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After nearly 2 decades away from football, Jeff Wettach returns to help alma mater Luther

Aaron Hafner enlists track and field coach for secondary help

DECORAH — Jeff Wettach won’t be at Luther College’s season-opening football game Saturday afternoon, though he’s got a really good reason.

The assistant coach’s son, Sam, is getting married.

Luther and Wisconsin-La Crosse kickoff at 1 p.m. at Luther’s Carlson Stadium, the wedding (which is just outside Decorah) isn’t until 4, so Wettach toyed with the idea of being with his players pregame and for a bit of the first quarter. Sam Wettach played for the Norse, so he’d understand.

But there’s no need in upsetting his soon-to-be daughter-in-law, let alone his wife. Even though it was Barb Wettach who was the one who gave the final push to get him back into football coaching after an 18-year hiatus.

“When I was contemplating this, (head coach) Aaron (Hafner) said ‘The biggest thing is you make sure you ask your wife first,’” Wettach said. “So I did, and she said ‘I think you should do it.” I was surprised.”

Wettach is Luther College, through and through.

He’s an alum who was on the school’s 1978 Iowa Conference championship team. An assistant professor in the health and physical education department, he has been head women’s track and field coach for 30 years, men’s and women’s head coach for 10.

He was defensive backs coach for the football program from 1985 to 1996 before stepping away. When there was a need last year at that position, Hafner gave him a call.

“It was close to the season starting, late summer, in August,” Wettach said. “He told me they had a guy fall through and wondered if I could help them out ... I was like ‘Wow, I’ve been out of football for 18 years.’”

But he wasn’t going to say no, especially when his wife gave her approval.

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“Everything just happened so fast,” he said. “I told Aaron ‘If you think I can help, can help in some small way, I’ll do it.’”

It has been a learning experience for Wettach as much as it has been for Luther’s players. He said it’s amazing how much the game has changed in the nearly two decades he was away.

The patience and teaching of defensive coordinator Caleb Padilla have been godsends for him, Wettach said.

“One of the reasons I wanted to do it is the quality of this coaching staff,” he said. “They are just quality people.”

Wettach doesn’t get paid for his time and can’t recruit, per NCAA regulations. He simply wants to be part of what he thinks is going to be a turnaround of the program.

Luther was 4-6 last season, but Hafner said he is excited that players he recruited to fit his system are in their second and third seasons. The fourth-year coach runs a triple-option style offense that has set school rushing records.

“Jeff Wettach has had a huge impact on me as a coach,” Hafner said. “He is such a great guy, so good for our kids. He brings a positive vibe to practice every day. I’m 42 years old and the oldest guy on our staff. We did not have that veteran presence that you need and that Jeff provides.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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