The 20th year of Jerome Souers' tenure as Northern Arizona’s head football coach will be his last, Lisa Campos, vice president for intercollegiate athletics, announced Monday afternoon at the Walkup Skydome.
With Brad Cesmat of Sports360AZ.com first reporting earlier in the afternoon the sides would be parting ways, Northern Arizona called a press conference to formally announce its plans.
“As you have probably already seen, we are here to announce this will be Coach Souers' last season as the head football coach at NAU,” Campos said to open the press conference. “I want to be very clear that this decision had nothing to do with the outcomes of the recent games. This is the result of many conversations that Jerome and I have had over the last several months.”
After dropping the first two games of the regular season, a 62-24 loss at Arizona and this past Saturday’s 38-20 final at home to Western Illinois, Northern Arizona has a bye this weekend before Big Sky Conference play opens at Cal Poly Sept. 23.
When asked if any thought had gone into making the announcement before the season, Campos responded: “Obviously there’s no perfect timing for these types of announcements. We thought this would be a great time in terms of right before conference play and being able to celebrate the 20 years.”
While little was said in the short press conference, Souers said the team’s goals remain the same going forward in the final nine games of his Northern Arizona coaching career.
“Everything we have worked so hard to achieve in the offseason will be put to the test,” Souers said, with a Big Sky title still the team’s focus. “With nine games left, I can tell you that the coaching staff and student-athletes of this very special team will remain committed to the mission we've stated and worked so hard to set up.”
After signing a four-year extension in 2014, Souers’ contract, which pays him a base salary of $185,000 annually, is due to expire Jan. 31, 2018. His Northern Arizona tenure is tied for seventh among FCS coaches and included a Big Sky Conference-record 112 wins and overall record of 112-105.
Hired in January 1998, Souers arrived in Flagstaff from Montana, where he spent 12 seasons as an assistant coach. The Grizzlies’ defensive coordinator for his final eight years in Missoula, Souers won a national title with Montana in 1995. Falling to his former school 14 straight times from 1998 to 2011, Souers beat Montana in Missoula in 2012 and went 3-1 against the Grizzlies in the past five years.
However, the Lumberjacks have reached the FCS playoffs just once in the past 13 years. The Lumberjacks finished 9-3 in 2013 and earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2003, when they won their last Big Sky title.
Campos added that announcing the decision now will give Northern Arizona time to begin its search for a new head coach in 2018.
“Another important reason for making this announcement now is to ensure smooth succession planning,” Campos said. “NAU has time to begin a national search to find an experienced leader who can build on the strong foundation established by Coach Souers.”