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John’s Journal: Grand Meadow’s Sloan Steps Down

Coach Led Superlarks To Four Nine-Man Football Titles

Posted: Monday, November 1, 2021 - 3:09 PM


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Grand Meadow football coach Gary Sloan (Andrew Link/Rochester Post Bulletin).

Gary Sloan wasn’t going to let Covid-19 run the show. After nearly three decades as the head football coach at Grand Meadow, Sloan wanted to step away on his own terms, not the pandemic’s.

He had considered leaving after the 2020 season, which was batted around by Covid and ended without a state tournament. That was no way to end his illustrious career.

“I almost did this last year,” Sloan said Monday. “I didn’t because of Covid. I didn’t want to go out like that.”

He knew before the 2021 season that it would be his last; he told the players of his plans over the summer and the boys kept the secret. The news came out Sunday when two of his sisters and his daughter Allie posted notes on Facebook after the Superlarks lost to LeRoy-Ostrander in Saturday’s Nine-Man Section 1 semifinals.

Historically speaking, a season ending in the section semifinals has been a rarity. Sloan and his assistant coaches, many of them former Superlarks players, built Grand Meadow into one of Minnesota’s Nine-Man football powerhouses.

He was an assistant coach at Grand Meadow for seven years before becoming head coach. Under head coach Jerry Reker, Grand Meadow went to state for the first time in 1986 and was the Class C state runner-up in 1987. With Sloan at the helm, the Superlarks went to state in 1997 and 2009, finished as the Nine-Man state runner-up in 2012 and won four consecutive state titles from 2013 through 2016. They also went to state in 2019.

Asked about his memories, however, Sloan didn’t mention state championships or big wins. He talked about the important people in his life: the players.

“The games are fun but I’ve built so many relationships with kids,” he said, “and a lot of those kids now are 35 or 40 years old. A handful of them still call me coach.”

Grand Meadow had a record of 230-84 in Sloan’s 29 seasons as head coach. At 59 years old, he will continue to serve as the school’s athletic director and transportation director. He will retire as a special education teacher at the end of the school year.

The small town of Grand Meadow – 25 miles south of Rochester – gathers together when the Superlarks play. Residents whose homes back up to the football field watch the action from their decks. Coveted “luxury boxes” in the multi-level press box are claimed via raffle, and a couch behind one end zone has been another coveted spot to view the action.

Sloan, a native of Ellendale, Minnesota, and graduate of Winona State University, was named coach of the year by the Minnesota Football Coaches Association in 2015. His sons Trevor and Tyler played football for their dad and Tyler has worked as one of Gary’s assistant coaches.

Earning two degrees – in special education and physical education – required two extra quarters of college, so he graduated from Winona State on a Friday in 1985 and began working as a long-term substitute teacher in Grand Meadow the following Monday.

This season, Grand Meadow lost to Lanesboro (top ranked in Nine-Man) in the season opener and ran off eight wins before the season-ending 39-34 loss at home to LeRoy-Ostrander. The Superlarks had defeated LeRoy-Ostrander 20-17 in Week 4 of the regular season. Lanesboro and LeRoy-Ostrander will meet in the Section 1 championship game on Friday in Dodge Center.

“Gary’s teams were always prepared,” said LeRoy-Ostrander’s Trevor Carrier, the last coach to face one of Sloan’s teams. “They were sound defensively, they were disciplined, they tackle, they block. They do those things well all the time and they seldom beat themselves. They’ve been in the section title game a billion times. This isn’t Eden Prairie; to do it year in and year out in small-town America is phenomenal.

“We have nothing but respect for what he’s done and the great things he’s brought to Section 1 Nine-Man football. If you can get through Section 1 you have a shot (at a state championship).”

Sloan certainly remembers the state championship seasons, along with the experiences that were part of the ride.

“We got to travel and play in so many locations, at different colleges, practices in bubbles at Minnetonka and Wayzata and Rosemount and Hamline. Just the traveling, going out to eat and all that stuff. Grand Meadow is very much a football town, and the support the community has always given us was really something. It’s pretty cool when the road team brings more fans than the home team does, and that’s happened over the years.”

One of the best rivalries in all levels of Minnesota high school football has been between Grand Meadow and Spring Grove. The Superlarks defeated the Lions in section play en route to their four consecutive state titles, and Spring Grove was the Nine-Man state champ the following two years.

Sloan remembers playoff games at Spring Grove, with charter buses of Grand Meadow fans making the 60-mile drive, when the crowd noise was so loud that it was difficult for him to yell a play call directly into his quarterback’s ear.

“We had so many good games with Spring Grove, and we won some and lost some,” Sloan said. “We played each other two times a year for something like six years in a row. Those games really stand out to me. And we played Underwood (at state) for three years in a row. They really stand out. I think the biggest games, the ones that mean the most to me, were when we were the underdogs but we were able to win. I guess I don’t like people telling us what you can’t do.”

Sloan’s phone was buzzing and ringing with abandon after news of his retirement broke. He heard from former players as well as opposing coaches, “which was pretty cool.”

He doesn’t hunt or fish and is a self-proclaimed so-so golfer. He’s never played much golf in the fall but that will change. He has a bus driver’s license, so folks around Grand Meadow may see him behind the wheel in that role.

“I’m gonna miss it, I know that,” Sloan said of coaching. “It’s just time.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at jmillea@mshsl.org 

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Gary Sloan with his children, Trevor, Tyler and Allie.


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