More than 12 years after his last coaching victory, Stillwater’s George Thole continues to be honored for those previous three decades of remarkable success.
The Minnesota State High School League will become the seventh hall of fame to induct the football coaching legend when it includes him in the 2013 class at the Crowne Plaza Hotel St. Paul-Riverfront on Sunday, May 19.
“It’s a great honor, but I realize that it was only made possible by the tremendous accomplishments of the 1,200 student-athletes who I had the honor to coach during my tenure,” Thole said. “I believe that athletes and fine arts have made a significant contribution to the educational environment and it’s the best bang for the buck that we get as taxpayers. I’m grateful to have had the privilege to teach and coach for six lustrums at dear old Stillwater High.”
Thole racked up a 257-69-2 coaching record in 29 seasons at Stillwater and was 285-69-2 when adding three undefeated seasons at Central Cass High School in North Dakota — for a career winning percentage of .805. He has been previously inducted into hall of fames by Petaluma High School, North Dakota State University, the Minnesota State Coaches Association, the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, the Old-Timers Football Association and the St. Croix Valley Athletic Association.
Thole’s Stillwater teams won four state championships, 12 region/section titles and 13 conference crowns while appearing in the state tournament 17 times. That run of success was a stark contrast to the 15 seasons prior to Thole’s arrival when three different coaches combined to post a modest 33-88-4 record during that time.
In fact, when he showed up in 1971 and could not field a JV team because there were only 24 players, two of the league’s coaches told him if Stillwater could not compete it should look for a more suitable conference.
After winning just three games in each of those first two seasons, the Ponies reeled off 26 consecutive winning seasons, including a state title in just his fifth year (1975). He followed with state titles in 1982, which was the inaugural Prep Bowl, 1984 and again in 1995 with an undefeated team that never trailed in a game. Thole was named Conference Coach of the Year 14 times and the State Coach of the Year in 1975, 1982 and 1995.
“The players and coaches received big dividends from our hard work and dedication,” Thole said. “Our goal always was to get our student-athletes to accomplish things that even they didn’t think was possible — and I believe we did that together. We always taught our players there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and if they understood that our mission was accomplished.”
A past president of the MFCA, Thole also co-authored the book “From Veer to Eternity: Coaching a Football Dynasty” with his long-time assistant coach Jerry Foley, who just a week ago was inducted into the MFCA Hall of Fame.
Joining Thole in this year’s class will be: Roger Cersine of Edina (athletic official), Robert “Kent” Knutson of Minneapolis (fine arts director/coach), Jim “Jimmy” Lee of St. Paul (athletic official), Becky Leuer of North Branch (athletic director/coach), John Mayasich of Eveleth (athlete), Robert “Bob” McDonald of Chisholm (coach), Ron Stolski of Brainerd (athletic director/coach), Dennis Swanson of Eagan (fine arts director/coach) and Doug Woog of South St. Paul (coach/athlete).
There are at least three other honorees from Stillwater in the MSHSL Hall of Fame, including Len “Mick” McGuire (1994), Jim Graupner (1997) and Bill Simpson (2004).
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]