Jeff Pedersen changes roles on football staff, remains as track coach


Athletic director Andy Hamilton will assume interim head coach duties for the football team until it finds a new head coach.

Eva Hill

Athletic director Andy Hamilton will assume interim head coach duties for the football team until it finds a new head coach.

Grinnell Athletics Director Andy Hamilton will be taking on the role of interim head football coach for the remainder of this season. Jeff Pedersen, the previous head coach of the Pioneer football team and a current assistant coach on the track and field team, will be focusing entirely on recruitment efforts for the remainder of the fall 2019 season. Next year, Pedersen will continue to coach track and field but will no longer coach football. The College is hoping to hire a new head coach by the end of this semester who will coach only football. 

Pedersen is a College faculty member who teaches four credits per year in addition to his coaching duties. Although he is no longer head coach of the football team and will not recruit football players next fall and onward, he will continue his recruitment work for the remainder of this season. Pedersen wrote in an email to The S&B, “I’m continuing to recruit this class because the rest of the staff and I have invested so much time and effort into it already, and because it’s critical that we put together a strong class.” The new coaching position will be a staff position rather than a faculty one, meaning that there will be “greater flexibility with their job description,” according to Pedersen.  

The College made an official announcement of the leadership change on Wednesday, October 16. Hamilton said that the change “was an informed decision that Coach Pedersen was involved with.” On the timing of the announcement, Pederson said, “The idea was that if we waited until after fall break, we could lose some recruitment opportunities—about two weeks of recruiting, which is pretty significant. We were going to have our assistant coaches out on the road doing recruiting during fall break, so we wanted to be able to have a consistent message to our recruits.”  

Incoming-student recruitment is generally important to collegiate sports teams, but it’s especially critical for Grinnell football this year. The Grinnell team made a historic decision to cancel their season after playing three out of 10 games this semester, when the combination of a small initial roster and a high number of injuries left just 28 active players to go up against Midwest Conference DIII powerhouse St. Norbert College in their next game. Concerned that more injuries would be inevitable, the team voted to withdraw from competition to protect players’ safety.   

 Recruitment is a time-consuming process that can take more than a year, starting with the identification of promising players and ending with those players committing to Grinnell. Pedersen said that the College communicates with its intended recruits through a variety of media in order to build personal relationships with them.  

Pedersen wrote, “Depending upon when [prospective student athletes] apply, this is a 12-18 month process, with no off-season.  With the cancellation of the season and the change in my position, some folks assume that we are now able to begin our recruiting two months early.  The reality is that we’ve had some things taken off our plate, which allows us to focus more attention on recruiting than we normally would at this time of year, but we’ve already put in a significant amount of work towards this class.”  

 The athletic department is hoping to bring in around 20 new players with the class of 2024 in order to prevent the problem from repeating itself. A 20-person addition to the team would bring the roster to over 50 students—according to Hamilton, that’s only happened six times in the past 30 years.  

 Also important to the team’s continued success is the return of most or all of the team’s current first-, second-, and third-year members. After the team withdrew from competition this season, the NCAA decided that the cancellation had not caused Grinnell football to enter the off-season, meaning that players and coaches can continue to practice even though the team isn’t currently playing other schools. According to assistant coach Tim Hollibaugh, the team continues to meet for two days each week, avoiding full-contact practice in order to keep players from getting injured. Hollibaugh thinks that the team environment has been “extremely positive.” Even after the cancellation, he says, “There’s a sense of energy that is definitely positive. The effort’s still the same.”  

 Hamilton expects that team member turnover will be minimal for next season.