Heartfelt resignation

Todd Magnuson has every intention to attend each Minot High girls basketball game next year. But he plans to do so as a spectator.

Citing health concerns stemming from a heart attack suffered Jan. 5, Magnuson, the sixth-year Majettes coach, is stepping down. He disclosed the news to The Minot Daily News on March 19, but requested no information be reported until he informed his players at their team banquet Sunday.

“I could just feel a big burden kind of released,” Magnuson said. “I felt really good. I think it’s a good decision. I think it’s on a good note.”

It’s certainly on a high note. Minot unexpectedly knocked off No. 1 Bismarck and No. 2 West Fargo en route to its first Class A state championship game appearance since 2001.

Magnuson, 53, ended his tenure at Minot with a 79-59 record. He previously coached the Surrey boys basketball team for 11 seasons, tallying 110 wins and 100 losses for a combined total of 189-159 (.543 winning percentage).

“We’re just happy that he’s still healthy and can make the decision on his own and is still able to work,” said Minot athletic director Mitch Lunde. “We wish him the best of luck.”

The Majettes traveled a long, twisting road to their top finish in 13 years.

Following his heart attack, Magnuson missed two weeks of practice and didn’t return to the sideline until a Jan. 30 home game against St. Mary’s. Minot went 2-2 without him.

Upon his return, he delegated more work to assistants Jeffrey Beck, Steve Dangel and Joel Lawson in hopes of easing his stress. That helped some, but not enough.

Minot ended the season with a 16-9 record, losing to Shanley 53-29 in the state title game March 15 at the Minot State Dome. A few hours after the contest, he came to his conclusion: It was time to retire from coaching.

Worrisome comeback

Marlys Magnuson, Todd’s wife of 31 years, perches on a seat behind Minot’s bench each game. It’s a good spot, in the southeast end of the gym, right next to the athletic training staff.

In the first half against St. Mary’s, Todd Magnuson – never shy to voice his opinion with officials – expressed his displeasure with a call against Minot. Marlys’ mind was far from officiating. What is his heart doing right now? It’s got to be racing. His blood pressure must be elevated, right?

“The first game back, Todd starting getting wound up and I looked at (athletic trainer Kevin Melby) and told him, ‘Would you take his blood pressure at halftime?’ ” Marlys said. “It was high, but not dangerous.”

A Harvard University study entitled “Relation of Outbursts of Anger and Risk of Acute Myocardial Infarction” indicates the risk of a heart attack in the two hours after an “outburst” is 2.43 times higher than normal. A study headed by Florida Atlantic University’s Dr. Chun-Jung Huang, “Cardiovascular reactivity, stress, and physical activity,” suggests that psychological stress – for instance, coaching – is a major contributor to heart disease.

“We all know what it’s like to have six seconds left and you’re shooting to win the game. But coaches have to deal with the frustration of what’s going well and what can be better,” said Dr. Dawn Mattern, a Minot-based physician with expertise in sports medicine. “Their part of the game is more mentally taxing. Frustration can add 10 to 20 beats per minute to the load on the heart, and 30 to 40 points of blood pressure. And if he’s yelling at a referee, that just adds more on top of that.”

So for the first few games back, Magnuson had his blood pressure checked during halftime and after games. Then it was just after games.

Magnuson’s cardiologist told him he could finish the season if he found a way to limit the stress that comes with it. But coaching is inherently stressful.

“We were worried, but we knew he wouldn’t come back if he absolutely wasn’t (healthy enough),” Minot junior wing McKale Duttenhefer said. “It was kind of scary because he always talked about how he had his heart attack.”

Magnuson improved his exercise regimen and corrected his eating habits. He just wanted to finish the season, and that was well before he knew it would culminate with a state championship game.

‘Dream come true’

The regular vigor on the sideline never evaporated.

Minot trailed top-ranked Bismarck 62-46 with 8:55 remaining at home on Feb. 6. Senior guard Jayden Moum turned the ball over, but Magnuson was adamant she was fouled.

“I may have a heart attack, but I can still yell with the best of them,” his voice bellowed, tongue-in-cheek.

There he was, all in for the remainder of the season – even if he, and the team, didn’t yet know it’d be his final few months leading the Majettes.

“I’m a perfectionist when it comes to teaching and coaching,” said Magnuson, a math teacher at Jim Hill Middle School. “I put probably a lot more stress on myself than a normal coach might. Other things – housework, yard work – I’m not a big perfectionist on that stuff. But the stuff that I get paid to do, I’m a perfectionist with and I expect a lot out of myself. I probably put too much stress on myself.”

That was evident during a West Region tournament quarterfinal March 6 at the Bismarck Civic Center. Third-seeded Minot trailed the No. 6 seed, Turtle Mountain, at halftime. Magnuson might never disclose the words he shouted in that locker room. Whatever they were, they proved effective.

The Majettes rallied for a 72-58 victory and a spot in the semifinals.

“It was a very, very stressful game for me. I knew it would be,” Magnuson said following the contest. “I’m glad I took my medication before the game, I know that.”

His blood pressure was very high. He can’t recall the specific measurements, but he admitted, “It was too high for what it should’ve been.”

Yet his passion never wavered. He remained fiery throughout the West Region tournament as Minot secured a state tournament berth after failing to qualify in 2013.

Then, it was nearly as easy as 1, 2, 3.

The Majettes upset favorites Bismarck and West Fargo, the state’s top two-ranked teams, on consecutive afternoons. In the championship, No. 3 Shanley trailed by nine in the first half, but eventually caught stride and dealt Minot a loss. Still, Magnuson views it as a storybook ending.

“It’s a dream come true for a lot of people in our basketball program,” he said.

“There’s a lot of coaches and teams that don’t ever make it to the state tournament. So for my girls and my staff to make it to the championship game, that’s a coach’s dream right there and a kid’s dream – to play in front of a home crowd and TV time. It was a lot of fun. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Calling it quits

An hour after the championship game ended, at halftime of the Class A boys championship game, Magnuson’s chest felt tight. He knew it wasn’t right. He informed Marlys and they headed for the MSU Dome’s training room.

His blood pressure should’ve dropped by then, but it remained high. Mattern instructed him to return home, take some baby aspirin and relax for an hour. It did the trick, but those incidents aren’t supposed to be a midlife regularity.

“It was just a scary thing,” Marlys said. “We both just kind of looked at each other. There was no discussion like, ‘OK, it’s done.’ But I told him that maybe this is a sign. Maybe someone is helping you make the decision.”

Said Magnuson: “That little incident that happened, that was my deciding factor there.”

Marlys insisted that her husband make his own decision. She didn’t want him to regret it later on. Don’t resign for her; don’t resign for their children, Sarah and Trevor; and don’t resign for the players.

“We talked about it a lot, but it had to be his decision,” she said.

Magnuson’s heart can still heal, he said. But some stress has to go, and that meant his love, basketball. He says it’s well worth it.

“I want to be able to see my grandkids down the road,” Magnuson said.

On March 18, Magnuson informed Lunde of his decision and waited until Sunday evening to tell his team.

At the banquet, he counted five or six players crying, a few mothers tearing up, as well.

“He’s just a humble guy,” said Duttenhefer, who has played on varsity for Magnuson since eighth grade. “We’ll miss him. We wish him the best of health and happiness and we look forward to him watching us play next season.

Said Magnuson: “I’m going to try to do whatever I can – if I need to take book or do announcing – I’m going to try and stay involved with the girls basketball program as much as I can.”

On the horizon

The Majettes return all but Moum, their lone senior. All-state forward Cassie Askvig, a sophomore, will return along with a roster now loaded with state tournament experience.

Lunde said there is no firm timeline on hiring a new coach, nor is there a preference between internal or external applicants.

“We’re kind of right at the spot where teaching positions are being renewed,” Lunde said. “If the right fit comes along, we may find someone that fits both. It’s prudent that we explore all of our options.

“We’re looking for someone to guide the program in the next years to a great level, to the next level.”

Magnuson noted that Lawson and Dangel have expressed interest in the position. Lawson filled in as interim head coach while Magnuson was sidelined in January.

“The new coach that comes in, whoever it may be, you know that there’s a lot of good players in our program right now,” Magnuson said. “There’s not going to be a bare cupboard there. They’re going to have a good team to work with next year.”

Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.