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Jeff Ferguson watches a replay in the fourth quarter of the 2016 Class 6A championship game

After 18 seasons, eight state championships and a career record of 187-35, Jeff Ferguson has stepped down as head football coach at Totino-Grace.

Longtime offensive coordinator Jay Anderson has been named as his replacement.

Ferguson, known as an astute defensive mind, bucked the trend of private schools playing at lower levels of competition, taking Totino-Grace, with an enrollment of roughly 700, into the highest classes of the sport.

After six state titles at the Class 4A level, the Eagles moved up to Class 5A, which was then the highest class of football in the state, in 2011. After winning the Class 5A title in 2012, the year that Class 6A was added, the Eagles opted up once more, moving to Class 6A in 2013.

They made two trips to the Prep Bowl in three seasons after that, narrowly losing to Eden Prairie 28-27 in the 2014 Class 6A championship game and defeating Eden Prairie 28-20 in the 2016 final.

After that victory, Ferguson addressed the persistent complaining of a recruiting advantage that always surfaces when a private school wins state championships.

“Do we recruit? Damn right, we do. We recruit students, not athletes. We have not and will never give one dollar in financial aid for an athletic scholarship,” Ferguson said in a Q&A published in the Star Tribune. “It’s funny. People think I spend my weekends driving around Andover looking for players. It’s about the school. The better our school is, the more students we attract. That’s the selling point.”

Wednesday, Ferguson reflected on the decision to move up.

"It was the appropriate thing to do," he said. "We were able to do it because of how things changed. It used to be a four-year commitment [to a classification]. Four years, it's kind of hard to see that far down the road. But when it went to two years, well, moving was appropriate."

Ferguson graduated from Totino-Grace in 1974 and spent 42 years in coaching, first as an assistant football coach at Blaine and St. Agnes. He became the Totino-Grace head coach in 2002. He won numerous awards from the Minnesota Football Coaches Association (MFCA), including the Coach of the Year Award in 2007 and 2016, the 2010 Power of Influence Award, and the 2016 Class 6A Class Coach of the Year Award.

He was inducted into the MFCA Hall of Fame in 2015. In addition, he was named Minnesota Vikings Coach of the Year in 2011 and received the U.S. Marines Semper Fidelis Award in 2013.

“It has been a privilege to coach at this school and in this program. Totino-Grace is a special place because of the people...teachers, coaches, administrators, parents, alumni, and especially the students,” Ferguson said in a press release from the school. “My football staff is second to none and … our players are amazing young people. It is the relationships with players and coaches that I cherish the most. I am blessed with an amazing wife, Barb, and four children — Jenna, Kelli, Mike, and Katelyn...all TG grads — and now two sons in law and three grandkids. I look forward to continuing my work in Advancement for our school and spending more time with my beautiful family.”

Ferguson will remain in his current role as associate director of advancement at the school, but he said he'll step back from the football program.

"They need room to breathe," he said.

When asked what he'll miss the most, Ferguson paused, and his voice cracked.

"The relationships," he said. "It's not about the record. It's about the relationships you develop, the connections you build with the kids. That's what it's always been about."

JEFF FERGUSON FILE

Years as a coach: 42, including the last 18 as Totino-Grace head coach
Schools: Blaine, St. Agnes, Totino-Grace
Career record: 187-35
State tournament appearances: 13
Best finish: Class 4A state champions 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010; Class 5A state champions 2012; Class 6A state champions 2016