Joe Joran planned to coach Eagan girls golf for five years. It turned into 30.
First, a clarification: Joe Joran is not – repeat, not – leaving coaching altogether.
If Minnesota high schools are allowed to have a football season this fall, Joran expects to be back at Apple Valley, coaching the outside linebackers.
“I love football. Absolutely love it,” Joran said. “It’s in my blood and always has been. My goal is to coach 50 years.”
He has five years to go. And if he reaches the benchmark, feels good and still has a passion for the game, Joran said he might keep going.
At the same time, he was ready to step back from another coaching endeavor. That’s why, for the first time in 30 years and only the second time in its history, Eagan needed to find a varsity girls golf coach. After starting the program from scratch in 1990, Joran had decided 2020 would be his last season. The coronavirus pandemic ended the season before it started.
Eagan already has hired a successor. Nathan Dunn, an EHS graduate and an assistant girls golf coach the last seven years, will take over as head coach.
The Wildcats hoped to have a strong 2020 season to send Joran out the right way, but that wasn’t possible. They expected to have a competitive team with a bona-fide No. 1 player in Josalynn Abbott, who finished seventh in last year’s state Class 3A tournament and will play in college at North Dakota.
“I definitely feel bad about that,” Joran said. “We had some returning seniors who are solid players, especially Josalynn. I don’t know if we would have won our conference or section, but I think we would have finished in the top two or three.”
He is in the athletic hall of fame at Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin. He played four sports there, none of which was golf. So of course there’s a story about how he wound up as a golf coach.
He had been at Apple Valley High School for 10 years, teaching business education and coaching football, girls basketball and boys tennis. By 1990, Joran was on the faculty at the new Eagan High School, which was filling out its coaching roster.
“There were two jobs nobody wanted – head girls tennis and head girls golf,” Joran recalled. “Eventually, they found somebody for the tennis job. Scott Larson was our athletic director and he said, ‘Joe, how about if you take (girls golf) for five years and get the program on solid footing?’
“Five years turned into 30.”
It was a long, slow climb for the Wildcats. Joran said it took seven years before an Eagan player broke 100 in varsity competition. A tournament in his first season provided a light bulb moment.
“We shot something like 465 and were 40 strokes behind the team that finished one spot ahead of us,” Joran said. “That was back when you couldn’t coach on the course so I just walked around so see what the players on the other teams were doing better. It seemed like we were taking a lot more strokes on and around the greens. From Year 2 to Year 30, I emphasized the short game.”
The quality of play improved, producing Division I players such as JoAnna Smith and Abbott. Families got involved. Two Eagan families had three daughters that played for Joran’s teams. Then there were the Peterson sisters, Tabitha and Tara, who switched sports following their high school golf careers and in February were on the winning women’s team at the 2020 USA Curling Championships (Tabitha also competed in the 2018 Olympics).
Parents were supportive and heavily involved. Ed Drenttel, who had three daughters play for Joran, took on a director of operations role for the team. He also had a simulator at his home that the players could use whenever they needed.
Maintaining the talent pipeline became tougher as golf courses closed in Eagan – Carriage Hills in 2005, followed by Parkview eight years later. Losing Parkview was especially difficult, Joran said, because it was a beginner-friendly course with a practice range located in Eagan’s residential center. The only golf course remaining in Eagan is Lost Spur, a nine-hole layout in the northwest corner of the city.
Joran coached girls track and field at Rapid River, Michigan, for one year, then went to Jasper/Pipestone, where he was a basketball and football coach. After coming to District 196 in 1980, he taught and coached at Apple Valley for 10 years before going to Eagan, where he coached football, boys basketball and girls golf. He switched from business education to physical education before retiring from teaching after the 2013-14 school year.
He said he promised his wife he would step down from coaching golf after his 30th season. He stopped coaching basketball so he and his wife could travel in the winter. Their two sons, Paul and John, are EHS graduates.
But he can’t step away from football, not yet. Joran said Apple Valley has some good players in the linebacker group he coaches. Going to Class 5A also has been good for Apple Valley, which has reached the state playoffs three times since moving down one enrollment class.
“This fall, when I do football, it will be the 126th team I’ve coached,” he said.
The 2024 football season will be his 50th year. “I’ll be there,” Joran said, “if I live long enough.”