Tribune Notebook: NLS football coach is a hall-of-famer

Apr. 12—NEW LONDON — Perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Dan Essler's coaching career occurred recently when the former New London-Spicer head coach was inducted into the Minnesota Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

"It's a great honor, very cool," Essler said.

Essler was a football coach at New London-Spicer for 31 years, becoming the head coach in 2000. He led the Wildcats to a state championship in 2009 and his teams finished second in the state in 2013 and '14 before he retired after the '21 season. He also was a long-time track and field coach and is still a volunteer assistant for the football program.

"I would say I had tremendous support from an outstanding coaching staff and outstanding parents and players over the years," said Essler, who noted that he only had two issues in his 31 years. One was over playing time. The other was over statistical records.

"I've been very lucky," he said.

He credited former New London-Spicer football coach Lou Pirrotta with being an excellent mentor, as well as "five or six coaches and ADs I had at Brooten," he said. Essler is a 1981 Brooten graduate.

"Besides the X's and O's, Lou had a way of treating people," Essler said. "He was such a nice, kind guy."

Essler was inducted in the 60th Annual Football Hall of Fame Banquet on April 6 at the Doubletree Suites in St. Louis Park with Albany's Mike Kleinschmidt, Caledona's Carl Fruechte, Browerville's Wayne 'Ribsy' Petermeier and Owatonna's Jeff Williams.

Essler said he kept his acceptance speech to "about three minutes," and that most of it was about thanking his many coaches, plus the parents, athletic directors and players he was fortunate to work with.

"I was really thankful for the top-notch staff I had and thankful for the community and parents for being so supportive," he said. "I was really just one of eight or nine coaches we had. The assistants are what really made the program."

Essler retired as head coach with a career 133-83 record, which came after a 3-21 start in his first three seasons. He's a Minnesota State-Fergus Falls and Minnesota State-Moorhead graduate. He played football and baseball at Fergus Falls after a standout career at Brooten. He began his football coaching career at Ridgewater College in 1986, coaching defensive backs.

He then was an assistant wrestling and head track coach at Brooten and Belgrade/Brooten before moving to New London-Spicer in 1989.

While head coach, New London-Spicer made the state tournament five times. And, he was a part of the 2022 state championship team as a volunteer defensive assistant. That team was led by Chad Gustafson, who was one of Essler's long-time assistants. Gustafson retired after the 2023 season and is being replaced by Ben Westby, a 1998 New London-Spicer graduate.

He also helps out at home track meets and his wife, Margaret, just wrapped up her 38th season as an assistant girls basketball coach to Mike Dreier.

Their two sons, Jake and Adam, were also heavily decorated multi-sport athletes at New London-Spicer. Each played football at St. John's University. Jake is now a full-time scout for the Minnesota Vikings, whose territory includes a good chunk of the eastern seaboard, from Maine to Virginia and including Pennsylvannia.

Son Adam lives in Austin, Texas, and is in business software sales for Oracle. Dan Essler said the after-banquet gathering included multiple questions to Jake about the Vikings' draft options. "Who are we taking at quarterback?" Dan Essler said was the brunt of the conversation.

The answer? "He was tight-lipped," Dan Essler said.

The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame is looking for nominations for its 2024 induction class. Nominations are being sought for hall of fame and for the Glenn Carlson Distinguished Service Award.

The hall of fame is looking for someone who not only dominated while playing ball for their hometown, but also sold tickets, mowed the grass or did fundraising for the local club. Past experience as a coach or organizer in every aspect of the game are who the hall of fame is looking for.

The Glen Carlson award is for people who did not play the game, but made a significant to the contribution to the game, either as a volunteer, or behind-the-scenes person, or as a media member.

Information on how to nominate someone can be found on-line at or contact John George, the Hall of Fame Museum Director in St. Cloud, at or call 218-298-0434.

Nominations will be accepted through June 1. Nominees chosen for induction will be celebrated at the annual banquet set for Sept. 21, 2004 at Rivers Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud. The Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of fame Museum is located there.