In his 10th season as head coach of the Concordia University-Wisconsin football team, Greg Etter has instilled a sense of PRIDE in his team that has made the Falcons one of the most successful teams in the NACC over the last decade.
Introducing Greg Etter
There is a verse in the Bible that says that “pride cometh before destruction.” The essence of this verse is teaching that when one exalts himself above others he is destined to fall. History has proven this to be true again, and again, and again…well, you get the idea.
However, pride is not always a bad thing. In fact, pride, when used in the right manner, can have a profound effect on making a person a better player, a better student, a better husband and dad, even a better man. That is not true in most cases, but when a person embraces the principle of PRIDE taught by Concordia University Wisconsin Head Football Coach Greg Etter, then pride not only brings great benefits, but leads to immeasurable success.
People Are What Matter Most
Greg Etter has been involved in coaching since he graduated from college from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There had been incredible influences on his life that made the idea of becoming a coach a true calling, but none were greater than that of his father.
“I grew up around coaching. My father was a high school coach for many years, so I think that’s probably when the desire began. It was at a very young age being around the practice field, the Friday night games.”
One of Coach Etter’s greatest inspirations to join the profession was that he wanted to help these recently graduated high school students to grow and blossom into young men. By watching the influence that his father had on the young men that he coached, it was clear that this profession offered him the incredible opportunity to make a difference in their lives.
“Football is such a great conduit to teach about life. There is teamwork, overcoming obstacles and failure, trust, it is all there. The relationships are essential to being successful. When the kids know that you care, you want to see them succeed, then they will work harder. They have to know that I care, that I want to see them successful. That is one of the foundations upon which I have coached.”
Relationships became one of the most essential parts of coaching early on, because he quickly came to understand that by building strong relationships of trust and concern that players were much more likely to want to give their best effort not only on Saturdays, but on every day leading up to game day.
“We have a saying around here that I believe that my staff buys into: Players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I truly believe that if kids know that you care about them, not just as a quarterback or a punter or a defensive tackle, but that you care about them as a human being, I believe that their loyalty for you is a direct reflection of that. Kids are smart. They can see through the guy that is just using them as a pawn on the football field. So we have established those relationships, those human being relationships, and then I believe that you can get the kids to buy into and do what’s asked of them.”
Readying Himself for Success
Before coming to Concordia University, Greg Etter had great success wherever he had been. After graduating, he worked with the defensive backs at the University of Wisconsin, even coaching former seventh round draft pick Troy Vincent.
Next, the Coach moved on to South Dakota State University, where he served 12 seasons on the staff, starting as the defensive backs coach, then serving as the special teams coordinator and later as the defensive coordinator. During that time, SDSU had incredible success. During his tenure as special teams coordinator, the Jackrabbits finished in the top five in several categories, including punting average. Individual successes occurred on the Coach’s watch as well, with Super Bowl winning kicker Adam Vinatieri being the most prominent.
After a little over a decade at South Dakota State, the coach moved on to Carthage College, his first time serving at a Division-III school. It was a rather unusual experience for him, but one that he quickly realized was the ideal environment for himself.
“We (his wife Kerry, the Coach, and their two sons) came back to the Milwaukee area as my wife and I both had family in the area. We came back to Carthage College and at the time that was my first experience on a Division III campus let alone in a private school setting. We had two young children at the time and the values, the way of life, the ability to do what I love to do and still raise and be part of my kids’ lives was an awesome experience.”
The success at Carthage was instantaneous. As the defensive coordinator his squad was ranked in the top 10 in turnovers, total defense, pass efficiency defense, and scoring defense in virtually every season he was there. In 2004, the Red Men were ranked number five overall in the country in terms of defense, and he was named to the “Hot Coaches List,” a list of the 80 top coaches in the country who would soon be in head coaching position.
With that kind of success, schools who are in need of a head coach are going to take notice and, in 2008, the Falcons decided to name Greg Etter as their new head football coach. For Coach Etter it was the ultimate opportunity.
“We were fortunate that we had some success down at Carthage. Then this opportunity came up and they called me, and I thought that there were so many similarities that the opportunity to be a head coach in that type of setting was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
Instilling a Sense of Value to Everyday Life
Greg Etter had 19 years of coaching experience at the collegiate level by the time he took over the job at Concordia University Wisconsin. However, he had never been the head coach before, so this was his opportunity to not only run a football program the way that he desired, but to also instill a set of values and expectations for his players. This evolved into the PRIDE program.
“We have an acronym for our program and its PRIDE. PRIDE stands for Personal Responsibility in Daily Effort. It’s my hope for my players that they have bought into that 100 percent and that they lead by example, especially my seniors. That they teach the underclassmen, especially the freshman, what it means, how we live, how we act, athletically, socially, spiritually, academically, and if they apply the PRIDE concept their opportunity for success in whatever area of life that we’re talking about is greatly increased.”
PRIDE has become something that goes way beyond the football field, however. While the Coach wants to see his players giving their absolute all and doing their very best each day that they come to practice, enter the weight room, or go to film study, he expects that these values are carried forth in every activity or event that goes on for them. This is no better exemplified than in the PRIDE Challenge.
“In the spring going into their senior year, they get an opportunity to lead our team through what we call the PRIDE Challenge. It is basically an accountability exercise that goes on during the semester. It’s communication with coaches and professors, attendance, being early, just those types of things. Community service is a big piece, and we divide our team up with our seniors leading each team within our team, so they get an opportunity to see the expectations that will be placed on them when they come back in the fall for their senior year.”
Developing Men of Integrity, Honor
While PRIDE has had a dramatic impact on the way that his players carry themselves, Greg Etter emphasizes that just as academics and football are important ingredients for his players at Concordia University, their faith plays an essential role as well. He considers that relationship with God to be one of the foundational principles within the program.
“I’m probably a little different than a lot of coaches. We incorporate faith into our program with prayer after practice, with pregame chapel, with weekly chapel. That is built into the policies and procedures so to speak and what I try to do is I will lead prayer after practice.”
While faith plays an important role for the Coach and his team, he also fully understands that not everyone sees things in the same manner as he does. One of the beautiful aspects of the character of Coach Etter is that he is a man more interested in helping young men find their way through life then instilling his own faith onto them. He not only has a great deal of respect for his players and whatever they hold dear to themselves, but believes that having respect for the beliefs of others is one of the most important lessons he can teach.
“I’ve got 130 guys and it covers the whole religious spectrum, I’ve got guys from every spot on that spectrum, from heavy doses of religion to zero religion. So, I honor everybody’s right to their own beliefs and their own practices. Our players get the experience of getting to know and learn about a lot of different ways of living.”
Evaulating Success On, Off the Field
Since his arrival at Concordia University, the Falcons have had enormous success on the field. In his first nine seasons, the football team has posted a 42-49 record, including going 35-24 in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference (NACC), and they were the conference champion in 2013. That year he was even named the NACC Coach of the Year, and Concordia played in the Division III playoffs.
The program has had an enormous amount of success, both for the team as a whole and for individual players, as 114 members of the team have earned all-conference honors, two have earned All-Regional honors, and one was even an All-American. Coach Etter has clearly proven that he can teach young men to become better football players and to play better as a team.
However, success for the Coach goes way beyond what his record is at the end of the season. What truly lets him know that he is reaching that goal he set when he first got into coaching is how well his players are doing once they have left Concordia University. This is where he truly measures his success.
“I love to see my players have success after they graduate. We just went over and got absolutely pummeled in our last football game and, prior to the game, one of my former players led our pregame chapel and one of our former players, who at 26 years old is the head athletic trainer for a department, he traveled all the way over to see us and talk with us, and when both of those guys talk about the PRIDE concept and how they live their life and make decisions based upon habits that were instilled in them through the football program, that’s pretty rewarding. It goes back to teaching these kids, these young men, life lessons. So that is a very rewarding part. I also enjoy the on-field teaching. Those are probably my biggest joys.”
There is no doubt that Head Football Coach Greg Etter is feeling a great deal of joy these days. He is coaching a successful football program, many of his players have become incredible fathers, husbands, neighbors, and members of society, and he is in a place where he truly feels he belongs. The Head Coach of the Concordia University Wisconsin Falcons football team has had a whole lot of success, but no one really should be surprised by that. After all, he is truly proving that when you have PRIDE, success is bound to follow.
By Robert Pannier