by Scott DCamp
Northland Head Football Coach Jeremy Richardson is back on the sidelines as the head coach of a college team after an eight-year absence.
“I’ve been waiting for another opportunity for a while now,” Richardson said.
Richardson was named the 11th head coach in the history of Northland Football after previously serving as the head coach of the now defunct football program at Joliet Community College in Joliet, Ill. He was hired in May, almost three months after the NJCAA signing day for football. That meant that the majority of players looking for a football home had already committed to a program for 2019.
Despite the late start and limited time to recruit, Richardson is making the most of his first season at the helm of the Northland program.
“I’ve never been in this exact situation, but I do compare this situation to when I took over at Joliet in 2008.”
Richardson didn’t get the nod at Joliet Junior College until two weeks prior to the start of fall camp. At Joliet, he was already an assistant coach and he knew a lot of the returning players. At Northland, he inherits a few players left over from last year’s MCAC championship team. Otherwise, this is an entirely new team. Defensive Coordinator Eric Francis and Defensive Line Coach Donnie Bouette are the only assistant coaches back from last year’s team, and Richardson credits them with handling the bulk of recruiting duties, despite the fact that they weren’t even guaranteed jobs under the new head coach.
“They did some recruiting behind the scenes and I will always commend them for that, because those guys were in a tough position,” Richardson said. “They didn’t know if they would be here or not, and they still spent time calling guys.”
The Pioneers opened camp with around 50 players, with more potentially arriving before the start of school. In most seasons, a defending conference champion would return 10-20 players and start with a roster in the 60s or even 70s.
This year’s edition of the Northland football team includes just four players who were a part of last year’s team. The late hire may have led some players to seek other opportunities, but Richardson doesn’t harbor any negative feelings toward players that left.
“Not knowing who’s going to be the coach and not knowing the direction – why stay?” Richardson pondered. “You can’t hold it against them, you can’t hold it against the institution at all either, or the coaches that are remaining. It is what it is.”
An extensive background
Richardson has been involved with football in some capacity for more than 30 years, going back to his playing days as a standout tight end for perennially strong Bloomington High School in Bloomington, Ill. Following his graduation from Bloomington in 1996, Richardson spent three seasons, including a redshirt year at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., before finishing his career at NCAA Division II Fairmont State in Fairmont, W.Va.
Richardson credits one of his college coaches, Doug Sams, with getting him involved in coaching. Richardson played for Sams for two years at Fairmont State, and began his coaching career as a student assistant at Fairmont during the 2001 season.
“He had a huge impact on me actually pursuing my college career in athletics and also pursuing my coaching career,” Richardson said of Sams. “He also opened up my eyes to a lot of things in the business. He was the first guy to tell me that some coaches aren’t your friends, some administrators aren’t your friends, and he was also the first coach to teach me how to be a professional.”
Sams took a job at Northern Michigan in 2002 and Richardson eventually joined him as a graduate assistant from 2004-06. In spring 2006, Richardson headed south to Glades Central High School in Belle Glade, Fla., for one season under Willie Snead III, before returning to Joliet Junior College in 2007 under Head Coach Tom Minnick as the team’s quarterbacks coach.
“That was a great time for me too because I had never coached quarterbacks before,” Richardson said. “I knew that if I ever wanted to be a coordinator, I needed experience coaching quarterbacks.”
Minnick left Joliet following a 10-win and top-10 national finish for the Wolves in 2007, and Richardson was appointed his successor prior to the 2008 season. Richardson served as head coach at Joliet for four seasons from 2008-2011. The Wolves’ best year during that stretch came in 2009, with a 28-17 win over North Dakota State College of Science in the Graphic Edge Bowl. Two yeas later, and nine seasons after it won an NJCAA National Championship in football, Joliet Junior College cut its football program.
The main reasons given for elimination of football were the expense to run the sport and to help the college get in compliance with Title IX. When the program was cut, Richardson originally planned to search for another college coaching opportunity. But that opportunity didn’t come right away, so he accepte
d an invitation from Snead to rejoin him in the high school ranks in Florida – this time at Palm Beach Lakes High School.
Along with Sams and Minnick, Richardson credits Snead with helping him develop as a coach. “He called me up when he saw the news [about Joliet] and asked, ‘You want to come back to Florida?’” Richardson said. “He was the first coach that trusted what I knew.”
Richardson spent the 2012 season at Palm Beach Lakes. From there, he bounced around, with stops at Phoenix College in Arizona in 2013, Bacone College in Muskogee, Okla., in 2014, an internship with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 and Texas College in Tyler, Texas in 2016.
For the past two seasons, Richardson worked as an assistant athletic director at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, Texas. The time at Trinity Valley was valuable for Richardson, because he learned how to see things from an administrative perspective.
“I never wanted to have what happened at Joliet, happen to any other program,” Richardson said. “I wanted to fight for a football program that people were thinking about letting go, and I felt the only way I could do that was to get into the admin role. I learned so much. I wish I could have done that before I ever coached.”
Now at Northland, Richardson combines football with administrative duties as the college’s Student Diversity Coordinator and Retention Specialist.
What to expect
Richardson was a tight end during his playing days and he has experience coaching both quarterbacks and offensive linemen at the college level. Essentially, he is a versatile coach who teaches an offensive system that creates versatility in its players. While his five offensive linemen will typically stay put, Richardson utilizes a variety of formations that could see his running backs split out wide like a wideout, or his wide receivers line up in the backfield like a ru
“If you’re an offensive skill guy, you’re truly an offensive skill guy,” Richardson said. “You’re gonna move around from the backfield to possibly receiver. It makes the game fun for those positions and it creates some defensive mismatches.”
Like most college offenses, Richardson’s playbook features a variety of formations and plays. The number of formations and plays used will depend on the offensive players’ ability to properly execute the scheme.
“I tell my guys every day, ‘If you can pick up what I’m wanting to teach you, we can do everything in the playbook,” Richardson said. “If not, I will do what I know you can do best. I’m going to put my players in the best position to be successful and try to win.”
The Pioneers are fairly well stocked in the skilled positions at the moment, but one area where they are thin, is on the offensive and defensive line
“Everybody this time of year is looking for o-line and d-line,” Richardson said. “I’m always looking for players that will fit into what we want to do.” Richardson’s coaching philosophy has evolved during a career that includes coaching stops at the high school, NJCAA, NCAA DII and even the professional levels.
“I’ve always been a high paced guy,” Richardson said. “I’ve always been a coach that has wanted to keep the excitement on the field. Keep guys moving around and keep the excitement going as far as what plays we call offensively. That change will always happen.”
A big change that has forced all coaches to evolve is the de-emphasis of hitting in practice. When Richardson played, it was common for teams to do some hitting up to four days a week in practice. He points out that it was even legal to hit a receiver more than five yards off the line of scrimmage. Over time, teams began to reduce the number of practices with hitting. Now, some teams never hit in practice.
“In reality, all of football is going towards that anyway, so you’re having to really change your coaching as far as when you hit in practice,” Richardson said. “When do you hit? How much do you wear in practice? When do you go full gear?”
Northland is coming off back-to-back MCAC state championships under former head coach Jim Cox, and one of Richardson’s goals is to stay
on top of the conference and MCAC Western Division.
“My goal, and one of my biggest things in coaching, is I’ve always wanted to be the dominant school in the league,” Richardson said. “I came from a high school that was a dominant school in our conference. We were the standard of everybody else. I would love to be that as a coach.”
Richardson credits Cox with setting the bar pretty high, but there is still room for more, and Richardson hopes to accomplish something that has eluded all 10 Northland’s previous head coaches – win a bowl game.
Individually, Richardson has three expectations of his players and if they accomplish all three, he guarantees success. He asks each athlete to represent his family name, go to class and be the best student he can be, and play as hard as he can on the football field.
“It’s the same thing I did,” Richardson said. “I represented my family name well. I played as hard as I could and I got my act in order in the classroom and it worked out well for me. It’s going to continue to work out well for any athlete after me.”
Northland opens the 2019 season on the road at Vermilion Community College on Saturday, Aug. 24. The Pioneers’ home opener is Saturday, Aug. 31 vs. Mesabi Range College.