By: Jay Kidwell
During an introductory press conference on Wednesday afternoon (Dec. 19), Bob Nielson was welcomed as the next head football coach of the Western Illinois Fighting Leatherneck program. Dr. Tim M. Van Alstine, Assistant Vice President for Student Services/Director of Athletics, made the official announcement and introduction of Nielson.
"It is truly an honor to be here accepting this position. I want to extend my thanks to President (Jack) Thomas, Dr. (Gary) Biller, Dr. (Tim) Van Alstine and the entire search committee for the confidence that you have demonstrated in me as the next leader of Western Illinois football. I also want to thank my wife of 31 years, Terri, who is here with me," said Nielson. "This is a great opportunity and a great challenge, but great challenge brings with it great opportunity. I believe that the future of Western Illinois football is bright and that we can accomplish much."
He becomes the 27th head coach in program history. Nielson takes over a Leatherneck Football program that has made nine appearances all-time in the NCAA Division I playoffs (last qualified in 2010), captured 12 Missouri Valley Football Conference ‘Player of the Year' awards, and 137 All-America honors during the program's NCAA Division I era but has only one NCAA postseason appearance in the last nine seasons.
"I enjoy building, and if you look at my track record you can see that there have been situations where I've taken over programs that needed a little push forward. That part of the situation here didn't scare me, as a matter of fact, it excited me about the potential here. There is a very strong commitment here administratively, and I understand how important that is because of the roles that I have held in my career," said Nielson. "The overwhelming passion of everybody that I spoke with during my visit here about how important this football program was to the university and this community… I wanted to be a part of that."
Nielson joins the Leathernecks from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, having served as the head football coach and athletics director. He owns a 100-26 record during his 10-year tenure as head coach at UMD and won the 2008 and 2010 NCAA Division II National Championship following a 15-0 campaign in each season.
He joined the Bulldogs in 1999 and during his first five-year coaching stint went 38-19 with a Division II playoff appearance in 2002. Nielson was appointed as the Bulldogs' Athletics Director in September 2003 but did not take over duties until completion of the 2003 season. He took over the football head coaching duties again starting with the 2008 campaign, and served in both capacities since.
Over the past five seasons, Nielson and the Bulldogs have gone to the NCAA playoffs each year, won two national titles and posted a 62-7 record in that span. In each of the national championship seasons (2008, 2010), Nielson was voted Division II National ‘Coach of the Year'.
UMD captured five Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference titles during his 10 years. The Bulldog program has produced two Harlon Hill finalists (Division II National Player of the Year), four Academic All-America selections, two NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, 12 All-Americans, and five NSIC ‘Player of the Year' awards. Recently, one of his offensive linemen received the Gene Upshaw Division II ‘Lineman of the Year' award.
In addition to his football coaching duties, Nielson also oversaw the Bulldogs' 16-sport program. Both the men's and women's hockey teams compete at the NCAA Division I level while the other 14 sports compete at the Division II level. He oversaw an athletic staff of nearly 50 full-time employees.
"We welcome Bob Nielson and his family to the Western Illinois Leatherneck family. When the search process began, Bob's coaching record and accomplishments certainly stood out, speaking volumes on his coaching reputation and success on the field. When we met coach Nielson in person, that was the selling point," said Van Alstine. "You can tell he's a man of integrity who, in addition to excellence on the field, places a great emphasis on academic success for his student-athletes. His values are exactly what we wanted to find in our next head football coach."
During his three years (1996-98) as head coach at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Nielson went 22-11 and was named Division III ‘Coach of the Year' in 1998.
Nielson was 39-14 during his five years (1991-95) coaching at Wartburg College with two NCAA Division III postseason appearances, and he went 9-8-1 in two seasons at Ripon College.
In 20 seasons as a head football coach at the Division II and III level, Nielson owns a 170-59-1 record and made the NCAA postseason nine times (14-7 career NCAA postseason record).
Assistant Athletics Director/Media Services
Western Illinois University