12/3/2018 | Football
Each week, the MIAA’s featured writer David Boyce covers an intriguing story in the conference for a series called Boyce’s Beat: Featured Stories of the MIAA.
This week David Boyce profiles the MIAA path of the former Northwest Missouri football coach and director of athletics Mel Tjeerdsma. Boyce highlights what it means to Tjeersdsma to be inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame and the relationships he has built along the way.
The simple joys of family and friendship remain the core essence of Mel Tjeerdsma.
An outsider probably views Tjeerdsma’s induction as one of three college football coaches in the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame as a monumental achievement that ranks ahead of just about anything else.
After all, Tjeerdsma built his credentials in NCAA Division II, which garners much less national attention as what the other two coaches gained.
Mack Brown won a national championship at Texas and, only a couple of weeks ago, returned to coaching at North Carolina. Frank Beamer put Virginia Tech on the college football map and introduced the world to a new-age quarterback named Michael Vick.
“Mack Brown I know fairly well. He was on the board of trustees of the American Football Coaches Association when I was,” Tjeerdsma said. “He is first class. Coach Beamer, I have met a few times. He is the same. It is an honor to be with both of them.”
Tjeerdsma’s coaching credentials at Austin College in Texas and then at Northwest Missouri State is simply the stuff of legend. In his first season at Northwest, the Bearcats went 0-11 in 1994. From that point on, all Northwest did was win, win, win. He compiled 183-43 record while making seven national championship games and winning three from 1994-2010.
To the folks in Maryville, Missouri, and the professors, administrators and students at Northwest, Tjeerdsma’s time in that community as a coach and later as athletic director meant so much more than championship titles. He helped build a family culture within the football program that extended beyond the young men he coached.
Family and friends mean everything to Tjeerdsma. For him, the Tuesday evening National Football Foundation Annual Awards dinner at the New York Hilton Midtown to honor the 2018 Hall of Fame Class will be all about family, friends and the players he coached through the years.
Attending the ceremony with him will be his devoted wife, Carol, his three daughters and two of his sons-in-law. His third son-in-law couldn’t make it because of a recent surgery.
Also, in attendance will be his eight grandchildren, his older sister, a niece and a couple of nephews and several friends from Maryville, which will include Rich Mendenhall and his wife. Carl and Cheryl Hughes are coming. Current Northwest athletic director Andy Peterson will be on hand as will Northwest president, Dr. John Jasinski.
“I have four players from Austin College who are going to be there, which is special,” Tjeerdsma said.
“The honor to me is the culmination of a lot of people doing a lot of things together. I think back to all the assistants I have had, all the players who been involved. Everybody has been a part of it. That is what I think of.”
To be clear, the night will be meaningful for all involved. Some of the players going in include defensive back Charles Woodson, running back Paul Palmer and quarterback Kerry Collins.
“It is kind of overwhelming,” Tjeerdsma said. “I look at the Hall of Fame as a great honor. Not many people make it. To be included in that group is very humbling.”
“It makes me realize even more all the people who have been a part of that and how blessed I have been my whole life, from coaching to family to everything. I am very thankful for that.”
Tjeerdsma has many former players who are now coaches. He hears from a lot of them on a regular basis and enjoys those calls.
“That is the real reward in coaching,” Tjeerdsma said. “As far as I am concerned, it is the relationships you build and continue them that makes coaching rewarding. Some of them now are thinking about making a transition from one place to another and that kind of thing. They ask what I think. That is pretty special to have that kind of relationship with so many people.
“They are trying to do the same things we tried to do and that is to impact the lives of young people. I don’t think any of them are caught up in the wins and losses.”
But make no mistake, Tjeerdsma enjoys winning. During his five-year run as athletic director at Northwest, Tjeerdsma attended many athletic events and rooted on the Bearcats.
Since retiring in late April, Tjeerdsma still finds time to attend Northwest athletic events. Most recently, he took a nearly 11-hour road trip with Northwest professor Rod Barr and former Northwest track and field athlete Derrick Schluter and watched the Bearcats beat Grand Valley State in the first round of the Division II playoffs.
“Those guys were great company,” Tjeerdsma said. “I spent a lot of time on the road as a coach. This was a good trip. The only problem was the last hour and a half we had to drive in snow. Otherwise, it would have been a great trip.”
Retirement has given Tjeerdsma time to do what he loves and that is for him and his wife to spend more time with their daughters and grandchildren.
Still, Tjeerdsma understands the powerful lure football has on longtime coaches.
“I see Mack is getting back into it,” Tjeerdsma said. “I can understand it. I told people it took me about seven years to come to the conclusion I probably wasn’t going to coach again. When you have done it as long as the three of us, for 40 or 50 years, it is hard to transition out of that.”
So far, retirement is working for Tjeerdsma.
“Carol and I have been able to do more things as a family,” he said. “We look forward to do a lot of more of that. It is a transition.”