Brian Von Bergen is the Passing Game Coordinator and Wide Receiver’s Coach at Montana State University. Brain took over MSU’s inexperienced receiving corps in 2009 and in the next two seasons transitioned it into one of MSU’s offensive strengths. Last season, Von Bergen’s 18th as a Division I assistant, he led a group of players in vastly expanded roles for 2,368 yards. Von Bergen came to MSU in 2009 after coaching receivers at Miami Ohio from 2000-2008. Brian was good enough to sit down with Winthrop’s managing editor, Ryan Matthews, to discuss career expectations, mentoring young people, and the growing importance of data in college athletics.
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Listen to the interview:
What advice would you give to a talented young person interested in coaching that you wish someone had given you before you started coaching?
I had good advice getting in and it’s important to get some information and some mentoring from guys who have done it, or have played and gone into a coaching career. Really it is important that you know what you’re getting into. You definitely don’t want to coach for the money, you don’t want to coach for the notoriety or fame. Those aren’t the right reasons to go into it.
I probably am old school, but I was brought up through the Miami Ohio cradle of coaches, and the overriding mentality there is that you’re going to get into it and coach the student athletes and try to develop the student and athlete simultaneously. You’re also trying to create a program that is better when you leave than it was when you got there. So, in a way, you’re giving back and it’s not really about you as the coach. I think sometimes with the media and the way information gets passed things get emphasized that aren’t true to the reality of the profession.
You know what? There are huge salaries out there at the highest level, but there are a ton of coaches doing a great job who are under the radar and not getting compensated as much. I would just caution young coaches to get into it for the appropriate reasons.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy in a sentence?
In one sentence—I want the player to perform with the utmost confidence and reassurance that he knows what he’s doing, so I’m a teacher first, and I want players to understand what they’re doing so they can play fast on the field.
What has been the most critical decision you’ve been responsible for?
You make different choices in your career path. One of the opportunities I had was to follow Terry Hoeppner to a Big Ten School at Indiana University. This was in 2004 after we had the Ben Roethlisberger career. He was given the opportunity to coach the Big Ten and I had a chance to go with him as the passing game coordinator, but I wanted to advance as a coach and take an opportunity to be the passing coordinator.
At that point I thought maybe I’d be in line for the Offensive Coordinator at Miami by staying with the coach who was given that job. So, instead of going I stayed. Well, you know, four years later we were fired. We didn’t win. That’s what happens in this business. I think a lesson is: you better coach in the moment and win where you are and do a great job.
Don’t worry about the next job. I’m not going to put any blame on that situation. It was one of those intersections that happened and sometimes go back and you wonder what if, but no regrets.
As far as game or coaching or strategy you know, it’s been a part of a lot of upsets. I’ve always been at a school that seems to be excited about playing in a challenging game. If they’re in the match and they’re going to play a Big Ten team, it’s going to be exciting.
Beating Northwestern at Miami was terrific and we also beat Vanderbilt and Syracuse, in addition to some good schools. I really enjoy those moments because you go into it as a coach with the opportunity to do something big, but there is really no pressure in that game to have to win it. It’s a bonus if you do and it’s really enjoyable from my perspective. You take those chances and get your guys super confident and go in and see what happens.
How has more information/data helped achieve strategic goals and helped you in your role as a coach?
I think it’s everything. We are teachers first, so information is vital. The key for us, we like to have a lot of information as coaches. We need to be able to handle a lot of data and then be able to comb through it, decipher it, find out what’s the most important. Honestly, the biggest key for us is what you actually use or present to the players. First, I don’t want to overload a player with data that he may not need to know. Second, it’s not what I know it’s what the player knows. So, it’s about keeping it simple—but if I can get data that helps me get an angle, get an advantage, there is no doubt I will use it.
What is the aspect of your work that you’re most proud of?
Well, I really enjoy watching players have a great career. I don’t look at it as a one game or one single moment or one season. Again, you have to keep a student athlete’s entire career in mind, and you’re excited when the players graduate and are able to do things beyond football. That’s something that I always keep in perspective. Certainly I love a guy that’s going to have a huge game or a game-winning moment, but it’s not the most important thing.
Those are fun career moments for me, but at the end of the day I’ve been fortunate to be on staff and work under head coaches who believe that there’s more to life than football, even though in the moment—when you’re playing or practicing—football has to be the number one priority. You have to have some guys with that perspective, who are going to do big things both on the field and whenever their career’s over, even if there’s a chance to play in the NFL.
We want our guys to be future leaders of industry and fellow mentors, taking our leadership and using it. That’s how I look at it. I want to influence future leaders.