Coaching his first game since taking over for Hall-of-Fame legend, Jerry Peterson, a young Jeff Williams and his Huskies promptly lost 48-0 against, ironically, Williams’ alma mater, Rochester John Marshall in the fall of 1996.
In a contrary premonition of things to come, Williams and his staff quickly proved that the result against the Rockets would become the overwhelming exception, not the rule. The Huskies defeated Winona the next week, giving Williams his first victory in a career that would one day ascend to heights achieved by few in his profession.
Twenty-three years, 179 wins, three state championships, six section titles and 10 conference/district championships later, Williams now sits atop the all-time list in career wins at Owatonna High School and in the Big Nine Conference/Big Southeast District with 180 after Friday’s 44-0 drubbing of Mankato East.
Caught squarely in the thick of another undefeated season and gazing at a section tournament that starts in just two weeks, Williams hasn’t spent much time reflecting on the prestigious accomplishment, but did have a few things to say about the people that have helped make his incredible two-decade career possible.
“Well, a little bit,” Williams said on Friday night when asked if he’s had time to think about the milestone. “First of all, it is really, really important to say that we have had a staff that has been together forever. Coach (Marc) Achterkirch has been on staff since 1995; coach (Doug) Wanous since ’93’ coach (Marc) Wiese since ’95; (Jerry) Eggermont since ’99. I mean, the list does on. This group has been together for so long and when I look at the staffs that have gotten to these kinds of numbers, they have been great staffs. You know, the head coach gets his name on the record, but it has been great staffs that have achieved this kind of stuff.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Williams has a direct connection to the three winningest coaches in Big Nine Conference/Big Southeast District history. The third individual on the list, John Drews, was his high school coach at John Marshall from 1979 to 1983 while Peterson was the head coach during his tenure as an OHS assistant from 1989-1995.
“That’s satisfying, and very rewarding,” Williams said. “Because we have worked so hard together as a group on how to do it the right way, and we couldn’t have done it without every single one of these guys. It is an unbelievable staff. I see this as a staff accomplishment, not an individual one.”
Throughout his career, Williams has always seemed to outpace the competition and remain one step ahead of his contemporaries, never shying away from making drastic changes to his offensive philosophy in the name of winning.
After taking over and initially utilizing Peterson’s Wing-T system, Williams made his first modification when he implemented to the Double-Wing, a scheme he maintained until around 2011 when he took a major left turn and began migrating away from the shoulder-to-shoulder, run-heavy schemes in favor of the the wide-open, pass-happy spread formation. Since then, he’s guided the Huskies to five section titles, four state championship games and three Prep Bowl victories (2013, 2017, 2018).
Despite leaving an indelible mark on the Owatonna program — and earning the reputation as one of the brightest offensive minds in the state — Williams hesitated when asked to reflect on the point when he finally felt like he made his own mark on the OHS program.
“Quite frankly I don’t know if I ever will feel that way,” he said. “Because so much of our core is stuff we picked up from Jerry and I see us as a group that has evolved from there. And just when you think when you have it nailed down, then someone comes up with a better idea and stops you and you have to go find something new.”
Williams’ two sons are both a part of the current Owatonna team, Matt senior receiver and Nick a sophomore fullback. When Nick graduates in May of 2022, coach Williams will most certainly re-evaluate his immediate future with the program, but until then, he has an ultra-talented and motivated team to lead and a section championship to win. The Huskies are undefeated, ranked No. 1 in the state and have added seven wins to the team’s current 26-game winning streak.
If the Huskies make it to state this fall, Williams has proven he can go toe-to-toe with any program in Class 5A. He’s defeated three different teams in the state championship game and is 11-2 in contests against schools from outside the Big Southeast District since 2012.