Fresh out of college in 1974, Dan Pedersen was looking for a coaching job and got a start at Elk Mound.
He had no idea where it would take him.
Forty-four years later, he’s landed in the National High School Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
It is a highly prestigious honor, and he admits he took the news in shock.
“This is beyond humbling,” the former Eau Claire Regis and UW-Eau Claire athlete said. “With all the great coaches in the area and state, I just didn’t feel I could accept this.”
Pedersen wound up spending his entire coaching career at Elk Mound and is one on a short list of Wisconsin coaches recognized on the national level.
A candidate is determined by a committee of the state association which presents its nomination to the national association for the final selection.
“This is a tribute to the school district and all the coaches and players I’ve worked with,” he said. “This is a legacy of Elk Mound, and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
He ranks as one of the most popular and successful men in his profession who gained the respect of not only his own staff and players but those he coached against in his 39-year tenure in football, basketball and some track.
“He was a tremendous coach to me and even more so a great mentor,” said Jake Morris, the 1992 state player of the year who went on to earn a tryout with the Detroit Lions after a record-setting career as a running back at North Dakota State. “He had all the right qualities and demeanor.”
Among others of the hundreds that had their lives influenced by Pedersen was Josh Fizel, who quarterbacked the Mounders from 1999-2002 and then served as a coaching assistant through 2009.
“He was by far the single biggest influence I’ve had in my career,” said Fizel, the current head football coach at Spooner after a three-year stint as head man at Eau Claire North. “As great a coach as he was, he was just as outstanding a person to the kids.
“I feel honored to have had the opportunity to play for him. There is not a more deserving person to get this award.”
Pedersen ended his coaching when he retired after the 2012 football season but reflects back on the 1989-92 Morris era with fond memories.
In three of those years, the Mounders gained the state finals at Camp Randall but unfortunately lost in close games — including 14-7 to Edgar in the 1992 game.
He doesn’t like to single out players from among all the good ones he had but said Morris was special in that he was named the state player of the year — something that doesn’t happen often at a small school.
Overall, Pedersen finished with a 261-128 football record that included 10 Dunn-St. Croix Conference titles and at one point a 45-game conference winning streak. When he retired, his number of victories ranked 12th among state coaches.
Morris remembers maturing as a youngster and player.
“It was tough at that age gaining the understanding of the aspect of the game,” Morris said. “But he had the ability to deal with the different personalities.”
Pedersen had equal success in basketball and he figures that played a role in his selection in contrast to today’s more specialized one-sport coach.
“I was coaching from an old-fashioned standpoint,” he said, citing three-sport high school coach Tony Fiore as an example. “Whatever sport was in season was the favorite and I was blessed to have had the health and opportunity to do it.”
His success can also be attributed to being able to coach with the right touch.
“He had the ability to get the most out of every player,” Fizel said. “He had the ability to push the right buttons, and that is incredibly rare.”
Pedersen coached basketball through 2007, winning 360 games that led to 12 conference championships and two trips to the state finals only to suffer close losses.
He looks back with much gratitude.
“The kids put it on the line every night,” he said “and I had a group of coaches who stayed with me.”
Pedersen, the third-oldest of nine children of Tryg and Mae Pedersen, grew up in a sports atmosphere. Tryg was one of the great basketball players of his time. Dan would follow in his footsteps.
He was a four-sport star at Regis, gaining Leader-Telegram All-Northwest honors in football, and went on to play four years with the Blugolds as a defensive back and kicker, graduating in 1974 with a degree in geography and physical education.
The 22-year-old applied for a teaching and coaching position at Madison Edgewood and when that went by the boards, he found an opening at nearby Elk Mound, a 15-minute daily drive from his home in Eau Claire. He admits he took it with the idea of staying a year or two and then moving on.
As they say, the rest is history.
He was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2003 and two years later was honored with similar distinction by Regis High School.
Pedersen and wife Jane are the parents of son Paul and daughter Jenny and the grandparents of Jake, Jenae, Cameron, Daniel and Caden.
He has enjoyed following the careers of his grandkids.
Jake was a record-setting passer as quarterback at Regis and Cam was to follow in his footsteps before a series of injuries limited him to kicking. He did a good enough job to attract the attention of North Dakota State, where he has become a key man in the success of one of college football’s most storied programs. His long field goal in the final seconds upset Iowa two years ago.
Dan Pedersen will be honored statewide March 24 at the football coaches association hall of fame ceremony in Middleton and on a national basis at Sioux Falls, S.D., in June.