Someone needs to talk to Tabor College football coach Mike Gardner. Clearly, he doesn’t get it. Turning a football program around isn’t that easy.
The second coming of Gardner as head coach of Tabor football wasn’t as dramatic as the first time around, but under the circumstances, the results are every bit as amazing.
The first time Gardner assumed the mantle as head football coach, his Bluejays won back-to-back conference championships. Of course on that occasion, he was already on staff as an assistant coach before he became head coach, and the program was on the up-tick.
After being the head coach of Malone College (Ohio) for four years, Gardner returned to take over a Tabor program that was back in the basement of the KCAC and winless in 2009.
I don’t know of anyone who seriously doubted that bringing Gardner back to Hillsboro was a good thing, except maybe for the rest of the coaches in the KCAC.
He may have been Coach of the Year when he won the conference, but the job he did this year ranks a close second. It’s not as easy as Gardner makes it look to turn a football program around.
In 2009, Tabor scored only 200 points while surrendering 432. As bad as it looked on paper with an 0-10 record, Tabor could easily have won a couple of games. Alas, when opportunity knocked, they came up short.
This year, with only about 40 returning players and more than 60 new student-athletes, Tabor scored 291 points while allowing 289. Instead of going winless, the Bluejays won four games and finished in sixth place. Not bad when you consider they were picked to finish ninth.
Can anyone join me in saying, “This guy knows how to recruit and coach a little bit”?
For what it’s worth, when Tabor won its second consecutive title under Gardner’s leadership in 2005, Tabor scored 427 points and allowed just 154 during conference play.
Tabor held its own in all but one or two games this fall. Only in losses to Ottawa and McPherson were the games pretty well decided by halftime.
Although Tabor was significantly more competitive in 2010, don’t assume the ride to the top of the standings is automatic. In fact, Tabor may do well to surpass the number of wins it had this season.
However, depending on how much success Gardner and his assistant coaches have on the recruiting trail, and if enough key players return next fall, Tabor could finish in the top half of the conference. Adding depth will be critical, because rarely do teams make it a full season without some injuries.
It’s hard to believe, but in just three years as Bluejays head football coach, Gardner has become the winningest coach in Tabor’s football history with a 24-9 record. Tim McCarty won 23 games as head coach prior to Gardner.
Cynics may say that becoming the winningest coach with just 24 wins at a school that has played football for 40 years isn’t all that significant. On the other hand, winning 24 games at a school that has traditionally lost far more than it has won is saying something.
And if Coach Gardner stays for another few years, the record for the number of wins at Tabor will remain safely in his name for a long time to come.