Nielson Hire Sends Message

Bob Nielson USDThe University of South Dakota has no interest in being an afterthought. The Coyotes don't want to be anyone's little brother. Forget competing, they're aiming higher. South Dakota has its sights set on championships.

Athletic Director David Herbster made that abundantly clear this week when he hired reigning Missouri Valley Football Conference Coach of the Year Bob Nielson away from league rival Western Illinois. 

"Bringing coach Bob Nielson in here puts this football program in a position to be successful," Herbster said. "I look forward to, in the next several years, competing for the Valley title. And then let's take a shot at the playoffs and see where we end up from there."

"I want to take a run back at a national title game like we did in the 1980s. I think that is a realistic goal for us. And I think it's imperative for us to set those types of goals."

Nielson ResumeImpressive Credentials

It's tough not to be impressed with Nielson's resume. He's won nearly 70 percent of his games in 23 seasons as a head coach.

He took Wartburg and Wisconsin-Eau Claire to the NCAA Division III Playoffs before landing at Minnesota-Duluth. 

It was there that things really took off for Nielson. In two stints (1999-2003 & 2008-12) on the Bulldogs sideline, he won 100 of 126 games. He led UMD to the playoffs six times and twice won the Division II National Championship.

Both of those title-winning teams finished 15-0. 

In 2013, he moved on to Western Illinois to take over a program that had gone 5-17 overall and 2-14 in the MVFC over the previous two seasons.

He won four games that first year and five the next. This past season the Leathernecks finished 7-6 and reached the second round of the FCS Playoffs. It was their first postseason appearance since 2010.

Clear Vision

Nielson is a proven winner, so it's pretty easy to see why he quickly rose to the top of USD's list of potential coaching candidates.

What was not as apparent is why the Coyotes were of interest to him. Why leave a program that already had things heading in the right direction, especially for one in the same conference? Some would call it a lateral move. Others might even go as far as suggesting it was a step back. 

Nielson doesn't see it that way at all.

"If I didn't think this place was capable of being a championship caliber football team I wouldn't be here," he said.

"As I visited with people about the opportunity here I was extremely impressed with the University leadership, the athletic department leadership, their vision for what they wanted a Division I football program to be here at the University of South Dakota. In that process and that conversation I found it to be the right fit for me and an opportunity to take a place that's moving in the right direction and to take it forward to make it something special."

Coaching Costs

As attractive as the job was, landing Nielson was still no easy task. It certainly wasn't cheap.

Herbster understood that in order to land a high profile coach, USD was going to have to offer competitive compensation. And he let the money talk. Nielson's salary will be $255,000, which currently ranks fifth among MVFC head coaches. For added perspective, Joe Glenn was the league's lowest-paid coach last year at $145,000. 

Time will tell what kind of return the Coyotes get on the investment, but Nielson's history suggests the payout will be considerable.