Todd Hafner Reflects on His Career

by Justin Burtis

Oskaloosa — Entering his 17th year at the helm of the William Penn University football program, Todd Hafner has seen it all over his time at WPU. With a 102-75-1 career record, Hafner helped turn a struggling program into a team that earned respect both on and off. While the head coach is the one talked about the most, Hafner is quick to remind everyone that it is not a one-man job.

“You know, that’s not something that is solely something that I can take credit for,” said Hafner. “Early on, it was about me learning from a couple coaches that were here when I got here. Just kind of learning the ropes more than anything.”

“We were able to do a lot of different things to hire a couple extra staff to help up; we were able to do a lot better with our video equipment and things like that. The school has really allowed us to do the things we need to do to be successful.”

While leading the team to some of its more impressive accomplishments in recent times, Coach Hafner has been selected as the Coach of the Year, not only in the Heart of America Athletic Conference North division but also the VSN NAIA Coach of the Year.

“When you get nominated or get selected by your peers as a coach of the year in the conference, that really is a representation of, I mean, the head coach gets the award, but that’s a representation of what the other coaches thought of what you and your staff did with that team,” related Hafner.

“I’ve been selected to be the president of the NAIA football coaches’ association. That is a pretty cool deal, you know, to be the representative of all the football coaches in the NAIA, that was pretty neat. But, again, those are all things that you get because, you know, you have great staff, great administration, great players, and they allow you to be put in a position to accept roles like that.”

There have certainly been highs and lows for the skipper of the team. Winning and losing seasons have come and gone, two players (Andy Stokes and Damon Harrison) both made it to the NFL, and a large number of student-athletes have passed through the locker rooms and hallways of WPU. Yet Coach Hafner continues to focus on the person’s development despite whatever may happen during the year or once they graduate.
“When we get to talk to the seniors, as they are getting ready to play their last game, that’s probably one of the most emotional times for us. Because they get to see us at a different level, they get to see the emotion…. that’s the time when they hug us and say thank you for everything that we’ve done our job.”
“The more the kids take to the way we’re teaching, the better our team is going to be, and the more successful they will be when they’re done.”

“It’s sometimes hard for an 18, 19, or 20-year-old young man to understand that we’re not just telling them or asking them to do things because we just want to see them do it. We’re asking them to do things to better themselves, so when they’re playing the game or when they’re going to class, or when they’re done with school, we’re giving them a chance to be successful in whatever they want to do. They are going to need this life experience that they’re learning through football to be successful in whatever they want to do.”

That mentality comes from many years of coaching and playing football. Quarterback of his high school team, under the tutelage of his father, he would get on the field for Pittsburg State University before an injury forced him to the sidelines. However, it was there that he gained valuable experience as a student coach as the Gorillas won a NCAA Division II title and a runner-up finish.

“I knew early on that (coaching) is what I wanted to do. My dad coached basically my whole life, so I got to see how that whole thing worked and knew that in order to be a coach, I probably needed to get my teaching degree.”

“I just had a great experience there (at Pittsburg State) and was able to take a lot of what I learned there into my coaching career. It was a lot about discipline; it was a lot about life. Less about the x’s and o’s than it was about teaching kids how to do the right thing, being a good person, and being prepared to be a successful member of society when you are done.”

With a degree in math and minor in coaching achieved in college, Hafner would go out into the coaching world, where he would push through the ranks, working at both colleges and high schools, until he heard about the job at William Penn.

“When the job happened to come open, I just talked to (wife) Mandy and talked to my dad and, I knew that William Penn was in a rough spot. They had been in a rough spot for a while, and I talked to my dad about it.”
“After talking to him, talking to Mandy some more, and a few prayers, we decided that this is where we needed to be.”

Eventually signing on, Hafner returned to his place of birth and has not looked back since. While 17 years would wear down some, Coach Hafner has not lost the competitive spirit that has got him this far.
“I know that I am not going to coach forever, and I’m okay with that. But I’m a long way from being ready to be done. I still have the fire that burns.”
“A former player texted me and asked me if I was ready for the season. I said I haven’t been this ready for a season since I can remember.”

It has been since November that Coach Hafner and company have hit the field with spring ball canceled. They are all itching to get back out and hit the gridiron, and with the current NAIA and Heart plan, the season will commence on schedule. With player safety the top priority, practices will start in August, and the nine-game season will begin in September.

“We are excited. There’s just an excitement around the office right now just to have our kids back and to be able to know that we’re going to play football.”

The team will start away against MidAmerica Nazarene on September 12, while the home opener will be September 19 against Baker.

“We’re going to try to get off to a really good start, and hopefully we can put ourselves in a position to go win a conference championship.”

Posted by on Jul 29 2020. Filed under College Sports, Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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