NAU Football

Northern Arizona University head coach Jerome Souers watches as his team runs through drills during spring camp at the Walkup Skydome.

Taylor Mahoney, Arizona Daily Sun

Just a day after Northern Arizona earned a spot in the FCS playoff bracket, Jerome Souers is set to return as head coach in 2018, President Rita Cheng announced on Monday.

In addition, defensive coordinator Andy Thompson will be promoted to associate head coach.

"Maintaining stability in the athletics department is extremely important as NAU begins its search for a new athletics director," Cheng said. "It will be a key consideration for those interested in NAU's athletics director position to know they are walking into a strong and stable program and will have the time and ability to make coaching decisions."

Souers was originally set to leave the university after 20 seasons when Lisa Campos, vice president for collegiate athletics, announced in September after two losses that Souers' contract would not be renewed in January.

But the Lumberjacks went on to win seven games and earn a second-place finish in the Big Sky conference, then a playoff game bid. Campos, meanwhile, was hired last week by the University of Texas at San Antonio as its new athletics director. She was replaced immediately on an interim basis by Joanne Keene, NAU executive vice president and chief of staff.

Cheng told the Daily Sun last week she was unaware in September before the Souers nonrenewal decision that Campos was interested in not only the San Antonio vacancy but a similar opening in El Paso, where she previously had worked.

Further, Cheng said she did not learn that Campos had accepted the San Antonio offer -- at nearly twice her NAU -- salary until the day before it was announced officially.

Cheng's announcement Monday that Souers would be returning for another year as coach did not mention Campos or the Lumberjacks' playoff berth, despite losing Saturday to Southern Utah in a game that decided the Big Sky championship.

But when asked Friday if she would have approved of the nonrenewal of Souers knowing Campos would no longer be at the school or preferred her replacement to make a final decision on the football coach, the president said, “While it would have been an important consideration, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to speculate after the fact.”

JACKS PLAYOFF BOUND

Despite Saturday's loss, Northern Arizona (7-4, 6-2 Big Sky) was not only  included in the FCS playoff bracket revealed Sunday morning, but the Lumberjacks will host the San Diego Toreros (9-2, 8-0 Pioneer) on Saturday at 6 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome.

It will be Northern Arizona's first playoff appearance since 2013 and its sixth appearance in the FCS playoffs, with the program's lone win coming in 2003 against McNeese State.

The placement in the bracket seems to come as a break for a Lumberjacks team after years of being on the outside looking in with seven wins. With the bracket at 20 teams in 2012, the Lumberjacks were left out with an 8-3 record. In 2014, the team missed out with a 7-5 record and in 2015 a 7-4 record kept Northern Arizona out.

San Diego, who lost 35-7 to UC Davis and former NAU offensive coordinator Tim Plough in September, earned the Pioneer Football League's first FCS playoff victory a year ago at Cal Poly. A nonscholarship league filled with schools across the country, the Pioneer Football League's champion has historically struggled in the FCS playoffs prior to last season.

Ranking 17th in the FCS in passing offense, 18th in total offense and second in scoring with 39.0 points per game, San Diego provides a similar challenge to the rest of the Big Sky Conference.

TICKETS

Tickets for the game are on sale online, over the phone or in person. Northern Arizona's box office at the Walkup Skydome will be open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to purchase tickets, as well as online at nau.edu/footballpromo and through the school's central ticket office at 928-523-5661. For group tickets, the number is 928-523-0639

General admission tickets, priced at $20 for regular, $15 for senior (65+) and $10 for youth (3-12), are currently on sale. Reserved and premium tickets are $30 and $25 respectively and go on sale Tuesday at 5 p.m.

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