Karson Pike leaving Aspen High football to take coaching job at Bemidji State | AspenTimes.com

Aspen High football coach Karson Pike takes job at Minnesota college

Pike going to Bemidji State to be offensive coordinator

Aspen High School football coach Karson Pike talks to his players after practice in 2016. Pike is leaving the school to take a job at a Division II college in Minnesota.

There aren't many people who could pry Karson Pike away from his job as the head football coach at Aspen High School. Bemidji State University head coach Brent Bolte was one, and a call from Bolte forced Pike to make a difficult decision that is nothing but bittersweet for all involved.

"A lot of sleepless nights," Pike said. "It really made it tough, but at the end of the day it's a challenge and an opportunity that doesn't come around very often. Working for your mentor is always something that is exciting. I'm excited for the new opportunity, but also extremely sad by leaving the town."

Pike, 31, has accepted Bolte's offer to return to Minnesota to become the offensive coordinator for the NCAA Division II program. Pike spent two years as a graduate assistant for the school, earning his master's degree in sports studies in 2012.

He broke the news to the AHS players and staff Friday morning. Assistant coach Alex Wood has taken over as interim coach.

"It is bittersweet," Aspen High athletic director Martha Richards said. "I told him, 'I have two hats. As the athletic director I want to do everything I can to keep you. On the other hand, as a coach that aspires to keep moving up, this is a wonderful opportunity for you.' It's a really tough one for us."

Pike, a native of Golden, recently finished his second season leading the Skiers. He inherited a program coming off a 2-7 season and in search of stability at head coach. He brought that, guiding Aspen to another 2-7 season in 2016 with only one varsity senior before the team's breakthrough 2017 campaign in which it went 8-2 and made the Class 2A playoffs for the first time since 2013.

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Led by senior quarterback R.J. Peshek and junior receiver Noah Hollander, the AHS offense was among the most prolific in the state.

Prior to coming to Aspen, Pike spent four years at powerhouse Iowa Western Community College, where he was the team's offensive coordinator his final two years there. He played quarterback for Central Lakes College in Brainerd, Minnesota, for a season before finishing out his undergraduate degree at nearby St. Cloud State University. While at St. Cloud, Pike coached at Central Lakes College before beginning graduate school in Bemidji.

"It's really tough to leave this place and these people because it is so special. Obviously it's a place that will be near and dear to my heart for a long time," Pike said of Aspen. "I probably learned more in the year and a half I've been here than I had in my previous nine, just from interacting with kids and parents of different ability levels and building self-confidence in young men and really reflecting on how I coach and my philosophies."

Bemidji is coming off an 8-3 season. It was Bolte's first year as head coach after he had spent the previous 14 seasons as a full-time assistant with the Beavers. Pike will replace offensive coordinator Craig Bagnell, who earlier this month was hired as the head coach at the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota, his alma mater.

Pike plans to be in Bemidji by the New Year to get started on recruiting with National Signing Day less than two months away.

"It's a special time for him and everybody here is 100 percent behind him, even though we are sad that we don't have him anymore," Richards said. "He's somebody that is pretty special and I think he's going to have a lot of great opportunities and he'll have success there that will lead to other opportunities."

Like many others, Pike voiced his support for Wood to fill his spot in the interim. Wood, a 2009 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, walked on to the football team at the University of Colorado and eventually earned a scholarship. He started at tight end for the Buffaloes his final two seasons, graduating in 2014.

Wood, now 27, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley soon after leaving CU and has been on the AHS coaching staff since. He was the team's offensive coordinator and shared play-calling duties with Pike this fall.

"What I really want to do stepping into the position is make sure that what Karson laid down is here to stay," Wood said. "He did a great job of getting the school and the kids excited about football. I just want to make sure that stays going in the right direction."

Richards will open the job to outside applicants after the New Year, and Wood is expected to be an immediate finalist for the position.

"Alex is a young guy with a lot of energy and the kids really rally around him. I'm excited for him to take over in the interim and hopefully pursue the official title," Pike said. "I'd really like to thank my staff, the players and the community for the tremendous support and the understanding of how much good a football team can do for young men and I'm extremely thankful for my time. This will be a place that is special to me for my life and I can't thank everybody enough for the opportunity to come lead this program."

acolbert@aspentimes.com