It was either the oil fields of western North Dakota or the practice fields of Wadena-Deer Creek.
Howie Kangas chose to do what he knows best and that’s coach football. On June 18, the Wadena-Deer Creek School Board hired Kangas as the Wolverines’ head football coach.
Kangas coached football for 18 years at Perham where he finished with a 119-65 record. He guided the Yellowjackets to three state tournaments. His team played in the section championship in each of his final five seasons before he stepped down in 2009. He ended his career with 11 consecutive winning seasons.
He retired as an elementary physical education teacher in Perham last May.
“The school board offered an incentive to anyone that was eligible to retire from Perham,” said Kangas. “I just turned 55 and so combined with the incentives I just thought it was a good time to do something else.
“Well, my wife still currently works and I needed to have a job.”
Kangas completed a three-day camp with his players and liked what he saw. He also saw potential and an eagerness to learn.
W-DC activities director Norm Gallant said there is already a buzz around W-DC concerning the football program.
“Obviously, we’re thrilled to death to get him,” said Gallant. “It’s a big hire for us. The biggest thing with Howie is anyone you talk to it’s all about his character. Not only is he a great coach, but he’s a great person. He treats kids the right way. He coaches kids, not the sport. I feel like our kids are going to have a positive experience.”
Last season, W-DC finished the year 0-9. Since the 2006 season, W-DC has gone 4-51.
Kangas warned that a positive experience doesn’t mean a lot of wins. He hopes by doing the little things right first, the program can build from there.
“We have to make a little bit of progress every day,” said Kangas. “We need to gain some respectability. I don’t want people scheduling us for their homecoming anymore. If we can start by doing the little things right we can make a lot of progress. If you focus on little things that don’t require any specific talent, that can happen. If we can focus on being assignment perfect and playing as hard as we can, we’ll be a competitive team.”
Kangas also used the camp to gauge what type of offense he may run this fall. He wanted to see where his team’s scoring potential was at before he decided.
“Much like basketball, you fill your roster, but only so many people on that roster are going to score,” he said. “I wanted to find out, do we have an exceptional wide receiver? Is our quarterback our strength or do we have a group of good running backs? I did get an idea of what we want to run. There is one advantage to coaching in a rather smaller school and that is you can focus on that very thing instead of trying to run a consistent program where you have the same offense every year. I’m willing to change to score points. I don’t care if we throw the ball or run the ball.”
Kangas’ defensive philosophy is simple. “Get the ball back to the offense.”
As for the upcoming season, Kangas wasn’t sure if the three years out of coaching has refreshed him or not, but he is excited.
“I think that’s one of the things that’s really attractive about football,” Kangas said. “There has never been a season that I wasn’t both excited about it and concerned about it. I have that feeling again and it’s a welcome feeling.”