WALWORTH, Wis. - A winning tradition. A chance to run his own program. And a brand-new field turf field.
The combination of those three things, along with some other factors, led Mike Welden to give up his comfortable job as defensive coordinator at Grafton High School to accept the head coaching spot at Big Foot, replacing the departed Greg Enz.
Welden, a graduate of Mukwonago High School and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, is spending a lot of time on the road these days.
"We haven't moved yet, so I'm spending three hours every day driving back and forth," Welden said. "I think it's really important that I'm here every day for the workouts, and these kids have done nothing but give me 100 percent since the day that I was hired. We are looking to move down that way, and hopefully shortly, but right now the drive has been worth it."
Welden is very familiar with the Chiefs' storied history. The program made the playoffs for 14 straight seasons, captured a state title and played for two others, with the vast majority of that success coming under Rodney Wedig. Enz's squads were hit with some untimely injuries, leading to two straight seasons without enjoying postseason play.
Welden views the successful past as a positive.
"There aren't that many teams in the entire state that can say they've won a state title," Welden said. "It's a really special thing to be able to say, and that's certainly what we are building towards every single day. Along with tradition, I wanted to go to a place that valued athletics. The fact that the referendum passed shows that Big Foot is that kind of place. They have a commitment to athletics in this area, and that's really important."
Welden comes off a successful tenure in Grafton which culminated last fall with the team making the playoffs (and even winning a game) for the first time since 1997.
"I've definitely been a defensive guy," Welden said. "But I also consider myself a student of the game. I don't have a ton of other hobbies, so in the offseason, I'm just constantly thinking of ways to do things better and researching things. The nice thing is that, with the previous staff that was here, there were a bunch of offensive guys, and I was able to keep them on board. And after talking with them, we have very similar philosophies on offense, so I don't think there's going to be a big transition."
Welden said it's too early to tell how this year's team is going to fare, but he likes what he's seen so far.
'We've talked a lot to the senior class especially about what they want to do," Welden said. "We've talked about them being the class that starts a new streak of postseason appearances. We've been preaching a lot that you don't have to be the biggest, strongest or fastest team to have success. But you do have to have faith that as a team we're going to have success, no matter what."
The Chiefs are set to christen their new field by hosting Jefferson in the season's opening game.
"They are working hard on the field right now to get it ready, and they tell me it will be by the opening game," Welden said. "Right now that's left us without a big place to practice, but I tell the kids all the time that we have all we need, and that's a patch of grass and a weight room. Some of the best teams in the state aren't working with great facilities, and the opposite can be true, too: You can have the best weight room and practice facility in the world, but if you don't put in the work, it's not going to end well for you. But these kids have been doing the right things every day, and I trust that's going to continue."