During the past 40 years, with the possible exception of maybe four or five years, there never has been much excitement in Bluejay nation about Tabor football, much less coaching searches.
Coaches came. Coaches left. Recruits came, but after a year or two, most left.
Tabor has hired a lot of coaches in its football history. Most were not met with much more than passing interest. The feeling usually was, “Good luck to the poor soul who was hired.”
When Tabor searches for a new coach, generally it does so in relative anonymity. This time? Not so much.
Enter, or should I say, re-enter Mike Gardner, the coach who led Tabor football to unprecedented heights, including two consecutive KCAC titles and Tabor’s first postseason victory.
In fact, long before the position was open, rumors circulated that Gardner might be interested in returning to Hillsboro when the position opened up again.
After Coach Mike Gottsch announced his resignation, it was no secret that Gardner was at the top of Tabor’s wish list.
The question was whether Gardner would seriously consider returning, and if Tabor could do enough to entice him to come.
Tabor and most KCAC schools can’t offer coaches big salaries, but Tabor must have offered enough of a salary and promised enough support for the football program to make it worth Gardner’s time.
Make no mistake, if Tabor can attract a stable roster of 90-100 student-athletes and be competitive on the football field, an argument can be made for spending a little more for a coaching staff and the football program.
In four seasons at Malone, Gardner led the Malone (Ohio) Pioneers to a 25-18 record, three winning seasons and three NCCAA Victory Bowl appearances, including a victory in the 2007 Victory Bowl.
Prior to Gardner’s arrival, the Pioneers’ last winning campaign was in 1998. In his first three seasons at Malone, Gardner led the program to records of 7-4, 8-4 and 6-4, prior to the recent 4-6 record in 2009.
Malone was ranked numerous times in the NAIA Top 25 national poll throughout his tenure and, with the exception of this past season, earned a final end-of-season Top 25 national ranking each year.
So yes, the man can coach a little bit, a fact that likely wasn’t lost on Vice President for Athletics Rusty Allen and President Jules Glanzer.
It’s not every day Tabor can attract a proven winner with head coaching experience at the collegiate level, much less one who has already been there, done that at Tabor.
Of course, the circumstances aren’t the same as the first time Gardner was Tabor’s head coach. That time he was an assistant coach, and he assumed the head job when Tim McCarty resigned for another head coaching job at a bigger school.
McCarty and his staff had done the seemingly unthinkable, transforming Tabor from a cellar-dweller program to near the top of the KCAC. When Gardner was named head coach, the Bluejays already had many pieces in place to contend for the KCAC title.
The bad news is that the cupboard isn’t nearly as full this time. But the good news is it’s not nearly as bare as when McCarty took the head job a decade or so ago.
Bluejay fans shouldn’t be so naïve as to believe Tabor will challenge for a KCAC title next fall, but there’s every reason to believe they will win some games and get back on the right track.
No one knows for sure if Gardner will have the same level of success that he had the first time around. But at the very least, there is every reason to have hope.