One of the most successful and well-respected coaches in the history of collegiate football, Mel Tjeerdsma, announced Wednesday that he will retire following a brilliant coaching career that spanned the last four decades.
Tjeerdsma, 64, vacates his post at Northwest Missouri State University following 17 years of service and after orchestrating one of the greatest football program transformations in the history of collegiate athletics. The Bearcats were 0-11 in 1994, his first season. The team is 183-32 since with three national championships and 12 conference championships in the last 15 seasons.
“The past 17 years have been an incredible experience for Carol and me,” said Tjeerdsma. “The growth and the development of the Bearcat football program have probably exceeded all of our expectations. Even though we’ve been blessed with an abundance of great memories on the field, the friendships and relationships that we’ve developed are the most important aspect of our time at Northwest.”
Four years after his inaugural season with the team, Northwest became the first NCAA Division II program to finish a season 15-0. The Bearcats won back-to-back national championships in 1998 and 1999 – the University’s first national titles in any sport. Northwest added a third championship in 2009 that capped an unprecedented run of five national championship game appearances that began in 2005. The Bearcats were 76-12 in those five seasons.
Among his peers in Division II, Tjeerdsma is third on the active wins list (242) and has tallied more postseason victories than any other coach in Division II history. He’s led Northwest to the playoffs 13 times in the last 15 seasons, sports a 32-10 overall postseason record and is the program’s all-time winningest coach.
The Bearcats’ 12 MIAA championships are highlighted by two prolific conference winning streaks. His teams won 41 consecutive conference games from 1997-2001, a record that stood until his squad surpassed it this past season. The 2011 Bearcat team will open conference play riding a 46-game win streak in MIAA play. Ten Northwest teams have finished 9-0 in league play since 1997.
Matching on-the-field performance are exploits and honors off the field. Tjeerdsma’s teams have featured seven academic All-Americans in the last seven years and two Ken B. Jones Award Winners in the last five years as the top male student-athlete in the MIAA. Safety Myles Burnsides was named National Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2009-10.
Northwest’s football program boasts a graduation rate of 85 percent, a mark that rises well above the national average of 53 percent.
Northwest President Dr. John Jasinski praised Tjeerdsma for his leadership.
“This is a day we all knew would come at some point and thus one of complete honor and celebration for Coach Tjeerdsma, his wife, Carol, and his family,” said Jasinski. “We can talk records and honors, championships and streaks, but when we talk of Coach T, we talk about his leadership with integrity, his focus on the development of the complete student-athlete and his winning ways starting with off-the-field focus and transferring to storied on-the-field successes.”
Tjeerdsma’s honors include being named the Kansas City Chiefs’ nominee for the Don Shula Coach of the Year Award, being inducted into the NCAA Division II Football Hall of Fame back on Dec. 17 and being inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame last January. Tjeerdsma also is serving as keynote speaker at Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s prayer breakfast Jan. 5.
Tjeerdsma is a four-time national coach of the year honoree, was Liberty Mutual’s Coach of the Year in 2009 and is a finalist for the award again this year. He is a 12-time MIAA Coach of the Year honoree.
Prior to coaching at Northwest, Tjeerdsma guided Austin College to three Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association Championships (TIAA) and became the program’s all-time winningest coach. The Kangaroos were 59-38-4 in 10 seasons under Tjeerdsma and made two trips to the NAIA Division II playoffs. Tjeerdsma earned three TIAA Coach of the Year awards.
Before his time at Austin, Tjeerdsma was the offensive coordinator at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, for eight years. He also served as the head track and field coach at Northwestern. The Red Raiders earned four trips to the NAIA Division II playoffs and won a national championship in 1983 with Tjeerdsma on staff. His offense twice led the nation in total offense and scoring. His track and field teams won three Tri-State Conference titles and five consecutive NAIA District 15 Indoor Championships.
Prior to his collegiate coaching career, Tjeerdsma served as head football coach at Denison (Iowa) High School, where he guided his team to a 9-0 record and a 1975 state playoff berth.
He earned Northwest Iowa Coach of the Year honors in 1972 after winning a state championship at Sioux Center High School. He was the Northwest Iowa Track and Field Coach of the Year in 1973, 1974 and 1975.
Tjeerdsma earned his bachelor’s in physical education from Southern (S.D.) State in 1967. He earned his master’s from Northwest in 1977.
Tjeerdsma and his wife, Carol, have three married daughters and seven grandchildren.