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Gardner returns as Bluejays head coach

Staff writer

The first choice was the right choice for Tabor College.

As Tabor’s head football coach, Mike Gardner led the Bluejays to two of their best seasons in team history. In 2004, his first year at the helm after guiding the defense under Tim McCarty from 2001 to 2003, the Bluejays finished as the 14th-ranked NAIA team in the country and boasted a 9-2 record. Gardner bested his freshman campaign in 2005 by going 11-1 and finishing sixth in the final NAIA poll. Both of those teams went on playoff runs, the ’05 team earning a victory.

“Coach Gardner has proven ability as a recruiter, a motivator, a teacher, and a mentor,” Tabor vice president of athletics Rusty Allen said. “I believe God has called him to return to Tabor.”

Gardner spent the previous four years at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. Gardner took over a struggling Pioneer program and immediately made them winners. In his first year in 2006, Gardner led the Pioneers to a 7-4 record. The Pioneers went 8-4 in 2007, 6-4 in 2008, and 4-6 this past year. Malone was ranked in the top 25 every year that Gardner coached the team and they were invited to play in the Victory Bowl — the National Christian College Athletic Association championship game — three times. They won the game in 2007 in Beaver Falls, Penn. The Victory Bowl featured some tough competition; Gardner Webb, a NCAA Division 1AA football program, won the game in 2001.

“When I came here to Malone, they were starving to win,” Gardner said. “They hadn’t had a winning season for years. We were able to get that going pretty quick and got some really big wins against some top-ranked teams.”

Well, Gardner will have to turn around a Tabor program that is equally famished since his departure. In one season under Robert Rubel, Tabor went 6-4 and he was subsequently ousted. His replacement, former Tabor quarterback Mike Gottsch, was 3-27 in his three-year tenure, including a dismal 0-10 campaign in 2009.

“The situation I’m going into now at Tabor is a little bit foreign to me,” Gardner said. “We’re not going to do a lot of talking about what’s gone on in the past because you can’t look backward.”

Gardner is looking forward to re-acclimating to his native Kansas. He is from Roeland Park and he played football at Olathe South High School. He played college football at Baker University, where he was a three-time NAIA All-American.

Gardner, his wife Julie, and his two sons Ben, 16, and Brooks, 7, will be in Hillsboro this weekend to search for a house.

“Our boys are really excited about coming back to Hillsboro,” Gardner said. “Especially Ben, who is looking forward to playing football and baseball and being able to graduate with his former buddies there at Hillsboro High School.”

Last modified Dec. 2, 2009

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