by Marlys Kruger
When Hayden Fehr headed off to UW-La Crosse after graduating from Colfax High School in 2012, he wasn’t exactly sure where his career path would take him. He did know however, because of his love for sports, that he wanted to work in some capacity in the sports world. It appears he has found his true calling by working the past two years as a manager for the Minnesota Gophers mens basketball team which he hopes will lead him to a head coaching job at the Division I level.
Fehr’s journey began as a youngster playing basketball and football through the Colfax youth programs which led to an outstanding high school career as a Viking.
After dealing with injuries his freshman year, he went on to be a starting quarterback his junior and senior years, passing for over 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. He was a varsity basketball player several years and capped his senior year by scoring 10 points in the WIAA State Championship game against Whitefish Bay Dominican.
He ended a stellar track and field career by running in the WIAA State meet on the 4 X 200 and 4 X 400 relay teams.
His quarterback abilities drew some interest from La Crosse and he enrolled there with hopes of playing for the football team.
“I had planned on going into the physical therapy program and playing football, but after my freshman year, I decided I really wanted to be a coach in some capacity,” Fehr said. “I changed my major to physical education and ended up injuring my throwing elbow and was told I would need surgery on it. I didn’t think it was worth it so I chose to end my football playing career in September of 2013 which was devastating to me,” he added.
Although that part of his life was done, Fehr was still trying to figure out which direction to head in the sports/coaching world. A phone call from his mom, Jan, who works at the high school in Colfax along with Hayden’s former basketball coach Andy Meade, informed him of a conversation she had with Meade.
“She told me coach Meade said he thought I would be an excellent basketball coach which meant a lot to me because he was a role model to me,” Fehr said. “Things just seemed to click from there on and I knew I would have to start at the bottom and get a lot of experience in all areas of coaching to figure out which way to go.”
Applying for as many coaching positions as he could find in the La Crosse area, Fehr started as a fifth grade basketball coach for the Aquinas Elementary School. He moved up to the middle school level as a track and field coach at La Crosse Logan, then became the quarterback coach for Logan’s varsity football team.
During the summer of 2014, he was working a summer job for the City of Menomonie and received a surprising call from a fellow named Drew Diener. Diener informed him the University of Minnesota was running a basketball camp for kids up to eighth grade the following week and was in dire need of coaches. If Fehr was truly serious about getting into coaching,he should drop everything and go work at that camp Diener said.
For those of you familiar with the Diener name, Drew is the son of Dick Diener who was the Colfax boy’s basketball coach in 1978 and led them to the school’s only state championship. Hayden’s dad Bob was a member of that team and remained in contact with the Diener family all these years. Drew Diener was the Cardinal Stritch head coach in Milwaukee several years and is now the head coach at Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. His dad Dick just happened to be his assistant coach at both schools.
“The camp went great and I developed a relationship with the Director of Basketball Operations at the time,” Fehr said. “We stayed in touch and in September he contacted me and said a great way to get into coaching would be to work as a manager for a team and they happened to have an immediate opening for the mens basketball team. I was enrolled at La Crosse and the next day I informed my adviser I was transferring. It turned out to be an easy decision because I was thinking I wanted to become a Division I basketball coach, I officially became a student manager for the U of M mens basketball team in January of 2015 and am still with them now. Being a part of the Big 10 atmosphere really reinforced my decision,” he added.
Being a manager of a college team involves a lot more than the usual high school duties. Fehr works in the coaches office and attends every practice. He travels to every game with the team which takes him all over the U.S., helps with drills at practice, rebounds for players, charts statistics, helps with the scouting reports and even does some laundry.
During games, he sits on the bench with the team or right behind the assistant coaches, charting and passing out stats as well as setting up stools for players during time outs. (If you happen to catch a Gopher game on TV, you can see him during time outs!) By being so close to the action, he can listen in on coaching calls from head coach Richard Pitino while learning different strategies. He is also involved in the pre-game warm up and after the game he watches the video and charts stats. There are eight managers and four of them travel to each road game. By the time the season ends, Fehr will have traveled to every school in the Big 10 Conference.
There are a few different ways to reach the Division I level, including starting with a Division II or III team as an assistant and then a head coach as many coaches, including Drew Diener have done. Fehr hopes to take a different road to get to his dream job.
“I basically work every day of the week for the team and I love every minute of it,” Fehr said. “I will be graduating this spring with a degree in Sports Management and hope to get a graduate assistant position either here at the U or at another Division I school. My goal is to work my way up the coaching ladder and become a head coach at the Division I level. It’s a long road but I have become addicted to the grind of Division I hoops and cannot picture my life or future without it,” he concluded.