“Everyone leads.” Coach Sawyer speaks to Rambler athletes


Jason Klug

WSU football coach TOm Sawyer and Cotter athletes on the stage at St. Cecilia

Leadership, sacrifice, relationships, and developing a positive culture.

These were a few of the themes that longtime Winona State football coach Tom Sawyer spoke to Cotter athletes and parents about in the St. Cecilia Theater on Wednesday, May 4th.

Coach Sawyer stepped down at the end of  the 2021 season, after 25 seasons as head coach in which he turned the program around and built a culture of success on and off the field, including a sweet, fitting final game victory over Minnesota State Mankato.  But it is not quite “exit the Warrior” yet, as today’s Tom Sawyer continues to work as an assistant director for WSU’s development team.

Sawyer talked about some fundamental notions that are central to his personal outlook and the culture of his teams.  As he talked through questions like “What part of your sport makes you happy?” or “Am I willing to sacrifice?”,  he illustrated the concepts with examples from his own experience as a player and a coach.

Coach Sawyer speaks to the keys to success for young athletes and people of all ages. (photo: Jason Klug)

“Two things stood out for me. I loved the big rocks metaphor,” said Cotter coach Pat Bowlin, who was there with most of his softball team “In my life I find it critical to make sure my family is taken care of, once that is secured it allows me to be more effective in all areas of my life. I also enjoyed coach Sawyers reminder to all of us to consider what type of legacy we want to leave.”

Coach Sawyer spoke to the importance of listening and conversing rather than reacting, as we do on social media He highlighted that everyone is a leader, whether they realize it or not, and it takes everyone to build a positive culture and be proud of paving the way for the next generation of Ramblers.

He used quotes from Vince Lombardi, Kobe Bryant, and leadership guru Stephen Covey to underscore some of the principles.

Coach Sawyer was invited to Cotter and introduced by athletic director Jason Klug.

“I tried to get him to come talk to our football team during the season, but with his busy schedule, it didn’t work out.  I knew his connection to Cotter with his daughter and I knew he retired from coaching, but I did not know he was still working at WSU.  He still made it work for us,” Klug said.

“I knew he would be a positive influence for all of our kids to hear from. He truly embodies what kids can look up to, someone who stuck it out through the good and bad times, and impacted a generation of kids along the way. Secondly, I’m huge on leadership and as Coach Sawyer said in his talk, everyone is a leader, and once we realize that, our goals become a lot easier!

Most of the Cotter varsity baseball team members and coaches were in attendance, as well as other athletes and parents.

“One thing that stood out in his talk was when he talked about the qualities of a leader,” freshman Patrick Morgan said. “He emphasized every one is a leader and its not about being the player that is most popular or the one selected to be captain, but the one that is always positive and doing their job.  He talked about building a culture of leaders by always being positive with yourself and each other.”

“I liked the stuff about how everyone needs to lead and also the story of how when he recruits he talks to not just the parents and player but other people in the community to get a feel for the player’s character,” sophomore Luke Gardner said.

“His focus on character stood out for me, I can see where players would like to play for him, he’s seems like a really good guy.  And  he is really funny, I was laughing out loud quite a few times,” said Cotter president Mary Eileen Fitch, who was there as a parent.

Coach Sawyer’s final thoughts were to “feed the beast” of what makes you tick as an athlete and, above all, to have fun doing it.