Jeff Duvendeck Taking Theory of Success to Build Winners On and Off Field
With the Wisconsin Lutheran Warriors taking on Lawrence Tech on Saturday, Robert Pannier features the Blue Devils Head Coach Jeff Duvendeck. Coach Duvendeck is in his second year with the team he has literally built from the ground up.
Introducing Jeff Duvendeck
This Saturday, hundreds of college football teams will take to the gridiron. It is something they have done at these schools for generations. For some, it has been over 100 years since they first started playing college football.
However, for one school, it is just their second year of taking to the field after a more than seven decade hiatus from the sport. A school that has recently rebuilt their entire athletic’s program, hoping to prove that a school of academic excellence can also be one of incredible athletic proficiency.
Of course, a vision such as this is only made possible when the right person is hired to take the lead. It needs to be someone who not only has a clear vision of how to build a successful program, but also how to inspire young men to literally turn nothing into something special. It truly takes a unique person to make that vision a reality, which is why Lawrence Tech hired Jeff Duvendeck as their Head Football Coach. They knew that there was truly only one man who knew how to turn theory into a successful practice.
Building a Successful Resume
Jeff Duvendeck has loved football for as long as he can remember. He knew that when his playing days were over coaching was the next logical step. It was an opportunity to be involved in the sport he loved, while also having the opportunity to be around men he came to admire.
“There is just a love for the game of football. I love being around competitive people and hardworking people, and I think this game kind of lends itself to those type of characteristics.”
After graduating from Central Michigan University, where he starred as a running back, the Flushing, Michigan native stayed on at the school to serve as a student assistant. He would move to Tiffin University as a graduate assistant in 2001, coaching the running backs.
A year later, Coach Duvendeck moved to Grand Valley State, where he worked under current Notre Dame Head Coach Brian Kelly. He worked with the offensive line, and would help the team to earn its first NCAA Division II National Championship. This, while still serving as a graduate assistant.
In 2003, he moved to Michigan Technological University where he would serve as the offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator for the Huskies. In 2004, the team reached the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in school history, and he would coach three D-2 All-Americans during this time, including the GLIAC Offensive Lineman of the Year.
In 2006, the Coach returned to his alma mater, taking over as offensive coordinator at Northern Michigan. The Wildcats would have instantaneous success under his tutelage, averaging 28.2 points per game in 2007 and 31.6 points per contest in 2009.
In 2010, Coach Duvendeck joined the staff at Michigan State University under head coach Mark Dantonio. He worked with the wide receivers and fullbacks, helping the school to win a share of the Big Ten Conference and a trip to the Capital One Bowl.
He had clearly built an outstanding resume, and it only seemed a matter of time before he would get a head coaching job. That became the reality when he was hired by Culver-Stockton College (Missouri) to become its new head coach. In the three years prior to the Coach taking over the program, the Wildcats won just one game overall, but he would quickly turn this team around, earning the team’s first winning season in over a decade. The offense quickly became one of the most potent in school history.
A New Frontier
After serving six years at Culver-Stockton, Jeff Duvendeck was looking for a new opportunity. That arose when Lawrence Tech decided that they wanted to offer a football program. This was not only a chance for Coach Duvendeck to coach near his home, but to also fulfill a personal goal.
“I’ve always wanted to start a program, I never thought I’d have the opportunity, because it’s few and far between that they startup and then you know to have the right connections and just be in the right place at the right time.”
He had his dream job, but now it was time to face some reality. “To be selected is an honor and then but after that honor, you got the headaches and the ups and downs of trying to figure out how to educate everyone on what it takes to be a successful football program.”
Starting a new college football program is not like opening a new chemistry lab. Every year, there are colleges and universities offering new courses, some even creating new academic programs. However, it is a rarity when a school opts to offer football as one of their athletic programs. There have only been 180 new football programs in the last 40 years (interestingly enough, nearly 80 colleges have ceased offering football in that same time period).
There are currently over 670 colleges offering football as one of their sports, but there is a very small list of coaches who have actually been a part of a brand-new program. That makes it a bit of a challenge to try to find others who might have some advice of what exactly to do to get a program started.
“You know, I’ve worked for a lot of great people and been around a lot of great people – Mark Dantonio, Butch Jones, Brian Kelly, Jeff Quinn – just a lot of very successful football coaches, and not one of them has been through this. So I’m leaning on my mentors to try to give me guidance but they haven’t had to deal with this process.
“So, I’ve had to expand that network and reach out to other people. I did talk to Coach (Joe) Woodley at Grand View, who started that program. I reached out to him and just asked for some advice. He told me that if you notice something that’s not there, write it down. He told me it’s thousands of little things. Like he didn’t have garbage cans at stadium. So that was one of our first tasks, just list everything that we needed to get started.”
Putting Theory into Practice
There is a lot that goes into starting a college football program, it starts with recruiting. The reality is that no coach is going to be successful if he doesn’t bring in the right players. It’s hard enough to influence a young man to choose one university over another, but it is another ballgame altogether to convince them to come and play at your school when there won’t even be a program for year. This is where Jeff Duvendeck had to sell Lawrence Tech itself.
“I have 45 freshmen here for a year without playing a game, so it’s a daunting task. I think, first and foremost it’s about Lawrence Tech itself. I think it’s a phenomenal education. We’re top 5 percent in the country on return on investment, and so the kids get a high quality education. There’s a stigma in society right now, as you know, about student loan debt, things like that. Student loan debt is daunting, especially when you have a degree that you can’t get a job in your field. Our job placement is 100 percent six months post graduation, Our kids are getting high salary jobs, so they’re able to pay off their student debt.”
If you look at the most successful college football programs in the country, it is not just the coaches who are the influencers. There are seniors and other leaders on the team who become big brothers as well as coaches on the field. Coach Duvendeck did not have seniors to lean on, so teaching his young team to take over that leadership role became one of his first priorities.
“We want to pour into the students that we brought into that first class and be able to just develop them as leaders and as men, so that when we brought in our second class, we have 45 more coaches that could help build them as well.”
Of course, recruiting is more than just filling uniforms. The Coach wanted to make sure that he was bringing in the right kind of player so that he can build this team for success. “I think that lends itself to university and the type of students it attracts. Our staff has been intentional and deliberate in this in the recruitment process. We put a high, high value on character and leadership. Those are the type of kids that we’re bringing in.”
He also wanted to make sure that he had the right number of players. Relationships have always been an important part of being a coach, so ensuring that players felt connected to the coaching staff was an essential ingredient in building this team.
“We didn’t want too many that we didn’t know everyone’s name and couldn’t relate. We wanted to build relationships with so we fell on 45 as a good number for each of our first two classes. Our goal has been to be somewhere between eight to 11, eight to 12 student athletes per coach. So, when we get into our mentor groups, which we divide up into and the kids kind of select who they want to be their mentor, then we have groups of 10. Now we get to spend one day a week with them and just talk about life and talk about the struggles of a college student or about the things that are going well. We talk about what to look forward to post graduation, whatever it may be, but we want to build those relationships so that there’s an emotional tie to our program outside of just football.”
Practice Brings Success
As good as one may be at building relationships, coaches are graded on how successful they are each Saturday. Coach Jeff Duvendeck had proven himself at other universities, but he needed to prove that he was the right man for the job at Lawrence Tech. Safe to say, mission accomplished.
In his first season at the helm of the Blue Devils, Coach Duvendeck lead this team to a 5-3 mark. That included winning the first five games under his direction. With a group dominated by freshman and sophomores, the Blue Devils scored 318 points in their eight games and recorded two shutouts. This was a team that definitely took the lessons the coaching staff had taught and put them into practice.
“It’s always good to be winning and things like that and our kids played great. It was fun to see their hard work pay off. I think there’s a very bright future for this game at Lawrence.”
While winning football games is important, he also understands that there are 90-plus sets of parents who have entrusted their child to the Coach. It’s a responsibility he takes quite seriously.
“We’re an extension of them and we understand that they’re trusting us when they send their kids away to school. We are here to be that intermediate parents, and if there’s ever any issues and concerns, please feel free to reach out is what I want them to hear. I think it’s just great to have that relationship with parents.”
The coaching staff must function as a family as well. The attitude of “every man in” extends to all levels of the squad, and Coach Duvendeck has made sure that he has been purposeful in creating an atmosphere where coaches and players will love to be at Lawrence.
“We do a family dinner night once a week where all the wives bring their kids up to the office and we cook dinner and the coaches take about a half hour to 45 minutes out of their film break down and meetings and all that stuff. We just get together and spend time with the families and kids. That way, not only do we get to see our families, but we get to see everyone else’s and get to be closer with them. Then our wives get to have some connections with the other wives on the staff and the kids as well, so it just makes it one big family and we just try to do that even with the players. My wife will cook dinner for different position groups throughout the year, the Leadership Council will be over to our house. We’ve had team banquets at our house and they’re all part of the family. So, my kids call them uncle whoever. It’s nice to have that many extended brothers and uncles throughout my kid’s lives.”
Behind Every Great Coach…
If you find an exceptional college football coach, 99 times out of 100 you are likely to find that there is an even more impressive wife. That is definitely the case at Lawrence Tech.
Coach Jeff Duvendeck acknowledges that his success on the field is due in large part to his amazing life Breanne. “My wife is a phenomenal person. I wouldn’t be able to do it without her.”
What he has come to admire about her most is that she is just as instrumental in helping in the development of this team as he or any other coach is. “She understands being away from home. Her father passed away her senior year in high school, and she left home going from Milwaukee to Northern Michigan about six hours away. She needed that family atmosphere away from home and, so, she knows how important it is for our young men to have that when they’re here. So, on top of working full time as a physical therapist and being a mother of a four year old and a two year old, she inherits close to 100 kids every year – 18 to 22 year olds. On top of all that, she becomes mom, too. So, you know, she just is phenomenal.”
With that kind of support, it is not a surprise that Jeff Duvendeck is doing such an amazing job coaching the Lawrence Tech Blue Devils. It is also not surprising that with how well he supports and teaches his coaching staff and players that the Lawrence Tech football program already has five wins into their brief existence. It’s truly an example of how the coach has taken his theory of developing an elite program and turned it into a practical exercise for success. He truly is modeling the very essence of Lawrence Tech.
By Robert Pannier