Tabor’s KCAC football 3-peat achievement is historic success

Tabor head coach Mike Gardner paces the sideline during a close game with McPherson College this season. His career record of 104-50 currently ranks him 11th among winningest active coaches in the country.
Tabor head coach Mike Gardner paces the sideline during a close game with McPherson College this season. His career record of 104-50 currently ranks him 11th among winningest active coaches in the country.
The Tabor College Bluejays football team accomplished a first in school history, and something that has been done just two other times in the history of the KCAC—becoming a three-peat conference champion.

The Bluejays ended this season 8-2 overall, 8-1 in conference, and are 25-2 in the KCAC over that 3-year span.

Coach Mike Gardner has overseen the building of this championship program since being named head coach in 2004. That year, the Bluejays finished 9-2, won their first ever KCAC championship, went to the national playoffs and finished No. 14 in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll.

In 2005, the Bluejays finished the regular season with an 11-1 record, repeated as KCAC champions, won their first round NAIA national playoff game and eventually lost in the quarterfinals.

The success earned the Bluejays a No. 6 ranking in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll. After such a successful season, Gardner was listed in American Football Monthly as one of the top small college football coaches.

After leaving for a brief stint at Malone University, he returned to Hillsboro in 2010 for a second go-round as Tabor’s head coach and led the team to a 4-6 record that season.

In 2011, the Bluejays finished 3-7 overall, but the tide turned the following fall. In 2012, Tabor finished the season with an 8-2 record and second place in the KCAC (7-1). The success that year launched the Bluejays into a No. 19 ranking in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll.

Gardner and the Bluejays continued to build on their success in 2013 as they qualified for the NAIA football playoffs, where they finished in the final eight teams in the nation. The Bluejays defeated Benedictine College in the first round on the road, 14-13. The win was Tabor’s first ever road victory in the playoffs. The Bluejays would lose to the eventual national champion, Grand View University, 44-24.

For the second year in a row, Tabor finished second in the KCAC with a 7-2 conference record and a 10-3 overall record and were ranked No. 8 in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll.

The 2014 season saw Tabor earn its highest ranking in school history. After starting the year 3-0—which included a 27-17 win on the road over NAIA powerhouse Missouri Valley College—the Bluejays climbed as high as No. 3 in the NAIA Football Coaches’ Top 25 Poll.

The Bluejays ended the 2014 season ranked No. 24 in the final NAIA Top 25 Poll after finishing the year with a 7-4 overall record.

The 2015 season was the best yet for the Bluejays as they completed an undefeated conference season (9-0), wo win Tabor’s first outright title since 2005.

Additionally, Tabor was selected to host a playoff game for the first time in school history. They took advantage of the opportunity by defeating No. 9 Doane College, 16-14. The Bluejays then lost to No. 1 Morningside College in the second round of the playoffs to finishing the year 11-2 and ranked No. 8 in the country.

The 2016 season was another successful run for coach and team, as they again won the KCAC title with an 8-1 record and advanced to face No. 5 Morningside in the NAIA playoffs.

Eighteen players were named to the KCAC post-season teams, and the Bluejays were honored as the KCAC Team of Character. Addi­tion­ally, Spencer Baalman and Evan Sprayberry were named to the 2016 AFCA-NAIA Coaches All-America team.

Gardner’s success on the gridiron has earned him the KCAC Coach of the Year award in 2004, 2005, 2012 and 2015.

Gardner’s career record of 104-50 currently ranks him 11th among winningest active coaches in the nation. He currently is the most successful coach in Tabor College football history with a record of 79-31.

—Mark Fox, Tabor College sports information director