In its first year, this award was created by the league to honor football coaches at all levels. It seeks to recognize those individuals that display the integrity, achievement and leadership demonstrated by the winningest coach in NFL history, Don Shula.
Tjeerdsma undoubtedly has personified these ideals throughout his 27 seasons as a collegiate head coach. A four-time national coach of the year honoree, Tjeerdsma has guided the Bearcats to 12 MIAA championships, three NCAA national championships and seven title game appearances in the last 12 seasons.
“I originally chose to coach football because of my love for the game, as well as the positive influence of my high school coach,” Tjeerdsma recently recalled. “During the past 45 years, I have found there are so many other more important aspects as to why I coach. As I have matured as a coach, I have found my influence on the lives of the young men I work with has become my first love and my number one priority. Now my two most important objectives are to create an atmosphere of winning and prepare these young men for the challenges of their futures. My hope is to develop winners in the game of football, as well as in the game of life.”
To that point, Northwest was 0-11 in Tjeerdsma’s first season in 1994. The team is 183-32 since. Four years after his inaugural season with the team, the Bearcats became the first NCAA Division II squad to finish a season 15-0. In fact, the Bearcats went on to win back-to-back national championships in 1998 and 1999, while also taking home the Division II crown in 2009.
Unfortunately, Northwest’s run to a fourth national championship was dashed by Minnesota-Duluth this year in the semifinals. Prior to that, the team had played in the national championship game an unprecedented five consecutive 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 last 15 seasons and sports a 32-10 overall postseason record.
Prior to Tjeerdsma’s arrival in Maryville, Missouri, he guided Austin (Texas) College for a decade. He also enjoyed a highly successful high school coaching career in Iowa both for football as well as track and field.
The national recipient of the Shula Award will be invited to Super Bowl XLV, where he will be recognized at a special press conference. The winner will receive a $10,000 cash award and $15,000 for their football program.
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