There was no reason to believe that Mel Tjeerdsma would experience success when he arrived as football coach at Northwest Missouri State University. He went 0-11 in 1994, his first season in Maryville.
Four years later, Tjeerdsma was hoisting the National Championship trophy after an 11-0 season. Now a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, the coach succeeded in changing the expectations in a program that had not previously experienced a winning culture.
So it’s appropriate that Tjeerdsma was a featured speaker at a recent leadership seminar in St. Joseph, a city that has a ways to go before it achieves an 11-0 feeling. After a census update revealed population loss in the last decade, it would seem that St. Joseph needs a Tjeerdsma-like figure to spark a turnaround.
An entity called the Joseph Company believes that coaching and broader community leadership are not that different.
Back in 2014, the 3D Institute was launched with the fairly straightforward goal of making coaches better. The training framework acknowledges that coaches play a central role in getting young people to excel not just on the field but in the classroom and life.
In St. Joseph, the training was expanded recently to include teachers, staff and school administrators. The St. Joseph School District is committed enough to sink considerable professional development dollars into 3D training, a three-year commitment.
The Joseph Company, a nonprofit entity created through the 3D Institute, has bigger plans beyond coaching and schools. It seeks to use the 3D concept to train leaders to change the culture, expectations and direction of St. Joseph. It believes that change starts with leadership.
Some will scoff. Indeed, even the most devoted believers should be prepared to acknowledge that turning around a Division II football program is a simple task compared to the reversal of fortune in a city of 74,000.
When he arrived on campus, Tjeerdsma’s concerns must have been fairly self-contained: Get better facilities, get better players and lead them. In St. Joseph, future leaders will encounter more sprawling problems of schools in need of improvements, poverty, crime, deteriorating infrastructure, resistance to change and the blessing and curse of a larger metro area 45 miles to the south.
It will take a lot of Tjeerdsmas and a lot of patience. The best thing the Joseph Company can do is to acknowledge that.
But St. Joseph really needs an effort like this to work, to catapult the city out of its current malaise of low expectations and self-doubt. The best the community can do is give the Joseph Company and its big ambitions a chance.