The godfather of the Big Sky Conference and Northern Arizona are parting ways.
Two games into his 20th season at the helm, NAU has announced that Jerome Souers, the longest-tenured coach in the league, will not return for a 21st season.
“We decided to make the decision today because it’s important that we celebrate the 20 years Jerome has given to the institution, athletic department, student athletes and the community,” NAU’s Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Dr. Lisa Campos said during a press conference held on the NAU campus on Monday.
Souers is the Big Sky’s all-time leader in overall victories (112), league victories (76) and years as a head coach. During the press conference, Campos said the school wanted to make the announcement now to “ensure that Coach Souers’ leadership and service to NAU and student-athletes can be celebrated throughout the remainder of the season.”
Northern Arizona is 0-2 this season after Saturday’s 38-20 loss to Western Illinois. NAU entered last season as the preseason favorites to win the conference but an injury that cost stud quarterback Case Cookus the entire league slate led to a 5-6 finish.
Souers has coached NAU to a 112-105 record since taking over the Lumberjack football program in 1998. The former Montana defensive coordinator — he helped the Grizzlies to the 1995 national championship and the 1996 national title game — is tied for the seventh-longest tenure in the FCS. Souers has coached 39 different All-America and 177 All-Big Sky selections. In the classroom, his student-athletes have combined for 176 Big Sky All-Academic awards and seven total players have been named Academic All-Americans.
Souers coached the Lumberjacks to three NCAA I-AA/FCS Playoff appearances in 2001, 2003 and 2013 with his 2003 team winning the Big Sky Championship. He was a finalist for the 2003 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award and was voted the 1999 Big Sky Coach of the Year in just his second season.
“I’d like to take this time to thank the coaches and players in the NAU Football family now as well as all those who’ve shared this journey with me the past 20 years,” Souers said. “I am blessed with so many fond memories of achievement on and off the field with the young men I’ve been honored to work with. With nine games remaining on our schedule our goals remain the same. Everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve is still in front of us. I can assure you that our coaching staff and all the members of this special team will continue to persevere and to compete for the Big Sky Conference championship.”
Souers, 59, made stops at Western Washington and Portland State before joining legendary Griz head coach Don Read at UM in 1986. He spent 12 seasons in Missoula before taking his first and only head coaching job in Flagstaff.
Souers signed a four-year contract extension in 2014 that expires in January.
“Everything we’ve worked so hard to achieve will be put to the test — win a Big Sky championship,” Souers said. “This is a very special team and we remain committed.
“I’ve been blessed with so many fond memories on and off the field. It’s been a heck of a ride, no better way than to finish it on the right note.”