Changing of the guard inside Middleton football

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Rob Reischel
Jason Pertzborn will serve as Middleton's co-head coach with Tim Simon this fall. If things go well, Pertzborn is expected to transition into the head coaching position in 2019./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

It was mid-December, when Middleton head football coach Tim Simon called a meeting with offensive coordinator Jason Pertzborn.

Pertzborn was a finalist for the Madison Memorial head coaching job. And after days of contemplation, examination and introspection, Simon had an idea that would keep Pertzborn inside the program he’s been part of for more than three decades.

Simon, set to begin his 15th season as the Cardinals’ boss next month, wanted to elevate Pertzborn to the position of co-head coach for the 2018 season. Then if everything goes smoothly this fall, Pertzborn is expected to become Middleton’s head coach in 2019 — and beyond.

“It was a huge surprise and I really appreciate it,” Pertzborn said. “It’s certainly not something Tim had to do. When I went to talk to him that day, that was the farthest thing from my mind. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Truth be told, though, Pertzborn has been ready to run his own program for several years now. Pertzborn, a 1990 Middleton graduate and former football and basketball standout at MHS, has worked his way up through the coaching ranks and guided one of the area’s top offenses the last five years.

And in a selfless move rarely seen in coaching circles, Simon sacrificed his own position so Pertzborn wouldn’t have to go elsewhere to become a head coach.

“If you think about it, Jason’s a Middleton grad,” Simon said. “He teaches in Middleton and lives in Middleton. His kids go to school in the Middleton-Cross Plains district. He shouldn’t have to go somewhere else to coach.

“It was definitely an internal struggle. I had a lot of restless nights, but at the end of the day, I just felt like this was the right thing to do. And we always tell our kids that doing the right thing might not be the easiest thing, but you always try and do the right thing. So it was time to practice what I preach.”

Pertzborn withdrew his name from the Madison Memorial opening the following day. Simon and Pertzborn then convinced Middleton athletic director Bob Joers that this set-up would work, although it was an extremely a tough sell.

“You know how I feel about co-head coaches in general. I don’t like that set-up very much,” Joers said. “But I think they’ve got a good plan and I’m hopeful that it will work for this season.

“The big thing we needed to get established was who’s responsible for what? Because I don’t want it to be fourth down on a Friday night and they’re arguing about whether or not to go for it.

“I don’t want a kid to go to Tim with something, have him say, ‘No’, then that same kid goes to Jason. I don’t want our kids playing Mom against Dad, so to speak. So we had to take care of those kind of details.”

Joers is optimistic that a plan has been formulated to cover anything and everything that might creep up this fall. And Simon, for one, insists there will be little that changes with the new arrangement.

Since 2013, Pertzborn has called the offensive plays on game nights. Tom Cabalka has run Middleton’s defense for the better part of four decades. And after running the offense on game nights his first nine years, Simon has taken a big picture approach in recent seasons, overseeing all areas of the team.

Everyone is expected to maintain those roles in 2018. And following that blueprint, Simon believes long-time followers of the program won’t notice any real changes.

“The average person won’t notice a difference,” Simon insisted. “I don’t think they’ll notice a single thing that will be different. I might be naive, but I don’t have any worries. No qualms at all.”

Pertzborn agreed.

“He’s not a finger pointer and I’m not a finger pointer,” Pertzborn said. “I don’t anticipate any problems. He’s a good friend of mine and we’ll work extremely well together, like we always have.”

When the dust settled, the details had been finalized, and the co-coaches told their players of the new arrangement, Simon took a deep breath. After all, getting to this point certainly wasn’t easy.

Simon has compiled an impressive 111-39 record during his first 14 years, a .740 winning percentage. Simon led Middleton to the WIAA Division 1 state semifinals in 2008 and the state quarterfinals in 2010 and 2016. Simon has also helped lead Middleton to the playoffs 22 straight years, which is tied for the state’s longest streak with Hartland Arrowhead in Division 1.

Many expected Simon, 51, to remain Middleton’s head coach for at least another decade. If that happened, though, Pertzborn, 47, would almost certainly have never gotten the chance to coach his alma mater.

“I just don’t feel like I need the title of head coach to be happy,” Simon said. “I love coaching football and I’m going to do it for many more years. I might be in my 70s and still coaching here. But again, I don’t need a title to love coaching the game.

“So it’s easier to make a sacrifice like this knowing I will still coach football. The big thing for me is to continue to work with young kids and mold them into the men they want to be.

“I think this is the right thing to do and it was the right time to do it. Jason’s been dedicated and supportive and he deserves this kind of opportunity. It just didn’t feel right to have him go to another school district to get that chance.”

Pertzborn is certainly grateful.

He and his family — wife Larissa, and daughters Sierra and Aubree — wrote Simon a letter after the change became official. Sierra and Aubrey — who both attend Kromrey Middle School — have been around the MHS program since they were toddlers.

When the Pertzborn girls learned their Dad might possibly be going to Memorial, they put on a happy face. But Pertzborn knew it could be tough for his family to begin wearing green after decades of donning Cardinal red.

“I knew they didn’t want me to coach over at Memorial,” Pertzborn said. “But they also knew they couldn’t say that. They felt like they had to support me no matter what.”

Now, they’ll continue to support him in Middleton.

“It’s really a dream come true,” Pertzborn said. “I had given up becoming a head coach for a while. Having kids obviously changes things.

“But then I put my résumé back out there. I wanted to share my mission and my vision and now I get to do it in Middleton. That’s pretty great.”


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