By Chad Courrier
The Free Press
When Dan Wills was considering a scholarship offer to play football at Minnesota State, the Mankato West senior didn’t really think about the coaching instability.
When Wills visited Minnesota Duluth last weekend, one of the other recruits mentioned the uncertainty, but none of the school’s recruiting him made that an issue.
“It didn’t seem like the (coaching situation) really changed anything up there,” Wills said.
Interim coach Aaron Keen and his staff hosted several recruits last weekend as the Mavericks make the big push toward the high-school signing date Feb. 6. Keen had his job title and salary adjusted more than a week ago.
That was done, in part, to ease the concerns of recruits and their parents about the unsettled positions, which has been in some form of limbo since the university put Todd Hoffner on administrative leave in August.
“We’ve had a few questions about our situations during the official visits,” Keen said. “I’m happy to be named interim coach, and I think it brings some clarity to the recruits and parents. One of the biggest things we do is let our current players talk to them. At this point, they’ve heard a lot of the coachspeak so there’s a different feel when it comes from player already in the program.”
Last week, it was announced that Keen’s status had been changed from acting head coach to interim head coach, a designation that could be used for up to two years, though athletic director Kevin Buisman said that period was unlikely. Keen was also given a pay hike from $50,554 to $101, 109.
Buisman said a timeline for the national search to hire Hoffner’s replacement hasn’t been established. He said that Keen will continue to run the program through next month’s signing period and spring practice.
“We just wanted to stabilize the situation,” Buisman said. “By changing Aaron’s status from acting head coach to interim coach and extending that through the end of the school year, we have some flexibility in the timing of a national search.”
The Mavericks have already had two weekends of hosting recruits, with another one planned this weekend. He said he’s received about 12 verbal commitments, and with only 12 seniors on last season’s roster, there isn’t much scholarship money left to dole out.
Keen said that his staff has had to identify priorities with such a small class, and they’ve had to be more selective. Last season’s success has made it an easier sell because it’s not hype.
We can tell recruits that if they come to Minnesota State, they have an opportunity to be successful,” Keen said. “It’s not some chart on the wall showing a five-year plan. Things are in place here to be successful, and it’s up to you how hard you want to work at it. We can show recruits that we have a plan that works.”
Keen, who has received several coach-of-the-year honors, said that when the recruiting and spring practice is finished, he will be applying for the permanent job. He understands that the university is required to go through the process of a search, and he’s not guaranteed anything.
“I just tell people that I’m not applying for any other jobs,” Keen said. “I’m happy to be in the position that I’m in now.”