VCC standout back in new role

25 years after he starred for the Ironmen, Isaac returns as head coach

by Tom Coombe
A roundabout journey has come full circle for Terrence Isaac.
Just after a quarter-century after Isaac came to Ely for the first time and started what turned out to be a storied football career at Vermilion Commuity College, he has returned as the program’s head coach.
Earlier this week, Isaac and his staff welcomed about 55 Vermilion players to campus as practices began in preparation for an Aug. 28 season-opener against perennial powerhouse Rochester.
It also was a homecoming of sorts for the Cleveland native, who moved north from Louisiana, where he was coaching high school football, for the chance to lead the Ironmen.
“When this opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t pass it up,” Isaac said Tuesday.
Those who followed Vermilion during the 1990s, when the program captured three state titles and a slew of playoff berths, are likely to remember Isaac, a star wide receiver on state championship teams in both 1995 and 1996.
“Back in high school I didn’t have the best of grades, but I had the chance to come and play football in Ely, Minnesota,” Isaac recalled. “At first I said ‘where’s Ely, Minnesota?’ But it was probably the two best years of my life in college. It took me from a situation in Cleveland where I grew up around a lot of violence and gangs, to come to a place like Ely where I could kick back and relax in a great environment. I made great friends and loved every minute of it.”
Isaac also made his mark on the gridiron, playing for former coach Jack Gebauer and a staff that included longtime VCC athletic director Paul McDonald and eventual head coach Keith Turner.
An all-state wide receiver, Isaac was part of VCC teams that lost just one game in two seasons and made a bowl game appearance.
After Vermilion, Isaac spent one season each at Texas A&M-Commerce and Western State (Tex.) and moved on to play professionally.
He spent some time playing arena football and had NFL tryouts with both the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs before an injury cut short his playing career.
But while he hung up his cleats, football remained in Isaac’s blood.
For the last decade-and-a-half, Isaac has coached high school football, most recently at Green Oaks in Shreveport, La.
“I’ve coached along the way at a couple of schools and walked into some programs where they were struggling and I was able to come in with my staff and turn some programs around,” said Isaac.
Last season, Isaac won coach of the year honors in Louisiana while guiding Green Oaks to a 7-3 record, the program’s best mark in 21 years.
That led to the opportunity to coach at Vermilion, which was in the market for a head coach after Justin Kosik resigned last year.
“I’ve had a great relationship with Coach Mac (McDonald) and Coach Turner and they’ve been mentors to me,” said Isaac. “The last couple of times Vermilion had openings I’ve been interested. My hope is to make the alumni proud. I know this place has a rich tradition and a lot of great athletes have come through Vermilion.”
Isaac takes over a Vermilion program that did not play in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the new coach is starting nearly from scratch.
Only four returning players are in the mix, but Isaac is familiar with some of his personnel.
One is his son, Terrence Isaac, Jr., a highly-touted wide receiver who spurned some NCAA Division I offers to play a season for his dad in Ely.
Another is quarterback Keith Baker, who amassed nearly 10,000 yards passing in high school while playing for Isaac.
“He’s started for me ever since he was a ninth grader and in Louisiana right now he’s number four in front of Peyton Manning and Eli Manning,” said Isaac.“He had over 90 touchdowns in his career. He’s the real deal.”
With a big-time quarterback, a D1-caliber receiver and his own pedigree, it’s safe to say passing the football will be a big part of VCC’s arsenal and Isaac plans to institute a spread offense.
The rest of the roster also look strong.
“On paper we look good but that doesn’t matter,” said Isaac. “That’s why you play the games.”
Isaac brought three assistant coaches with him to Ely and he’s looking for the VCC program to make its mark in the community.
He’s also looking to make Ely his permanent residence.
“Like I joked around with my wife when we first got married, I told her ‘look, when I retire I’m moving to a place called Ely,’” said Isaac.
Isaac isn’t retired, but he’s happy that Ely is now home.
“I plan on being here as long as they’ll have me,” he said.