Northwest Missouri State Athletics

MARYVILLE, Mo. -- Mel Tjeerdsma, one of the most successful and well-respected coaches in the history of collegiate football, announced Wednesday that he will retire following a brilliant coaching career that spanned the past four decades.

Tjeerdsma, 64, vacates his post at Northwest Missouri State University following 17 years of service and after orchestrating one of the greatest football program transformations in the history of collegiate athletics. The Bearcats were 0-11 in 1994, his first season. The team is 183-32 since with three national championships and 12 conference championships in the past 15 seasons.

"The past 17 years have been an incredible experience for Carol and me," Tjeerdsma said. "The growth and the development of the Bearcat football program have probably exceeded all of our expectations. Even though we've been blessed with an abundance of great memories on the field, the friendships and relationships that we've developed are the most important aspect of our time at Northwest."

Four years after his inaugural season with the team, Northwest became the first NCAA Division II program to finish a season 15-0. The Bearcats won back-to-back national championships in 1998 and 1999 -- the university's first national titles in any sport. Northwest added a third championship in 2009 that capped an unprecedented run of five national championship game appearances that began in 2005. The Bearcats were 76-12 in those five seasons.

Among his peers in Division II, Tjeerdsma is third on the active wins list (242) and has tallied more postseason victories than any other coach in Division II history. He's led Northwest to the playoffs 13 times in the past 15 seasons, sports a 32-10 overall postseason record and is the program's all-time winningest coach.

The Bearcats' 12 MIAA championships are highlighted by two prolific conference winning streaks. His teams won 41 consecutive conference games from 1997-2001, a record that stood until his squad surpassed it this past season. The 2011 Bearcat team will open conference play riding a 46-game win streak in MIAA play. Ten Northwest teams have finished 9-0 in league play since 1997.

Matching on-the-field performance are exploits and honors off the field. Tjeerdsma's teams have featured seven academic All-Americans in the past seven years and two Ken B. Jones Award Winners in the past five years as the top male student-athlete in the MIAA. Safety Myles Burnsides was named National Scholar-Athlete of the Year for 2009-10.

Northwest's football program boasts a graduation rate of 85 percent, a mark that rises well above the national average of 53 percent.

"This is a day we all knew would come at some point and thus one of complete honor and celebration for Coach Tjeerdsma, his wife, Carol, and his family," said Northwest president Dr. John Jasinski. "We can talk records and honors, championships and streaks, but when we talk of Coach T, we talk about his leadership with integrity, his focus on the development of the complete student-athlete and his winning ways starting with off-the-field focus and transferring to storied on-the-field successes."

Tjeerdsma's honors include being named the Kansas City Chiefs' nominee for the Don Shula Coach of the Year Award, being inducted into the NCAA Division II Football Hall of Fame back on Dec. 17 and being inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame last January. Tjeerdsma also is serving as keynote speaker at Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon's prayer breakfast Jan. 5.

Tjeerdsma is a four-time national coach of the year honoree, was Liberty Mutual's Coach of the Year in 2009 and is a finalist for the award again this year. He is a 12-time MIAA Coach of the Year honoree.