Here to play: New Luther football coach discusses philosophy, coaching styles, and making better players by making better people

By Connor Hopkins

Despite coming into the position in the middle of the academic year, Troche felt as if he already knew what to expect. 

For new Luther Football Head Coach Joe Troche, the workday begins at 5 a.m.
That’s not when he gets to the office, though. That’s when he wakes up. Troche, an Orlando native who now calls Freeport home, gets up at the crack of dawn for his “me time”: working out, drinking a cup of coffee, reading a book, walking the dog and waiting for his daughter, Martina — who will be two in October — to wake up around 6:30 a.m.
After that, Troche drives into Decorah to Luther’s campus, usually while on a phone call with his offensive coordinator, preparing for another long day for all things football. From there, the day progresses through meetings, recruitments, workouts, more meetings, practice and even more meetings. 
Troche comes to Luther from a career in football, including playing for St. Olaf and coaching at UW Eau Claire, Hamline and most recently, his alma mater St. Olaf. However, despite never being in the direct conference with the Norse, Troche has a deep understanding of what Luther is about.
“I knew a lot about Luther [before coming here]. I played against Luther, coached against Luther, I was very familiar,” said Troche. “I secretly always wanted to be here, because I left Orlando to go to St. Olaf … and the more time I spent here, I always thought ‘Wow, this is really neat.’” 
After the mid-year departure of former Head Coach Caleb Padilla, Troche filled the role in December 2021. Despite coming into the position in the middle of the academic year, Troche felt as if he already knew what to expect. “Playing against Luther and coaching against Luther recently gave me a really good understanding of what I perceived to be getting myself into. I feel like I knew a lot about their potential, and I really do believe that we have the three most important things that you need to build a program and sustain it to be successful and to give a great experience for the kids.”
Troch credits Luther with having three things that are vital to any program, stating “One, you have to have a really good education.” With Luther consistently ranking near (or at) the top of academics within the American Rivers Conference, it’s safe to say he’s correct in that assumption. “Second, we offer a great location. If you’re a college student, this is one of the best places, a true college town, to be. There’s plenty to do … and on top of that it’s gorgeous.” Finally, he noted “it’s community. I talk about the Luther community, but also Decorah and how they work together.”
“Those are three things that you can’t change. And they’re three things that people would kill for, and we have all three. Even though the football product
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 But what is his plan for changing the football? The elephant in the room is, of course, Luther Football’s less-than-stellar record in recent history, including a 0-10 season last year.
“For me, the most important thing was to recruit our current players,” said Troche, when asked about his immediate plans when he first got to campus in December. “Everyone talks about how you’ve got to build, well, it’s easier to build when you retain people. The way you retain students is to build connections with them, to build trust. You break bread with them, you’ve got to get to know them, and they have to know who you are as a person.”
From there, Troche set out to correct the attitude of the team. “We’ve set clear expectations, we’ve held our students accountable, and they want that. They’ve shown that. We’re consistent, and we’re doing all the things we say we’re going to do. That’s been the biggest difference for our students.” On the topic of expectations, Troche notes that he was less focused on the numbers of the team, and more focused on how he expects his team to act. 
“My expectations are a focus on our students and their individual actions and their behavior. You have some people that will come in and say, ‘I want to win five games’ or ‘let’s keep X amount of students.’ I want the students who want to be a part of our program and do the things that we ask them to. If they want to be here, I will paint a clear picture of how they can achieve that, and I don’t care if there’s 65 or 32. Now, it’d be a lot easier to have practice with more guys, but at the end of the day, if they’re not invested, they’re not intrinsically motivated, they don’t want to be here, then I don’t want them here.”
But as he mentions numbers, he notes the turnout for the team this year. “After injuries and things like that, we’re sitting in the low 60s. I would love to be in the 90-100 [range], but that’ll come. I think we’re probably two to three classes away from that number.”
With the numbers he has, Troche was also highly complimentary of his team. “I’ve coached against this team, I’ve played against this team, and there’s no reason why they should have gone 0-10.” He continued, “We’re lean, but we have the kids who want to be here, so we have a shot.” 
But what goes into them having a shot? Part of it is the philosophy Troche brings to the team, but it’s also the physical aspect he brings as well. In terms of diet and exercise, Troche said, “I try to lead through common sense. I want our guys to be bigger, faster, stronger. If the movement we’re doing doesn’t apply to the football field, we shouldn’t be doing it.” Troche wants his athletes to practice with purpose, and noted, “We need to be intentional about what we do, and not just do stuff to fill time.” With this training, Troche hopes to get his team to a confident place, early in the season. “When we get out there, we need to just focus on ourselves, and [they need to] do the best they can one play at a time. The biggest compliment as a coach is that our players can play fast, because they’re confident and know what they’re doing.”
But at the same time, Coach Troche is still instilling the age-old axiom of being a ‘gentleman off the field’ in his players. “We talk about love, we tell the players you should give love freely, because it’s one of the few things in the world that we have an abundance of. You never know when someone just needs a nice gesture.” Even more so, he talks about giving love to his players as a mentor. “Whether it’s their performance on the field, or in the classroom, that stuff does not dictate how much I care about the students. You’ll give up on yourself before I ever give up on you.” He also wants his players to be a supportive part of the larger community, because he knows it will return dividends in terms of support for the team. “I asked them, do you go to other sporting events? Do you go to Christmas at Luther? Do you go to the plays? It’s not like the community has to support you first, that’s not how it works. There was a real negative energy when I got here at first.”
As he improves the skills of the team, he’s also improving the energy. “We’ve had some really good conversations with our guys … for the most part everyone has been pretty consistent and pretty receptive,” said Troche. “They’ve been through a lot, and they had every reason to leave, but they stayed because they love Luther.”
At the time of interviewing, the team was preparing for their first game of the season on Sept. 3. Troche concluded, “I’m just excited to get them out there.”

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