Keith Badger led the New Richmond football team to one of its most successful four-year stretches, but his time leading the Tigers has come to an end.
Badger has resigned his coaching, teaching and administration positions at New Richmond High School to become Activities Director at Faribault (Minn.) High School. Badger's resignation was accepted at the May 21 New Richmond Board of Education meeting.
Badger became coach of the Tigers leading into the summer of the 2013 season, after Jason Eckert's resignation as head coach. Badger developed an instant rapport with his players. The first season took some rebuilding, with the Tigers finishing 3-6.
Badger's drive and enthusiasm won over the Tigers and they reached the playoffs in his second season. They finished second in the Middle Border Conference in 2014 with a 6-1 record and they finished 8-3 overall.
In 2015, the Tigers put together one of the most memorable playoff runs in the team's recent history. The Tigers were the fourth seed in the playoffs and they opened with a 38-6 win over fifth seed Hayward. That put the Tigers up against top-seeded Rice Lake, which had destroyed the Tigers 73-22 during the regular season. Badger is a master motivator and this may have been his finest moment. The Tigers took charge of the game from the opening moments, stunning the Warriors, 24-16.
The work was far from done for the Tigers. They went to Medford the next week and upended the No. 2 seed, 21-7. That win moved the Tigers into the Division 3 state semifinals against Green Bay Notre Dame.
In terms of excitement and drama, you couldn't ask for more. The lead changed hands several times and the final outcome wasn't decided until the final play of the game. Notre Dame hit a long field goal as the clock ran out to defeat the Tigers, 27-24. That was the closest the Tigers came to a state championship game since they played in the state title game in 1992.
In 2016, the Tigers returned to the playoffs. They won their first two playoff games before falling to Rice Lake in the state quarterfinals, 36-27. That ended an eight-game win streak for the Tigers.
The 2017 season was not quite as successful for Badger and the Tigers. They finished 6-3, including a loss in the opening round of the Division 3 playoffs to West Salem, 17-14.
Badger accumulated a 35-19 record in his five seasons leading the Tigers.
Badger said this was a difficult decision that was made with his family as the highest priority. He and his wife have two young sons and there were many days that he was at the school so long, he'd only see them sleeping.
"I saw myself staying at New Richmond forever. My dream job was to be a football coach. I never dreamed the opportunity would come at 26," he said.
But growing responsibilities, with teaching, coaching, running the weight room and moving into administration caused Badger to reevaluate where he wanted his life to be. He will not do any coaching in his first year at Faribault. He will be in charge of all activities in grades 9-12, with no academic duties. Faribault has an enrollment of approximately 1,200 students.
Badger said the only goal the Tigers didn't reach in his years with the team was a state championship. He said one of the key reasons for success in the program was the culture he tried to bring to the team. Badger said he hopes the Tigers find another coach that takes the program to even higher levels of success.
"I care tremendously about what happens here," Badger said. "I'm not leaving upset. I'm tremendously proud of my time here. It was the right move for me and my family."