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John’s Journal: National Honor For Becker’s Lundeen

53-Year Football Coach Named Power Of Influence Winner

Posted: Sunday, January 8, 2023 - 5:15 PM


In 2009, I wrote a profile of Becker football coach Dwight Lundeen. The main headline read: “Power of positive coaching.” All these years later, Lundeen has received a major national honor carrying similar phrasing.

Dwight Lundeen felt humbled upon learning in early December that he had been named the Power of Influence Award winner for the Midwest region of the nation by the American Football Coaches Association. He was among five high school football coaches to receive regional honors.

On Sunday, at the AFCA convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, Lundeen received the highest honor the group confers when he was named the national winner of the Power of Influence Award.

He is the third Minnesota high school coach to receive this honor. Ron Stolski of Brainerd was the recipient in 2005 and Dave Nelson of Minnetonka was the winner in 2019. Stolski and Nelson are retired from coaching, while Lundeen has expressed no intentions of leaving coaching.

“You do the things you do, you enjoy it, which I do, " he said. "It seems like something I should stick with. I do the things I can really enjoy and feel that they’re really impactful. That’s a good feeling, to do something that’s meaningful. The Lord put me here for a short time and there’s no reason to do other things."

Lundeen, who traveled to Charlotte with his wife Pam, was one of five regional Power of Influence Award winners. The others were Jim Kelliher of Abington (Mass.) High School, Rodney Saulsberry Sr. of Whitehaven (Tenn.) High School, John King of Longview (Tex.) High School, and Todd Sloat of Fall River (Calif.) High School.

The national winner was announced at a banquet on Sunday.

“It was pretty emotional,” Lundeen said. “I was not expecting it. The other four coaches are outstanding, great people with great careers. I was honored and blessed just to be a part of that. They said, 'The winner is Dwight Lundeen' and it really shocked me. They said to walk over here and say a few words. It was quite a ways to the microphone and I needed that time to gather myself.

“This isn’t the ‘Dwight Lundeen award.’ It’s the coaches I have, and they do a tremendous job, it’s the school and all the things they do right. I’m accepting the award on their behalf.”

The Power of Influence Award was created as a way for the AFCA and to honor deserving high school football coaches. Coaches who receive this award are recognized for their impact on their team, as well as the legacy they leave with the school and surrounding community. The award is not based on wins and losses; however, it should be noted that coaches of powerful influence have longevity and success. 

Lundeen certainly fits that mold of longevity and success. Hired as the first head coach of the new Becker football program in 1970, Lundeen has had a remarkably strong impact on countless numbers of people as an educator, administrator and coach.

“My story is that for 53 years, I have chosen to do something I truly love, coach football,” Lundeen said. “As a coach, I strive to make a difference by guiding young men to be better students and role models as well as better husbands, fathers, and community members once they leave our program.”

In his 53 years as head coach, Lundeen has an overall record of 390-166-3 with three state championships, 19 section titles and 24 conference championships. He has served as president and on the executive committee of the Minnesota Football Coaches Association, the Minnesota Interscholastic Activities Administrators Association, and the Minnesota State High School League. Lundeen has been inducted into the National Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2019), Minnesota Activities Directors Hall of Fame (2014), Minnesota High School League Hall of Fame (2014) and the Minnesota Football Coaches Hall of Fame (2009). He is a four-time Minnesota Football Coach of the Year and was named Minnesota Football Coaches Association Man of the Year in 2015.

Lundeen ranks second on the all-time win list of Minnesota high school football coaches. At the top is Verndale’s Mike Mahlen with 426 wins, followed by Lundeen at 390, Stolski at 389 and Eden Prairie’s Mike Grant at 377.

In that 2009 story, Dwight had coached in Becker for 40 years. Thirteen more seasons have passed since then. Here is that story from October 2009…

Power of positive coaching: Dwight Lundeen saw the world as a kid, then settled down as the only head football coach Becker's ever known

Dwight Lundeen doesn't travel like he once did, but that's not surprising considering he has been the football coach at Becker High School for 40 years.

He rides the bus to road games, and on Saturdays, Lundeen and his wife, Pam, usually get in the car to watch Becker graduates play for colleges in Minnesota and surrounding states. The Lundeens raised their three kids in Becker -- their two sons are football coaches -- and they couldn't have asked for a better place to be.

After graduating from St. Cloud State, Lundeen interviewed for a teaching job in Becker. He began working there in 1969, and the school started a football team in 1970. He is the only coach the Bulldogs have ever had.

"I kind of always felt I wanted to be in coaching, but I never imagined being in the same place for 40 years," said Lundeen, 62. "What's best for your family sometimes is to stay put."

Staying put was not part of the plan when Lundeen was a child. His parents were missionaries, and the family lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then called the Belgian Congo and later Zaire), France, Quebec and Vermont when Lundeen was a youth. He was fluent in three languages: English, French and Lingala, which was the largest tribal language in the Belgian Congo.

"Not many people know this," he said. "I can speak Lingala pretty fluently, because that was what I learned as a 3-4-5-year-old."

Lundeen attended five different high schools from seventh to 12th grade. For his junior and senior years of high school, he lived in Cokato, which was the family's true home.

He stayed in Becker partially because his yearn to see the world had been satisfied.

"I think that was part of it," he said. "It was kind of, 'Been there, done that.'"

He has built one of Minnesota's football dynasties. Since 1985 the Bulldogs have made 12 appearances in the state playoffs, advancing to five championship games and winning one title (in 2005). Originally a Nine-Man football team, Becker has risen through the ranks as the community and school enrollment have grown. The Bulldogs are now in Class 4A, the second-largest division.

Since its first winning season in 1977, Becker has finished below .500 only four times.

The Bulldogs will take a 2-3 record into a Mississippi 8 Conference game at Cambridge-Isanti (4-1) on Friday night. The winner of that annual game takes home the Legends Cup, a traveling trophy that honors Lundeen and retired Cambridge-Isanti coach George Larson. Larson is third on the state's career victories list, and Lundeen is No. 6. Lundeen needs three wins to tie retired Stillwater coach George Thole at No. 5.

Lundeen is known for his friendly personality and calm demeanor. At halftime of a 49-14 loss at Totino-Grace two weeks ago -- the score at intermission was 35-0 -- Lundeen never raised his voice while talking to his players. The closest thing to emotion was when he characterized the first half by saying, "My word."

Cambridge-Isanti coach Todd Larkin remembers a game several years ago in which Becker defeated the Bluejackets handily.

"After the game I must have been pretty bewildered, because Dwight called me on Sunday to ask how I was doing," Larkin said. "He told me, 'Stay positive with your kids and remember why you got into coaching.' He's a kind, gentle man."

Lundeen, who worked as a teacher and athletic director, has retired from those positions. He said he takes coaching one year at a time but has no plans to retire as long as he feels he is having a positive impact on his players.

"If I ever sense that I've lost that, I'm out the next day," he said.

One of the candidates to replace him might be his son, Mike, a 1992 Becker grad and former head coach at Milaca who has been a Becker assistant for eight years. The Lundeens' other son, Matt, is the head coach at Redwood Valley. Their daughter, Kristin, teaches in Edina.

"He's the way he's always been," Mike said. "The most emotional I've ever seen him was when we won the state title and he cried a little. He's the same every day whether we win or lose, it's not anything different." .

--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 [email protected] 

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