Cougars Head Coach Follows Lead of Staff, Veterans in National Championship Journey
Dec. 17, 2010
Contact: Adam Samson, NAIA Sports Information and Media Services Intern, firstname.lastname@example.org
KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The never-ending coaching carousel leaves its mark on some programs more than others. NAIA football powerhouse Sioux Falls (S.D.) had gone through just three head coaches in the past 30 years before Kalen DeBoer departed in early February. The coach, who had posted a near flawless record of 67-3 in his five years with the Cougars, left for an offensive coordinator position at NCAA Division I-FCS Southern Illinois.
Sioux Falls had the difficult task of replacing the coach who established an NAIA prominence with three rings in four championship title game appearances (2006, 2008, 2009). DeBoer was quite generous and passed off a 29-game winning streak and 50-game home win streak to his successor.
On Feb. 20, 2010, Sioux Falls named Jed Stugart the next head coach of its storied football program. Stugart arrived with plenty of coaching experience on his resume, with 12 years in the coaching ranks. He spent the 2009 season at NCAA Division I UNLV as linebackers coach. Prior to his stint at UNLV, he established his NAIA head coaching resume at MidAmerica Nazarene's (Kan.). In his three years with the Pioneers, Stugart coached them to a 26-7 record, two NAIA playoffs appearances in three years and a Heart of America Athletic Conference title in 2008.
Heading into the 2010 Russell Athletic-NAIA Football National Championship with a record of 13-0, the first-year Cougars' head coach will be looking to extend the program's 42-game winning streak. That streak is the longest active streak in college football at any level. Despite making it to the postseason at the Division II and NAIA level, Stugart will have his first go-around on the national championship stage.
How does a first-year head coach prepare for his first-ever national championship appearance?
Stugart responded, "My plan is to stay out of the way and not mess things up."
At most schools, the previous comment from a head coach would draw an immediate red flag, but not at Sioux Falls. Not when you have a core group of seniors and upperclassmen making their fourth trip to the title game in as many years. This isn't their first rodeo.
"Our players and I made it a point of emphasis to not change much throughout the season and be consistent," Stugart said. "I've relied heavily on our coaching staff and our players who have been through the success before at Sioux Falls."
Stugart came in with the understanding of the Cougars' tradition and winning attitude that had been instilled throughout the football program by his predecessors. The blueprint was pretty simple: don't reinvent the wheel.
"Why change something when it's not broken?" said senior linebacker Dominic Studzinski.
Jon Ryan, another senior who is gunning for a third-straight title, said the team didn't know what was going to happen as soon as DeBoer left for Southern Illinois, but let the process play out.
"He (Stugart) was really open with the seniors when he came in," Ryan said. "We have a unity council where we meet with him frequently. He kept all of our traditions the same when he got here and the transition has been really smooth."
Saturday's championship game will mark the last day that 20 seniors will suit up in a Cougars uniform. Of the senior class, 11 have been with the program since 2007 and have solidified the Sioux Falls football dynasty. That group of seniors has accrued an overall record of 55-1, wrapped up four Great Plains Athletic Conference Championships and won two national crowns.
Ironically, the only loss on the seniors' watch was to a familiar foe. Carroll defeated them in the 2007 NAIA Football National Championship, 17-9.
"Since I've been here, Carroll has been the only team that has beaten us," Ryan said. "We still have a grudge against them even though we beat them in 2008. We don't want to get embarrassed like 2007 again, but in a way, it has driven us to get to where the program is at now."
There hasn't been time for the Cougars to dwell on the past though. Sioux Falls has had two weeks to prepare and game plan for what the Fighting Saints are about to bring to the table in Rome on Saturday.
"When we're out there working as one, we're a tough unit," Studzinski said. "We're going to go out there with our A-game and I don't want anything less from them because it's the National Championship."