As an educator and coach, Jeff Setz's impact on New Berlin Eisenhower was impactful and lasting.
The longtime Lions football and softball coach died Thursday after a battle with cancer. He was 65.
Details regarding funeral services and visitation are still pending. New Berlin Eisenhower is planning to hold a visitation at the school in order to accommodate an anticipated large number of attendees.
"It is really difficult to summarize (his impact) in words," New Berlin Eisenhower football coach Matt Kern, who also played for and coached with Setz at the school, said. "He's the first name you think of in terms of the modern history of the program. He's the guy that built it into the program we all love and take pride in."
Hired as a mathematics teacher at New Berlin Eisenhower in 1973, he began coaching in the middle school football program before joining the high school staff at the freshman and junior varsity level in 1976. Setz joined the varsity coaching staff in 1981 as the offensive line coach and became defensive coordinator in 1983.
New Berlin Eisenhower reached the WIAA state championship game twice in Setz's seven years as defensive coordinator, falling to Monroe in 1986 and Marinette in 1989.
Setz was hired to replace Frank Granger as New Berlin Eisenhower's head football coach in 1991.
In 1995, the Lions recovered from a 24-point loss in their season opener to improbably run the table the rest of the way en route to defeating Ashland, 7-6, in the WIAA Division 3 state championship game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
"It was the most interesting dynamic I've ever been a part of between coaches and players," said Scott Schmidt, a senior on the 1995 state championship. "The coaches respected the players. It was very much an open communication and open dialogue type of relationship where during practices, during games, we would talk openly almost as if we were equals but knowing full well what the structure of the entity was.
"He developed a sense of trust with his players you just couldn't have if you did it any other way. I've taken that into how I manage teams in the business world and how I coach sports teams. I just think it is such a great approach."
Schmidt recalls receiving a Saturday morning phone call from Setz when the playoff bracket was released in 1995. The two spent 20 minutes discussing what the Lions needed to do to win a state championship. The willingness Setz had to listen to and respect the opinions of his players made him revered.
"It is why all of us would go to crazy lengths for him," Schmidt said. "I remember walking off the state-championship field thinking that this was as much for him as it was for us. That trophy was as much for him personally and for Eisenhower as it was for us accomplishing it. I think all the players would say that."
Chris Molnar, a tri-captain and running back on the 1995 team, echoed the thoughts of his former teammate.
"To be a good teacher you know when you need to get in there and change how people are acting, and you know when to let a team work," Molnar said. "I thought he did that masterfully with us. He sat back and let us handle everything. He knew when to push and when not to."
New Berlin Eisenhower repeated as state champion in 1996, defeating Spooner, 21-7, in the title game.
He went 100-47 over 17 years in his first stint in charge of the Lions before stepping down in 2005. After three years away, Setz returned as head football coach in 2008, guiding Eisenhower to a 34-24 record over six seasons before giving way to Kern before the 2014 season. He was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
When Kern had an offensive-line coaching position open on his staff for the 2015 campaign, the first person he thought of was Setz.
"(Coaching offensive line) was always his passion," Kern said. "I wasn't sure if he was going to want to do it or not. He had just retired for the second time and was moving on to other things, but I really thought he would be a great fit. I'm just really thankful we had the opportunity to have had him for the year last year."
Setz also turned Eisenhower softball into one of the top programs in the state. In 22 years as head softball coach, Setz won 410 games, made six state tournament appearances and won the 2008 state championship. Throughout his battle with cancer, Setz remained Eisenhower's softball coach through the 2016 season.
He also took a tremendous sense of pride in representing the New Berlin community, as he was often present at events and gatherings throughout town.
Members of Eisenhower's 1995 state championship team gathered for a 20-year reunion last September. It turned out to be the last time many saw their respected leader.
"He was proud of what we had done," Molnar said. "He was very happy."