement, despite the Blue Hawks being a team not expected to accomplish much.
Not only did Biesiot’s Blue Hawks have to contend with the formidable Frontier Conference — arguably the deepest league, talent-wise, in the NAIA — he had easily his youngest team in 38 seasons.
“Going in, realistically, we knew it was going to be a tough year with all the new guys,” Biesiot said. “We knew what we were getting into.”
Week in and week out, the Blue Hawks were overmatched. They ended up being outscored by an average of 30 points and allowed 43 points per game, which ranked as the sixth-worst scoring defense in the NAIA coming into Saturday’s 48-3 loss against No. 3-ranked Carroll College.
The Blue Hawks are 7-25 since 2011. In the two years they spent in the Frontier Conference, they were 3-19. Only one of those wins came against a Frontier team — a 21-20 home victory against Montana State-Northern last season.
Now that the great Frontier experiment is over, DSU bids good riddance and retreats back to the North Star Athletic Association. After it joins, the North Star will be a six-team, postseason-eligible league comprised primarily of former Dakota Athletic Conference teams. Don’t be surprised if the Blue Hawks win that conference next season and get back into the playoffs — only to meet a Frontier team. Probably Carroll.
So what does DSU do to get things back on track?
The honest answer to that question begins and ends with Biesiot.
The way I see it, there are two options:
— DSU can do the wrong thing, force Biesiot out the door and completely start over with a new coach, likely one of the assistants within the system.
It’d be too inglorious of a farewell to a coaching legend after his worst two seasons in which the Blue Hawks were undermanned and underfunded against a superior conference full of teams with more scholarship opportunities.
If the Blue Hawks played at a higher level of football, this would undoubtedly be in the works. But we have to remember that they aren’t at that level. They compete in the NAIA, where coaches — especially successful ones — are allowed to ride off into the sunset gracefully.
— Let Biesiot retire on his own terms and when he is ready. But get him some help and, for God’s sake, expand the playbook.
College football has changed and DSU has been late to catch up, both on and off the field.
The Blue Hawks may be the only team in college football without some version of a shotgun formation in its playbook. It’s no secret. But it’s something that must change if DSU wants to improve the quality of players it gets.
Why? Because even the most conservative teams that preach defense first now find ways to spread things out a bit offensively. That’s the way the game is going. Teams throughout the country are playing offense more wide-open than ever because it’s easier for quarterbacks, seemingly complicated offensive schemes are becoming the norm and the rules of the game are friendlier than ever to offenses.
Conservative hasn’t worked too well for the Blue Hawks lately. It seems crazy that a run-first football team hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Larry Aldridge in 2005.
Biesiot said Saturday that “everything is open and on the drawing board for next year. There will be changes, I’m sure. It still comes down to blocking and tackles.”
Regardless of what happens on the field, Biesiot should be allowed to retire on his own terms.
I, and assuming others, have always wanted to see him reach the 40-season milestone and join the elite club of coaches like Eddie Robinson, Joe Paterno, John Gagliardi and Amos Alonzo Stagg.
When asked Saturday if he was definitely going to be back for the 2014 season, Biesiot smirked and let loose a typical “Hankism.” By that, I mean he kind of answered the question.
“When you get to be my age, it’s day by day, one game at a time,” Biesiot said.
Whether Biesiot decides to stick around a few more seasons or not, he owes it to the football program he built to embrace change.
From the sound of it, that will be happening in one way or another.