Over time, retired SDSU farm boy-coach-preacher Stig will prove his toiling in the soil and on the gridiron will amount to way more than a hill of beans in this crazy world

By Louis Hoglund

Imagine: A football team, in the heat of battle on the gridiron, and no profanity or swearing. 

That’s the way it was, at South Dakota State University—for about a quarter-century. 

“You did it your way, Coach Stig—no cursing, no antics…no ragging on players …” is how one commentator described the retired SDSU Jackrabbits football coach. 

Just say “Stig,” and all of South Dakota knows who you’re talking about—even the four stone-faced guys on Mount Rushmore, if they were animated enough to acknowledge it. Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Abe Lincoln, and Jefferson wouldn’t dare utter a cuss word around Stig’s home state. 

Fans, players, and even sportswriters just call him Stig—mainly because they never figured out how to spell John Stiegelmeier. Except maybe on the SDSU campus; Stiegelmeier doesn’t come up on computer spell-checks. 

For the second time in five years, Stig spoke in Pelican Rapids, March 19; hosted by the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes. 

A church-going farm kid from Selby, South 

Dakota (population 600), Stig said Pelican Rapids is a “big town” from where he comes. 

“I’m proud of being a farm boy,” said Stig. “I love farming and agriculture—but I’m a coach.”

That he was. 

“But I’m not just a coach; I’m a Christian,” he emphasizes.

A humble country kid, Stig insisted—several times during his Pelican presentation: “It’s not about me.”

“I don’t take the credit. It’s not about me. It’s about living a life with Christ.”

A rare “home state boy” who rose through the SDSU ranks from student to assistant to head coach, it is hardly an overstatement to call him a South Dakota legend. In the big business of big-league college sports, head coaches are imported, hired, and fired at will. But Stig worked essentially a full career at one school, and retired on top after a 45-21 victory over the rival NDSU Bison, in January 2023. 

We weren’t on the sidelines for SDSU’s historic victory, but if there was any cursing and cussing going on during the clash, it wouldn’t have been coming from the Jackrabbit bench.

“We don’t use profanity on the football field,” said Stig. Which is odd, when you think about it. He recruited athletes from some of the toughest urban neighborhoods in the nation. Said one young recruit to Stig: “We use that kind of language around the kitchen table in my neighborhood.”

Retirement means the farm boy will have plenty of time to tend to his big garden. 

His rows of “green bean hedges” were the thrust of his inspirational message in Pelican.

He likened his bean rows to his career. As he forages for beans, he looks back as he harvests—and sees the seeds he planted, and the “crop” he produced, much like the athletes and young people he influenced across his career. 

Pelican Rapids and lakes area residents greeted “Coach Stig” March 19, including Pelican coach-educator Ryan Syverson.

“As I plod along on my faith journey, I look back and see the hand of God,” said Stig to an audience of more than 100 at the Pelican Fine Arts Auditorium. 

He urged those in attendance to “look back…and think about who is in your bean row.” As with crops, you plant a seed, you fertilize the seed, and you change lives, said Stig.

A guy who hosted chapel, devotions, and prayer sessions with his coaches and athletes, Stig witnessed his faith for more than 35 years. About half of the guys had barely picked up a Bible, let alone attended church.

And—he was quite public about his Christian missionary work. 

“Sanctity of Life” is a cornerstone for Stig, and he is vocal with his anti-abortion views—including a plea to Pelican listeners to “keep fighting for the..value of life.” 

At a state university, with political correctness and academic secularism everywhere—and a generally understood “separation” of school and sport and religion—Stig was something of a rebel. 

At least two university administrators challenged Stig during his career. 

“Take out all that spiritual stuff,” said one administrator. “We’re risking a lawsuit.”

“About that Christian chapel before games…if you do that again, I’m going to fire you,” said another. 

Instead, Stig went home and prayed—not for himself, but for the administrators. 

Somehow, evidently by the grace of God, South Dakota State’s powers just…sort of…forgot…or accidentally overlooked… Stig’s “preacher-man” characteristics. So, he continued—mostly unbridled—right through to a national championship in 2023.

Frankly, Stig didn’t give a damn how the bureaucratic scholars viewed his Christian missionary work. He wasn’t thinking “damn”…probably. But it’s safe to say Stig didn’t give a hoot. 

So, in the politically correct environment of today, especially in the world of academia, it is not at all overstatement to suggest: There may never, ever be another Coach Stig.

When asked about the future of a strong faith component in the SDSU football program, Stig himself seemed to be losing his faith. Or at least some of it. He hesitated. Stig didn’t really answer the question. He just shook his head ever-so-slightly, with an uncertain expression on his face, and doubt in his eyes.

So be it. 

Stig already cultivated, planted, and nourished his row of beans. And the fruits of his labor will continue to sprout, generation after generation. 

Perhaps, into perpetuity.