HAVRE — The MSU-Northern athletics department announced that Big Sky Conference coaching legend, Jerome Souers, will take over as head coach of the Lights football team.
“I've coached for over 40 years now, and most recently retired, and then stepped back in as an assistant coach with Southern Oregon University," Souers said in a Lights media release. "My time with SOU has been a truly wonderful experience, and I love the people and the program, but I’ve just gotten a different perspective on life due to recent personal events, and I decided that the chance to build a program at MSUN was a really exciting opportunity for me."
“I’m excited to have an opportunity to coach in a state that I’m very familiar with. In many ways, it is like coming home as some of my fondest memories and friendship were formed in Montana, these are people that I’ve had long-standing relationships with. And the people at MSU-Northern are phenomenal; they’re clearly such an intensely collaborative group. So I can’t wait to join the community and be a part of that,” said Souers.
Souers finished his tenure at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in 2018 as the Big Sky's Conference’s all-time leader in victories. He compiled a 123-114 career record, making him the winningest coach in school history. As the Head Football Coach at NAU, he demonstrated a 21-year record of achievement in enhancing academic performance, positive social conduct, and athletic success for their student athletes. He led their team to National Playoffs in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2013, and 2017.
“We want to recruit physically and academically talented people who have strong character and are clearly willing to step outside of their normal roles to embrace the campus and the community," Souers said. "So I think the long-term goals are to build a team culture where our program is successful not just athletically, but in academics and within the social context of our relationship with the community."
Souers succeeds Andrew Rolin, who resigned in November after compiling a 3-34 record in four seasons. This year, Northern snapped the program's 47-game Frontier Conference losing streak in a 5OT win over Eastern Oregon. Souers built a winning program in Flagstaff, but knows his work will be cut out for him and his coaching staff if he wants to do the same in Havre.
“Well, first we’ll need to identify and assess the personnel within the program – what their talents are and what our recruiting needs will be. We need to build that trust and confidence with the young men already in the program and take into account the things they’ve already worked on and what they aspire to – that’s very much necessary for the success of the program," Souers said. "So we need to win over the upper classmen, and the entire team, to the vision of what we have planned."
He said it starts with culture.
“The we’ll build an outstanding team chemistry so that we can clearly define the expectations of student athletes, coaches, and their relationships. We also need to build a strong foothold in recruiting by establishing contacts with the high school coaches and various influencers throughout the state," Souers said. "In addition, I think it’s important that we gain the trust and the support of the entire Hi-Line. That would be a huge goal of ours – that they understand what we’re doing, and that we’re going to need their help, but that we’re going to make good on our promises and we’re going to operate with integrity."
“Chancellor Kegel is very intent on having a football program that espouses greatness in all areas. And people always ask 'how many wins?', but it’s not about the wins – it’s about how many guys we can get to compete at their highest potential. And then, usually, the results are going to speak for themselves. When you can achieve that with your entire team, the wins are going to come. But our focus is on their development, their understanding, and their potential. We’ll be focusing on all the elements that it takes to build a successful team,” said Souers.
MSU-Northern chancellor Greg Kegel and Lights athletic director Christian Oberquell selected Souers after interviewing and holding open forums with several candidates on campus.
“Jerome Souers is without a doubt one of the greatest coaches in the NCAA Div. I history. I am very pleased and excited that he has agreed to head up the Northern Lights football team,” said MSU-Northern Chancellor Greg Kegel. “We pride ourselves on our ability to take students who are often at the bottom of the economic ladder and help them climb to the top of the economic ladder. Bringing in a coach like Souers will help our football team rise to the top of the Frontier Conference and compete for a national title,"
“MSU-Northern is very lucky to have landed a coach like Jerome Souers with not only the experience but the passion and ability to develop both great football players and student-athletes," Oberquell said. "MSU-Northern football has a great base of returning players and with the recruiting ability that Coach Souers has, MSU-Northern will put a very solid and talented team on the field. I would like welcome Coach Souers to the Northern Family."
Souers was the Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year in 1999, and the Eddie Robinson finalist in 2003. He was named the top head coach at the NCAA Division I-AA level, after leading the NAU Lumberjacks to their first Big Sky championship in 25 years, and an appearance in the national quarterfinal round. In total, the Lumberjacks made five postseason appearances under his direction and went 85-77 in Big Sky play.
Prior to NAU, Souers coached at The University of Montana for 12 seasons and was the defensive coordinator for the last eight of those. The Grizzlies posted winning records every year during his stay, earned seven playoff berths, advanced to two national title games, and won a championship in 1995. He competed as a runner-up in the National Championship game in '96. Made National Playoffs in 1988, 89, 93, 94, 95, 96, and 97. During the title run, Souers' defense became the first in NCAA history to register back-to-back playoff shutouts.
Souers began his coaching career at his alma mater, North Eugene High, while attending University of Oregon, from which he graduated with a degree in physical education in 1983. He also made stops at Western Washington University and Portland State University. Most recently, Souers served as Southern Oregon University’s Defensive Coordinator.