ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JOE KLEINSASSER
It hurt when former Tabor College football coach Tim McCarty announced his resignation as head coach after turning the program around two years ago.
But it hurt even more this time when head coach Mike Gardner announced his decision to leave the Bluejays for a similar position at Malone College in Ohio.
The reality is that when McCarty left Tabor, Mike Gardner was ready and willing to move up. Gardner’s departure, along with top offensive assistant coach Dustin Miller, makes the future more uncertain.
When Tabor had a perennial losing program, coaches understandably came and went. Now that Tabor is winning, the revolving door is still spinning. Tabor can’t win even when they win.
Winning presents a new batch of challenges for Tabor, not the least of which is how to adequately compensate a successful coach.
Even with below-average facilities, McCarty and Gardner have shown that it’s possible to have a winning football program. But Tabor hasn’t found a way to keep McCarty or Gardner. One wonders if it’s even possible.
The challenge isn’t unique to Tabor. At every level of football, it’s hard to keep successful coaches. There’s always a bigger and better opportunity somewhere and someone willing to pay more.
I doubt that many Tabor fans expected Gardner to hang his hat in Hillsboro for long, but most hoped for more than a two-year stint as head coach.
We should have known better when Tabor posted on its Web site that Gardner was one of the 80 hot coaches for 2005 in the August edition of American Football Monthly. Ten coaches at all levels of the playing field were profiled, from high school to the NFL. Gardner was the only NAIA coach from Kansas selected.
To be fair, not everyone is sad that Gardner and Miller are leaving. Chief among those who are likely thrilled with the news are the rest of the coaches in the KCAC.
The loss of Gardner figures to be a temporary setback for the Tabor program in the short term, with the possibility of regressing to the lower echelons of the conference in a relatively short time.
Even if Gardner had stayed in Hillsboro, Tabor probably wouldn’t have been as good next year. It’s hard to replace an All-American running back and All-American linebacker.
However, the cupboard is hardly bare. Assuming that most of the remaining players return to Tabor, the next coach inherits a solid team with a lot of veterans.
Tabor’s roster topped 100 players last fall. It will be interesting to see what the roster size is next season since Tabor has to be behind the recruiting eight-ball. The new coach will have to recruit current players to remain at Tabor and find new players in order to keep the program healthy.
I wish Gardner and Miller all the success in the world. I appreciate all they did for Tabor football and for the college overall.
Winning back-to-back KCAC championships and winning an NAIA playoff game is amazing. They recruited a lot of good student-athletes and gave us some entertaining football.
Their departure won’t make ESPN Sportscenter, but they will be hard to replace.
As much as I wish Gardner and Miller well, I wish much success in finding a replacement to Athletic Director Don Brubacher and President Larry Nikkel.
The timing is lousy because Brubacher has his hands more than full as men’s basketball coach. On the plus side, at least the job is far more attractive than it was when Tim McCarty took over what was then a losing program.
There’s still cause for optimism. Tabor has had a better-than-average track record of hiring good coaches in recent years. This time the challenge isn’t finding someone to turn the football program around, but finding someone who can keep it from turning around.