Athletic profile: Coach Dan McLaughlin

Nathan Pearson and Austin Gubbels

Sports have always been a big part of Dan McLaughlin’s life. Ever since McLaughlin can remember, he has either been throwing a football, shooting a basketball or running around a track.

Currently the Wayne State head football coach, McLaughlin has taken a unique path to where he is now.

McLaughlin’s story begins in the tiny town of Sheridan, Montana. where he excelled in football, basketball, and track.

“My high school coach, Larry Kieckbusch, inspired me more than anyone else,” McLaughlin said. “He coached all three of our sports—football, basketball and track, with no assistants.”

A lack of coaches didn’t seem hurt Sheridan’s prospects at sports. McLaughlin recalled that Kieckbusch was able to lead any team to success, even if he didn’t seem qualified. Kieckbusch, a former discus thrower, coached McLaughlin to a state track title in the mile relay.

McLaughlin was a dominant athlete in all three sports he played, but he saw basketball as his future. His dream was to play college basketball on scholarship.

“I was really good at football, but it was just too rough,” McLaughlin said. “I was really good at running—a state champion, but I just didn’t like running. Running is punishment in any other sport.”

But no one wanted McLaughlin at the college level. When he joined the United States Air Force fresh out of high school, it looked like his dream of playing college basketball might never come true.

You could take McLaughlin out of sports, but you just couldn’t take sports out of McLaughlin. The former high school star found himself playing basketball at every base he went to. It was at that time he stumbled upon his love for coaching.

“I was stationed over in Greece and I found out they were starting a junior high football team and were looking for a coach,” McLaughlin said. “I lied, saying I had coached before, and they gave me the job. It was a blast; that’s when I got the coaching bug.”

McLaughlin considers himself a basketball player, but a football coach.

“Basketball is a player’s game,” McLaughlin said. “Football is a coach’s game. A football coach has much more control over the outcome of a game during the game. Football coaching is like a chess match. I get to reset my formation every 30 seconds.”

So, when McLaughlin left the Air Force he had two goals: play college basketball and coach football.

McLaughlin was able to fulfill his childhood dream and played basketball for Bellevue College just outside of Omaha, while coaching JV football at Omaha Westside High School at the same time. From there he worked his way through the ranks and took head coaching jobs at Broken Bow, Norfolk and Millard West.

McLaughlin is believed to be the only high school coach in Nebraska football history to win state championships with three different teams.

On Dec. 9, 2004, McLaughlin was named the head coach of the Wildcats, and since that time he has racked up more wins than any other coach in school history. He has an overall record of 72-73 and is the second-longest tenured coach in school history.

“What I love most about coaching,” McLaughlin said, “is to see a player execute what I taught them. That makes me feel awesome.”

Dan is married to his wife, Nadine, and has been for 37 years. They have two sons: Sean is 35 and is a history teacher and assistant football coach at Papillion La Vista South High School in Omaha.

Sean is married and has a son named Miles who will be turning 2 shortly, and a new daughter named Maci who is only a month old.

Scott, his other son, is 34 and is his assistant coach at Wayne State College. Scott has two sons, 4, and Noah, 2.

Dan loves his grandchildren very much and thinks they are awesome. Coach’s dream now: “To be at his granddaughter’s wedding.”