Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Bob Nielson on Wednesday morning formally accepted an offer to be the new head football coach at Western Illinois University (WIU), ending a 14-year tenure as a member of the Unviersity of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) athletic department.
Nielson spent 10 seasons as UMD's football coach (1999-2003, 2008-12), and he has also served as the school's athletic director since 2003.
"Doing both jobs, there were days that you couldn't focus the way you wanted to focus," Nielson said at his official introduction on Wednesday. "I love coaching football. I love being around student-athletes on a day-to-day basis. This situation provides me an opportunity where I can truly focus on doing what I love best."
Nielson gathered his players at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday to tell them the news, a meeting described as emotional for all involved.
"It was a heartfelt talk from Coach Nielson," UMD offensive coordinator Curt Wiese said. "He was emotional, excited about the opportunity, but to look in the eyes of our football team, guys that he's coached, recruited, and loved, was a tough thing."
"It was a somber feel in there," UMD junior wide receiver Joe Reichert said. "Obviously, he's sad to have to leave, but you have to make decisions like that. It's a business, and we understand that. We're happy for him."
Nielson compiled a record of (100-26) during his 10 years as UMD's coach, winning two NCAA Division II championships along the way.
Apart from the numbers, though, some of Nielson's past players say WIU is getting an even better person.
"You sign a coach based on their numbers and their history," outgoing UMD senior quarterback Chase Vogler said, "but what they're going to get with that is a guy who cares about his players."
"It's a positive for him," outgoing UMD senior tight end Ben Helmer said. "I'm happy for him that he gets the opportunity to move up to the FCS level. Any step up for any coach is a great opportunity to take advantage of."
The hiring leaves open two big roles for UMD, and Chancellor Lendley Black said in a statement on Wednesday that the search to fill those jobs would begin shortly.
"Bob's legacy includes multiple national championships in football and men's and women's hockey, as well as excellence in both the athletic and academic performance of UMD student-athletes in many sports," Lendley said. "We are committed to upholding the quality of UMD athletics, including the football team, and will move quickly to designate Bob’s successors.”
WGEM-TV in Quincy, Ill. is reporting that Nielson signed a five-year contract with WIU, and his duties with his new program will begin immediately.