Tabor College football back and better than ever

In sports, it?s hard to reach the top of your conference, let alone stay there and be relevant year after year.

Take a look at the chart below and you?ll see Tabor football was outstanding in 2005, good in 2006 and not so good from 2007-2011. But Tabor has been good to great since 2012.

You don?t have to look any farther than the head coach to understand why.

Mike Gardner was the head coach at Tabor in 2004 and 2005. The latter team is arguably the best in Tabor history.

In 2004, the Bluejays finished 9-2, won their first 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 a record of 11-1, repeated as KCAC champions, won their first round NAIA national playoff game, before losing in the quarterfinals. The success earned the Bluejays a No. 6 ranking in the final NAIA top 25 poll. After the season, Gardner was listed in ?American Football Monthly? as one of the top football coaches in 2005.

Then Gardner was lured away to become head coach at Malone University in Ohio. It was good news for Malone and bad news for Tabor.

Prior to his arrival, the Pioneers had not had a winning season in seven years.

During his four-year tenure at Malone, Gardner took the Pioneers to the Victory Bowl three times and led them to their first win in that bowl game in 2007.

He is the second winningest coach in Malone University history. His best year was in 2008, when Malone was 8-4. The only year his team had a losing record was in 2009, when Malone was 4-6.

You can see from the chart above that Tabor football suffered dramatically within two short years after Gardner left following the 2005 season.

In fact, in the four years Gardner was at Malone, Tabor football had a dismal record of 9-31, including 0-10 in 2009.

Gardner began his second stint as the head coach of Tabor football in 2010, and although the results weren?t immediate, it wasn?t long before Tabor football was relevant again.

According to Tabor?s website, entering the 2014 season, Gardner?s career record of 70-39, ranks him as the 13th winningest coach in the nation. His winning percentage places him 11th among all active coaches in the NAIA. Not surprisingly, he?s the most successful coach in Tabor College football history.

This year?s football team was entertaining and has to be in the conversation with the 2005 team as best in Tabor?s history.

I will spare Coach Gardner the likely outcome of upsetting some current or former players by choosing which team was best.

Of course, I am happy to give my two cents worth. Let me preface my observation on the fact that both teams were outstanding. You can make a case for either team being No. 1 all-time.

Both teams were unbeaten in conference play, and both won a postseason game.

If push came to shove, I?d give the offensive firepower advantage to the 2005 team and a slight defensive edge to the 2015 team. If I was forced to pick one, I?d probably lean toward the 2005 team, but that?s the beauty of having two really good teams. I can?t lose either way.

Of course, if this year?s team wins a second playoff game, (this was written before the Nov. 28 game) I may have to ask for another ballot, because it would be the first Tabor team to reach the final four in NAIA football.

There have been other good teams, coaches and players, but Tabor?s top two teams have one thing in common: Mike Gardner was the head coach.

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