Tom Idstrom has seen several transformations of high school football over nearly five decades and now will be recognized for his dedication as a member of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame Class of 2014.
He credits his high school football coach at Fairmont, Tom Mahoney, for sparking a passion that continues to burn deep after coaching on seven high school and two college staffs between 1965-2010.
Moving between the programs, Idstrom summed it up best: “I understand the moving around thing. It was interesting to see if you could build a better mousetrap. It gave me a chance to meet a ton of other people and now I can say I have friends across the state,” Idstrom said, now living in Coon Rapids with his wife Kathy.
“It’s the pinnacle of your career and to be honored at the end of your career it means more to me now after coaching for 48 years,” Idstrom said. “I coached with a lot of really good people and some of this is because of who I was fortunate enough to work with.”
He played college football at Gustavus Adolphus College in New Ulm from 1957-61 and moved onto the coaching staff for the 1964 season.
Idstrom began his prep coaching career in 1965 at Coon Rapids High School on Ron Scott’s staff before moving on to help Stan Nelson at Anoka in 1970.
He remained there until 1978, a period where Anoka was a north metro powerhouse.
“It was awesome,” Idstrom said about coaching with Nelson in the 1970s, while sharing a few stories from practices and games. He was part of the nine year run of winning records including a stretch of 30 consecutive conference wins. “It was a great experience to have the ability to work with younger players and build the morale the way up to build consistency.”
Anoka went undefeated during the 1972 regular season but lost the regular season finale to Coon Rapids in 1973. After losing to St. Thomas Academy in the 1974 opener, Nelson scheduled two practices on Labor Day. “We had a kid come up to us say we shouldn’t practice on Labor Day,” Idstrom quipped. “Stan told him, ‘We labor on Labor Day.’ We went on to win six [games] in a row. It was a different era.”
Idstrom recalled that 1973 game against rival Coon Rapids as the largest crowd he’s seen at Goodrich Field. Anoka wasn’t expected to be strong but found themselves ranked No. 1 and Coon Rapids was ranked fourth leading up to the annual Pumpkin Bowl game between two undefeated teams. Idstrom said: “It was for the whole ball of wax so people were sitting all over the place.”
Coon Rapids led 15-7 in the fourth quarter. Anoka scored to trail 15-13 but failed to convert a two-point conversion.
Idstrom recalled the bus ride from the high school to Goodrich Field.
“I remember the click [of the chin straps] on the helmets,” he said. “We didn’t loose in the pit. Those were some tough, hard-nosed kids.”
After two seasons at the University of St. Thomas, Idstrom returned to the high school sidelines at Irondale High School for 14 seasons, his longest tenure. He was a Butch Nash Award winner in 1993 and was named an assistant coach for the metro team at the Minnesota High School All-Star football game in 1994.
He was part of Tim Hermann’s staff at Champlin Park from 1997-2002 before moving on to Brainerd to be closer to family. Idstrom helped Minnesota’s all-time wins leader and 2012 Coach of the Year honoree Ron Stolski from 2003-2006 and two seasons at Central Lakes Conference rival Little Falls from 2007-2008 before attempting to retire from the game.
Idstrom is a devoted fly fisherman and wanted to retire closer to the streams of southeastern Minnesota after his children moved to Las Vegas. Between fishing outings he not only helped coach football at Chatfield High School from 2008-2010 but helped develop a strength training program for the school.
This included introducing fifth and sixth graders to the weight room with simple techniques using a five-foot bar with 13 pounds of weight twice a week. “We wanted to teach them how to lift,” Idstrom said. He started a scheduled weight lifting program including what he called an early-bird program.
“Everyone raised their hands when I asked if they wanted to be part of that group but only four showed up,” Idstrom said. “I kept it open and by the time I left we had 15-18 kids there.”
The results showed up in the 2013-14 season after Chatfield won the Class AA state football title and the wrestling team won the Class A team title. “Three of the kids on the [state wrestling] podium were all early-bird wrestlers,” he said. “It’s interesting to see the dynamics of successful kids.”
Nearly 50 years after starting to coach, Idstrom still has an itch help the next generation of football players.
“What separates the guys is a passion for what you do and the willingness to go 500 miles to talk with someone to help you out,” Idstrom said, noting his travels to Wake Forest, Arkansas, the Air Force Academy and of course the University of Minnesota for various coaching clinics. He still goes to clinics even though the coaching days are past him. “I’m still interested in what goes on. I like to see how things evolve, it’s just part of who I am.
“I’ve always had that thirst for knowledge to be a better coach because you either get better or worse. You never stay the same.”
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