Changing of the guard

Former assistant coach Jimmy Rogers replaces John Stiegelmeier, becomes 21st head coach in Jackrabbit history

Skyler Jackson, Co-Sports Editor (He/Him)

For the first time in more than a quarter century, there will be a change of head coach for South Dakota State football.

Former assistant coach and defensive coordinator Jimmy Rogers was named the 21st head coach in Jackrabbit history Friday, following the retirement of John Stiegelmeier after 26 years as SDSU’s coach.

“I am extremely proud to be the next head football coach at South Dakota State,” Rogers said. “At 17 years old, South Dakota State wasn’t a dream of mine, but 17 years later I can proudly say that my reality has become a dream because of the people that have been in my life, the relationships I’ve built, the mentors I’ve had and the friendships that will last a lifetime.”

Rogers takes over a program coming off a 14-1 season and its first FCS national championship, a 45-21 beatdown of North Dakota State in the title game Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas. Safeties coach Jesse Bobbit will take over as defensive coordinator.

The 2022 season was Rogers’ first as sole defensive coordinator, having previously shared the position with Brian Bergstrom. When Bergstrom left SDSU to be the head coach at Winona State, Rogers took over the defense.

Last year, Rogers helped the Jackrabbit defense lead the nation in rush defense (88.1 yards per game) and interceptions (18) and finish third in scoring defense (15.8 points per game). That year, he was named FCS Coordinator of the Year.

And despite Stiegelmeier retiring, Rogers and the football program are determined to maintain SDSU’s success.

“The 2022 season was one I’ll cherish forever. In the playoffs, we dominated our opponent 168 points to 66 and we beat every team in the playoffs by more than 21 points,” Rogers said. “But we’re not done. That’s what I want to make sure everybody understands is that we’re building…if you know me at all, I am not settling on one.”

Rogers, 34, played under Stiegelmeier from 2006-2009 as a linebacker, where he was a two-time all-conference selection and was a captain on SDSU’s first FCS playoff team in 2009. He became a graduate assistant for two seasons before leaving SDSU to coach in Florida. In 2013, he returned to his alma mater to coach the linebackers.

For the next six seasons, Rogers continued his reign as linebackers coach as the SDSU defense consistently became one of the best in the country. In 2019, he added the role of co-defensive coordinator and continued to help the Jackrabbit defense improve to one of the best in the FCS.

His experience and his passion are two reasons why Athletic Director Justin Sell is comfortable in handing over the coaching duties to Rogers.

“He’s a lifelong learner, he wants to continue to grow and learn,” Sell said. “He is absolutely the perfect person to keep the culture that we have here but to modernize it. To win a second (national championship) is going to be way harder than winning the first, and he’s exactly the type of person that can help us accomplish those goals.”

Replacing Stiegelmeier could be a difficult task because of the legacy he built. He became SDSU’s head coach at a time when they were still a Division II program with only one playoff appearance in its history (1979).

Stiegelmeier oversaw his alma mater’s transition to Division I, a move that was criticized by many at the time. Since then, he built the Jackrabbits into a championship contender, eventually leading the team to the national title.

But Sell said that Stiegelmeier’s accomplishments go beyond the football field.

“His accomplishments aren’t winning and losing, they aren’t the trophies and they aren’t the individual accolades,” Sell said. But it’s rather how he made us feel all the time and his never-ending love for his family and for the Jackrabbits.”

When Rogers first visited SDSU 17 years ago, it was an experience that changed his life. It was then that Stiegelmeier said he believed in Rogers before offering him a scholarship. Ever since then, Rogers has remained committed to the program as he looks to continue the legacy Stiegelmeier started.

“I want to win, don’t get me wrong, I do,” Rogers said. “But the real purpose of competition isn’t just to win, it’s to test the limits of the human heart and to push yourself beyond the boundaries of who you are. I plan to do that, and next fall you’ll see a spirited team.”