FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Hank Biesiot, the longtime coach at Dickinson State who challenged the record for all-time NAIA victories, said Thursday he is stepping down after 38 years.

Biesiot won 258 games and led the Blue Hawks to 17 conference championships and 15 NAIA playoff appearances. He was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2006.

"I am grateful for the opportunity that Dickinson State has given me, to teach and coach at the university," Biesiot said. "The support shown by friends, boosters and fans has made this an exceptional community for me. The relationships are everlasting and heartfelt."

Biesiot, 68, told his players of his decision during a team meeting Wednesday night.

"Hank has been a great coach and mentor for the Hawks and a true treasure for the entire state," said LaVerne Jessen, former commissioner of the Dakota Athletic Conference. "If you were to compile a list of the most respected people of North Dakota, he likely will be on the short list."

Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon, an assistant under Biesiot in 1987, was not surprised that Biesiot opted to bow out with a low-key announcement to his players. School officials said Biesiot didn't want a news conference.

"He hates attention. He doesn't want anything being about him," Lennon said. "It just endears him even more to you because of his personality trait."

Lennon said he talks with Biesiot on a weekly basis.

"I probably talk to him more than I talk to my own mother," Lennon said. "Anytime we lose a game, he always reminds me the sun comes up. Anytime we win a game, he always accuses me of running up the score. That's kind of how we start our conversation."

One of Biesiot's former players, Paul Chapman, now the strength coach at the University of New Hampshire, said Biesiot molded him from a raw offensive lineman from Canada into a Canadian Football League player. Chapman spent a couple of seasons with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders.

"He has been a tremendous influence, not only on me, but so many guys," Chapman said. "We had a lot of characters and by the time they graduated from Dickinson State they became mature characters."

Dickinson State President D.C. Coston announced Biesiot's retirement at the state Board of Higher Education meeting Thursday in Mayville.

"He truly is legendary," Coston said.

Biesiot finished with a 258-121-1 record. He and St. Francis (Ind.) coach Kevin Donley were locked in a duel for the most coaching victories in THE NAIA and were tied — along with the retired Frosty Westering — with 256 wins in September 2012. Biesiot won just twice after that, including once in 2013.

A native of Michigan, N.D., Biesiot came to Dickinson State in 1972 as the defensive coordinator. He took OVER as head coach in 1976 and had winning seasons in 32 of his 38 years. Biesiot also served as head baseball coach from 1976 to 2001.

"His leadership equipped students with the skills needed for success on the field. His teaching focus on determination and hard work prepared them for success in life," said Tim Daniel, Dickinson State athletic director.

Biesiot has received numerous coaching honors, including a dozen selections as coach of the year in the Dakota Athletic Conference and North Dakota Collegiate Athletic Conference. He was selected as NAIA District 12 coach of the year four times, in 1981, 1989, 1990 and 1991.

USA College Sports Inc. in 2012 created the Biesiot Award to recognize the outstanding NAIA football player and scholar. Last year, the school's football stadium was renamed the Henry Biesiot Activities Center.

"He has been very successful on Saturday afternoons, but his greatest contribution has been the example he has set for the coaching profession," Jessen said. "For nearly 40 years he has consistently demonstrated how to win with class and how to lose with class."