MOORHEAD – Concordia assistant football coach Brian Mistro was working in his office around 11 p.m. earlier this week when he received an unexpected motivational jolt from his boss.
Cobbers head coach Terry Horan peaked his head into the room and blurted out a simple message.
"He says 'Let's go!' and walks out," said Mistro, in his fourth season with the Cobbers. "It's easy to work for a guy who has that passion."
That passion has translated into success.
In his 15th season as Concordia head coach, Horan is nearing career victory No. 100. He has a 99-47 overall record heading into Saturday's game against rival St. John's, a 1 p.m. kickoff at Jake Christiansen Stadium that is the Minnesota Intercollegiate Conference opener for both teams.
"For him, this is the only place," Mistro said of Horan. "There is not another college in his mind. ... There is no looking to try to move up. He's a Cobber."
Horan earned win No. 99 last Saturday on the road against Wisconsin-Eau Claire, so his first chance at 100 will come against the team's top rival. The Cobbers (2-0) have had recent success against St. John's (2-0) winning the past three meetings.
"I think it's crazy a number like 100, just thinking how much work goes into winning every game," Cobbers senior wide receiver Jon Baune said.
While the Cobbers have had recent success in the rivalry, the Johnnies have also given Horan some of his most dramatic defeats during his head coaching tenure.
"We've lost a few against them on the last play of the game that maybe I could have hit this thing a lot earlier," Horan joked. "(St. John's) is a team I have a lot of respect for. There is a lot of respect between the two programs."
Horan got his first introduction to the rivalry three decades ago. He played wide receiver for the Cobbers from 1985-88, scoring 33 career touchdowns, which was the school record until 2012 when Brett Baune, who played for Horan, eclipsed that standard with 34.
The Cobbers won 34 games in Horan's four seasons as a player, including a 2-2 record against the Johnnies. Horan has a 5-9 record vs. the St. John's as a head coach.
"They have been our natural rival," Horan said.
Concordia has also played a major role in Horan's family life. He met his wife, Michelle, at the school. The two have been married for 23 years and have four kids, ranging in age from 9 to 18. Michelle said she wasn't aware that her husband was closing in on 100 victories until recently.
Terry's career win total isn't something that is normally talked about at home.
"At home, our time is consumed by four kids," Michelle said. "I think what he would be excited about is it is success for the program."
To balance family life and football, Horan often heads back into the office around 10 p.m. and stays past midnight to get his football work done around his family's schedule. On Saturday nights after games, he goes back into the office to work on goal boards so he can clear Sunday mornings for family time.
"He runs on very little sleep during the season," Michelle said. "He is very motivated by bringing his best to the whole program. We are very proud of him."
Michelle said she tends to be a "straight shooter" with Terry, especially after a Concordia loss, which has been rare lately. The Cobbers are 26-6 in the past 32 games.
"I tell him 'You can't dwell on it,' "Michelle said. "The family life continues and you have to hop to it. There is not a lot of coddling."
Cobbers assistant coach Aaron Willits said Horan's ability to form relationships with his players and coaching staff has played a key role in the success. The small details are important to him. One example: at a recent player's union meeting, which is held every two weeks, one of the players brought up having shampoo in the locker room so they didn't have to use hand soap to wash their hair.
"There is nothing that is overlooked with him," Willits said.
Horan is the master of the motivational speech, Jon Baune said. Horan also likes to flash his MIAC championship ring from 2004 to use as another motivator for the team. That is the last time the Cobbers won a conference championship.
"He always has to show it to us at least once a week it seems like," Baune said with a laugh. "He will look at you and point at the ring. It kind of gets us going. We always laugh at it, but it's definitely a motivator."
Baune added Horan is approachable as a head coach. His office door is always open for players to come in and talk to him about football or life.
"He cares about the players and it's not just a number," Baune said. "He knows where everyone is from and what they want to do."
Horan ranks third on the head coaching wins list at Concordia behind Jim Christopherson and Jake Christiansen. Christopherson (1969-2000) is the all-time leader with 218 wins. Christiansen (1941-68) ranks second with 143 victories.
"In his mind, he's still just that young guy who took over for Jim," Willits said of Horan ranking among the Concordia coaching greats.
"He doesn't even think he comes close to being on that level, and he is," Mistro added. "He doesn't know that people perceive him that way."