Mahoney tabbed 3A coach of year

Fairmont mentor to be honored at MFCA banquet on March 30

COACH OF THE YEAR — Fairmont Cardinals head football coach Mat Mahoney (front) signals in a formation and play during regular-season football action last fall. Mahoney will be honored as the Class 3A state head football coach of the year at the Minnesota Football Coaches Association’s awards banquet on March 30 at the Doubletree Hotel in St. Louis Park. (Photo by Greg Abel)

Fairmont head football coach Mat Mahoney didn’t suspect it and scrolled right by it when he got the email. But when he looked back up, he saw he’d been named Class AAA football coach of the year.

In his 12th year as head coach, Mahoney led the Fairmont Cardinals to their second appearance in the state championship game and their first back-to-back state appearances — after making it to the quarterfinals in 2017 — since the 1996-97 seasons under legendary mentor Jim Simser’s tutelage.

The Cardinals finished the season with an 11-2 record after easily making their way through the Section 3 playoffs and the first two rounds of the state playoffs with wins over Cannon Falls and Perham, respectively.

For his efforts, Mahoney will be recognized at the Minnesota Football Coaches Association’s annual banquet March 30 at the Doubletree Hotel in St. Louis Park.

The season didn’t start exactly how Mahoney would have liked. After the Cardinals won the Brown Jug for a fourth consecutive season with a 41-12 win over Blue Earth Area, No. 3-ranked Jordan rallied to beat the Cardinals 45-26. Fairmont then faced Class AAAA No. 5-ranked Waseca on the road the following week.

Mahoney said the loss to Jordan and the win at Waseca was the early turning point in the season.

“I think the turning point in our season was after we blew a lead against Jordan,” Mahoney said. “We were up 20-0 on them and they came back to go up 21-20 and I could just see the defeat in our eyes and we went out and lost the second half. But the turning point was when we came back and we beat Waseca at their place. I thought our coaches did an excellent job preparing the guys for that week and everything just kind of fell into place. After that, we kind of road the coat tails of beating Waseca for the next couple of weeks.”

Mahoney said a big part of his success comes from having good coaches on his staff. He thanked offensive coordinator Brian Wille, defensive coordinator Brad Johnson and strength and conditioning coach John Kesselring for being key parts of the season.

“I think one of the biggest things for me is, I’m surrounded by some really good coaches,” Mahoney said. “That’s one of my keys to success, I think between those three guys we all managed to fit all the pieces in the right place, and I thought Brian did a really good job of tutoring and mentoring Garrett (Myren) to come in and play quarterback.

“When Nate (Kallenbach) was our quarterback, everything kind of revolved around him in a sense. I think we were really able to spread out some of our offensive pieces this past fall.”

When the Cardinals graduated their leading passer and rusher in Nate Kallenbach after the 2017 season, Mahoney had some work to do to replace his production. He said the work the senior class put in before and during the 2018 season was an important aspect of filling the hole Kallenbach left.

“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to our senior class,” Mahoney said. “I thought for the most part, they started this run in March in the weight room in the mornings before school. They were in the weight room all summer long and coach Kesselring did a fantastic job of making great connections with those kids. I thought we pulled more out of them last season than we had in the past.”

Mahoney said the connection and chemistry between the players was a key to the Cardinals’ success in 2018, along with the team’s combination of size, speed and toughness. He said the team had luck on its side as well during the playoff run.

“Our chemistry was really good and I thought our junior and senior classes were a really good mix of athletes,” Mahoney said. “We had some size, we had some speed, we had some toughness. I think our team chemistry was really good and I think when you make a run like this, you have to have luck on your side a bit. I think we were on the right side of the bracket at the state tournament, we got a bye during the first round of the section tournament, which helped our players get healthy a bit. … Overall, I think our players and our coaches just have that mindset, we want to win football games and it was an all-in mentality.”

Mahoney said early in his career, he looked to his grandfather Tom Mahoney as a coaching role model, but there isn’t any specific coach he likes to take ideas from. He said his time on the sideline as part of the Minnesota Gophers’ chain gang has brought about new ideas though.

“Working the chain gang, I’m around P.J. Fleck. I’m sometimes around Jim Harbough and Urban Meyer,” Mahoney said. “I’ve seen these guys live in action. I don’t know if there’s anyone in particular that I kind of steal things from or try to implement things from, but I’m a big Gopher fan and being on the field on Saturdays in a Big 10 game, I have taken some things that I’ve seen live and tried to put those in our program.”

As he’s built the program through the past 12 years, Mahoney said surrounding himself with high quality people has been a key to his sustained success, reaching state four times.

He said being named coach of the year wasn’t about him, but the people around him.

“I think the biggest thing about the award is it’s not about me,” Mahoney said. “It’s about our coaches and our players and our community. Our community is fantastic and they have always supported Fairmont football. When we were up in U.S. Bank with all the ‘Fight On’ shirts, it’s just awesome to see. The support throughout the entire year was phenomenal.”