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Bernie Anderson leaves NMU football program in better shape

Program was a mess when Anderson arrived six years ago

November 30, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

Bernie Anderson may not have brought the Northern Michigan University football program back to where it was in 1975 at the top of the NCAA Division II football world.

He didn't bring the program back to the NCAA tournament.

He didn't come close to sniffing a GLIAC championship.

He did, however, leave the program in a much better state then when he inherited it and for that, he should be commended.

Anderson returned to his alma mater during my senior year at NMU, which also happened to be my first stint working for The Mining Journal.

It became the first of many coaching carousels I've gone through as a sports journalist. To this day, it's still a story I remember fondly chasing - from the announcement that Doug Sams was not being brought back to coach, to the late Wednesday night phone call from athletic director Ken Godfrey that halted production of the last North Wind prior to winter break.

There was so much hope in Godfrey's smile when he told me what would be announced the next morning. While Anderson's 24-28 record at Northern may not show it, he did live up to Godfrey's grin.

There was little buzz when Sams' contract was not renewed in 2006. It was a forgone conclusion he was done after only winning eight games in his three previous seasons.

A couple blowouts at the Superior Dome didn't help his cause, either.

The buzz around the program picked up quickly, however, when Anderson's name started circulating through the rumor mills.

The problem was, the buzz wasn't about Anderson coming to Northern. It was about him leaving Michigan Tech.

Anderson started his head coaching career with a bang later that fall, defeating Indianapolis in overtime at the Superior Dome and Hillsdale in a shootout on the road.

Then, Northern football became Northern football again, losing seven of its last eight, including a 42-14 loss at Michigan Tech.

The buzz was gone.

Now, fast forward to 2011.

After spending some time in northern Wisconsin, North Dakota and Northeastern Wisconsin - I like the north - I return to Marquette to take over the NMU athletics beat and sports editor's chair at The Mining Journal.

While I quickly found myself in the midst of "College Hockey Armageddon," as my red-haired colleague in Houghton dubbed it, I'm able to make my way over to some spring NMU football practices.

In August, I begin working on a great polo tan attending daily practices in the beating sun. What I found wasn't just red skin, but an unrecognizable football program.

Six years after talking my assistant sports editor and football beat writer at The North Wind down off a cliff because he could no longer deal with harassment from the football program, I found a group of focused, driven, motivated and respectful young men who were all working toward one goal - a championship.

The culture shock didn't end there.

On Sept. 1, I learned the transformation had extended beyond the playing field with support from the students, community and parents of the program.

The Wildcat football team actually had a parent-run booster club to support it, something I would have never envisioned prior to Anderson's arrival.

All of that is a credit to Bernie and his staff.

Despite all their best efforts, though, the Wildcats could only muster one winning season in six tries under Anderson.

Bad luck derailed what could have been a pair of special seasons for Northern, starting with the injury to starting quarterback Carter Kopach in 2010 and the season-ending injury suffered by all-conference linebacker Eddie Knoblock in 2011.

Good teams overcome injuries - as the 2010 Green Bay Packers showed - but Anderson's squads couldn't do that.

Players getting good grades and staying out of trouble is nice, but in the end, a coach is ultimately graded on wins and losses. Bernie had too much of the later.

Thankfully, Anderson has left the program in great shape for whoever takes over. In fact, it's in such great shape that NMU may not have to look far for his replacement with an experienced GLIAC head coach as the defensive coordinator - Randy Awrey - and an offensive coordinator who seems destined to be a head coach, too, someday - Chris Ostrowsky.

The record books may not look too kindly on Anderson, but I know I will. People actually care about football at NMU again and we all have Bernie Anderson to thank for that.



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