The hands that carried the pigskin to records and guided the Northern State football program for 12 years now hold fishing rods and grandchildren’s hands.
Jim Kretchman’s name has been synonymous with Northern State football beginning with his playing career from 1952 to 1955 and extending through his coaching career from 1969 to 1980 and even into his years as athletic director from 1981 to 1999.
Fourteen years after his retirement from NSU, Kretchman, 77, still looks capable of running the football for the Wolves.
His sophomore year of high school, Kretchman moved from Lebanon to Faulkton, where he first experienced football.
“We played single wing, and I think we lost two games in the three years that I played,” Kretchman said.
“We had some pretty good football teams at Faulkton. Faulkton was very much a football town.”
Football became his sport of choice.
“I was like most young kids when I was growing up. My biggest problem in life was whether to be a pro basketball player or pro baseball player or pro football player. I never grew past 5-feet-9, so basketball was taken care of. In baseball I didn't hit the ball as well as I should have. Football just kind of matched the skills I have a little better,” Kretchman said.
He decided to go on to college, not necessarily for the education as much as for football. Kretchman had seen Northern State play football a couple of times at night games at old Simmons Field. He was slightly recruited, compared to modern methods, by then-Northern football coach Clark Swisher but did not receive a scholarship as a freshman.
“Swisher refereed a lot of our games. He recruited me. He never gave me anything. Swisher was such a good recruiter. He really made you think you were lucky that you didn’t have to pay him to come here (to Northern) rather than the other way around,” Kretchman said.
College recruiting existed at the time but on a different level. When Kretchman played football, everyone on the team was from South Dakota except one player, and he hailed from North Dakota. The recruiting area was in a 100-mile radius of Aberdeen.
Kretchman’s playing weight was 175 pounds. In a 1953 game between the North Dakota champions from Valley City State and the South Dakota champion, Northern State, the North Dakota squad did not field a player weighing 200 pounds. The Wolves had two players weighing more than 200 pounds in the 46-0 win, a lineman and running back Don Vogt.
During Kretchman’s playing career Northern went 29-4-0.
“I think I was quick,” he said. “What really helped me in football was Coach Swisher was right on the cutting edge of football. The offense that he brought in was a new offense started in Oklahoma by Bud Wilkinson called the split-T. I was the fullback, and Don was a running back. It was all based on quickness. I couldn’t outrun a whole lot of people, but from here to there I could get there pretty quick. The offense was suited to me very well. Coach Swisher has always coached it very, very well. We had good athletes, and it was a quick offense.”
After graduation Kretchman taught and coached at Clark for one year before returning to Northern State as a graduate assistant. He then went west to the University of Wyoming and earned a doctoral degree but once again returned home to Northern as an assistant in football, wrestling and track.
Swisher retired after losing in the NAIA semifinals in Kingsville, Texas, to Texas A&I by 20-0 to end the 1968 season at 9-1. Kretchman inherited the football program in 1969.
“It was a different time,” Kretchman said. “They handed me the keys, and that’s all it was. There wasn’t an interview. It wasn’t opened up. They had the confidence in me that I could handle the job. Swish, no doubt, was saying this is what he wanted and this is the way he wanted to do it.”
The Wolves went undefeated at 9-0 in Kretchman’s first season as head coach. Several stellar seasons followed such as 8-1-1 in 1971, 8-2 in 1972, 9-2 in 1973 and 8-3 in 1976. After 12 seasons and compiling a 69-46-7 mark, Kretchman resigned from his head coaching duties in 1981 and followed Swisher as the Northern athletic director.
“It was an easy decision. I was a relatively young man at the time. It was the emotional and physical drain that coaching brought on you. I was ready to get out of that. I didn’t exactly go into something that didn’t have any pressure, but it was a different kind of pressure. I’m an intense person. I was when I played, and I was when I coached. The intensity started in August, and it didn’t end until November. It just wears you out. It just wore me down,” said Kretchman, who continued as an assistant football coach in charge of linebackers during Doug Ekmark’s and Rob Bollinger’s head coaching days.
Then, he retired from the athletic director job in 1999 and handed the reins to NSU men’s basketball coach Bob Olson.