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Gottsch steps down as Bluejays head coach

Former Tabor QB resigns with 3-27 record

Sports writer

There’s no place like home.

Home is where the heart is.

That may have partially been the reason former Tabor football standout Mike Gottsch’s eyes gleamed when he saw his alma mater needed a football coach in 2007.

A 1989 graduate of Tabor and an intense competitor on the field, Gottsch’s love for the college, program, and the game made it hard to resist applying for the job. After three seasons and posting a 3-27 record, Gottsch announced to his team Nov. 11 that he would not be returning as head coach in 2010.

“I’m looking out for the best interest of the football program, to let Tabor College start the search for a new head coach and hopefully get a very qualified candidate in here very quickly,” he said in a news release. “I wanted them to get another coach in here as soon as possible.

“I’ve built some fantastic relationships with players and parents of players and I’m really, really going to miss going out to the practice field and working with them every day. Hopefully they’ve been taught, in addition to become better football players, how to become better men.”

Defensive coordinator Ed King also announced his resignation and the Bluejays hope to find a successor by Dec. 1.

Gottsch’s and King’s contracts expire Dec. 31 and Tabor athletic director Rusty Allen has announced the search will begin.

“We will immediately post the opening and invite applications,” Allen said. “At the same time, our search committee will identify and attempt to recruit who we believe are outstanding candidates for the position.

“Ideally, we would have a new coach in place no later than Dec. 1. A quick transition leads to new energy with current players and high retention. Further, a quick transition gives the program a chance to have a strong recruiting year.”

Prior to Gottsch’s arrival in early spring 2007, the Bluejays were hard-up for a breath of fresh air after just one season under the highly scrutinized Robert Rubel.

Problems both on and off the field — including an on-campus altercation involving Tabor players, the Hillsboro police, and a SWAT team — helped lead to the decision not to renew Rubel’s contract.

Despite a 6-4 record, Rubel’s effort to stay was also dashed by players reporting mistreatment during practice.

Gottsch had been a quarterback for the Bluejays in the late 1980s — a time when the program struggled just to compete, let alone win.

Gottsch had served as an assistant coach at winning programs such as Hutchinson Community College in the early 1990s, along with head coaching jobs in his native Nebraska and Indiana.

After many years of finishing in last place, including several winless seasons, Bluejay fans got a reversal of fortune when Tim McCarty took over for Dan Thiessen following the 1999 season.

McCarty began transforming a desert into an oasis after the 2000 season, leading Tabor to a .500 finish, and its first-ever NAIA playoff appearance in 2003 before accepting a similar job at East Central Oklahoma.

McCarty’s defensive coordinator and successor, Mike Gardner, raised the bar higher yet.

Gardner did what was once thought impossible — he led the Bluejays to back-to-back league titles and NAIA playoff appearances.

Along with that, Tabor’s 17-14 win over Graceland in 2005 marked the first time in seven years a KCAC team had advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

The Bluejays were eliminated the next round by top-ranked and eventual runner-up Sioux Falls — the same team that knocked them out a year earlier.

With the door open to many opportunities, Gardner opted for Malone University in the Buckeye state following the 2005 season.

Tabor’s search for a replacement lasted until April of 2007 — well after the signing period had ended.

The late acquisition left Gottsch with little to work with and nine months later, the Bluejays suffered their first losing season since 1999, finishing 1-9 overall and winless in the KCAC.

Tabor’s lone win came at the expense of NCAA Division II’s Oklahoma-Panhandle State, which finished 2007 winless.

Gottsch never had a shortage of talent, but the program was never able to win.

The 2008 season started out no better with the Bluejays losing 14 straight games dating back to 2007 before ending the year winning two of their last three.

The two wins kept Tabor out of 10th place as a win over Southwestern left the Moundbuilders in 10th.

The Bluejays 2-8 finish left them in a two-way tie for eighth with Bethany — Gottsch’s best season during his tenure.

Tabor’s football program received a major uplift in the summer of 2009 after Joel Wiens helped contribute to the construction of a brand new stadium.

The improvement in the facilities didn’t equal better results on the field though, as Gottsch and the Bluejays suffered their first winless season since the Thiessen era, going 0-10.

Even harder for the Bluejays and Gottsch was the fact that several games were well within Tabor’s reach.

Four points or less decided three of the Bluejays 10 games, and two others were closer than the score would indicate.

“Coach Gottsch has a strong work ethic and I have a deep appreciation for the time and energy he has given to the Tabor football program,” Allen said. “Coach Gottsch expected his players to perform not only on the field but in the classroom, and supported learning in multiple ways.

“Mike is a man of God. Like all of our coaches, his focus on helping young men come to know and grow in Christ is something that sets the Tabor athletic department and the football program apart.”

Former Bluejay All-American and current defensive assistant Jake Schenk has been named interim head coach.

“I thanked them for their effort and hard work, and for trusting and believing in me and coming here,” Gottsch said. “I also let them know that it would be wise for them to stay put and not go looking for greener pastures.

“When I got here, this new stadium was a pipe dream, and now that it’s here, I believe it will help us with retention and recruiting. I really believe that the guys who are here know they have a special facility.”

Last modified Nov. 19, 2009

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