|Title:||Head Football Coach|
2003 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Finalist
1999 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year
Entering his 15th year as head coach of the Northern Arizona football program, Jerome Souers, the dean of the Big Sky Conference coaches, has taken the Lumberjack program to new milestones.
Under Souers, NAU made a record-breaking NCAA I-AA Quarterfinal appearance in 2003, won the first Big Sky Conference title since 1978, recorded two playoff berths and posted eight winning seasons. During his 14-year tenure, Souers has coached 119 student-athletes to all-conference honors a combined 196 times with 44 first-team selections and 42 All-Americans accolades.
Souers, who was named the 1999 Big Sky Conference Coach of the Year, also has the Lumberjacks posting impressive results in the classroom. The football program has produced the Golden Eagle Scholar Athlete of the Year six times (Blair Boynton, Eric Damko, Steve Gomez, Mark Gould, Paul Ernster and Jeff Wheeler) and had a program-best 14 student-athletes named to the 2011 Big Sky Fall All-Academic team. Overall, 69 student-athletes have earned 122 Big Sky academic honors over the last 14 seasons. There have also been six Academic All-Americans, as well.
Souers increased the program’s Academic Progress Rate, a real-time measure of eligibility, retention and graduation of student-athletes, five straight academic years (872 to 953) and had the highest multi-year rate in the Big Sky Conference in 2011, earning the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Athletics Directors Association APR Award. The award is given to the highest APR score in each of the 14 FCS conferences.
But there is still work ahead. Souers, who has coached a national champion, strives everyday to get his Lumberjack program in position to play for the title not just a playoff appearance or high ranking. And the 2003 season was his best effort to date, earning him finalist honors for the 2003 Eddie Robinson Award, an award presented by The Sports Network to the top head coach in I-AA football.
Behind the play of true freshman Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year Jason Murrietta, the Lumberjacks upset top-seeded McNeese State on the road and played host to the first home playoff game since 1996 with a quarterfinal appearance against Florida Atlantic. NAU finished ranked 10th in the national polls as Souers’ players were honored on and off the field for their performances. Eighteen players were recognized with All-Big Sky honors highlighted by first-team All-America accolades for punter Mark Gould, who was recognized by five different organizations. Gould led the accolades off the field, too. He was a CoSIDA Academic All-America selection for the second consecutive season as NAU led the nation with five CoSIDA academic all-district selections.
In 2006, Murrietta led a reemergence that produced significant improvements in the offensive production, resulting in a winning season with six wins and ranking among the top turnarounds in the country. Murrietta had a stellar senior season highlighted by a runner-up finish for the Walter Payton Award, All-America honors and his second Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year award. He threw for 2,827 yards with a 65.0 completion percentage and a school-record 34 touchdowns, leading the Big Sky in passing efficiency (168.2) and total offense (243.1), while ranking fifth and 11th nationally.
Souers arrived in Flagstaff after spending 12 years at Montana with a proven track record. His last eight seasons in Missoula he served as defensive coordinator. During his stay with the Grizzlies, Montana was transformed from a Big Sky also-ran into a perennial league and national title contender. Souers’ tenure in Missoula produced 12 straight winning seasons, seven playoff berths, four appearances in the national semifinals, a national runner-up finish (1996) and a national title (1995). Montana won three Big Sky titles during that span.
Souers showed his winning touch from the start in January 1998 when he took over a program in limbo, becoming the first NAU coach since Dwain Painter in 1979 to begin his career with a winning record.
Despite dressing only 44 players for his first spring practice, including walk-ons, Souers led the Lumberjacks to a winning season. Highlights from Souers’ first season at NAU included the Lumberjacks’ first shutout of a Division I opponent (NAU 9, Cal Poly 0) in 31 games, two near road victories against league title contenders Eastern Washington and Montana State and a season-ending two-game winning streak.
In 2001, the Lumberjacks posted one of the nation's most improved records, recording an 8-4 mark to tie for second place in the Big Sky Conference. NAU earned a berth in the I-AA playoffs for the second time in school history before dropping a 34-31 decision at Sam Houston State in the first round.
The success of the NAU football team in 2001 was evident in the accolades bestowed on the program. Fifteen student-athletes were recognized with All-Big Sky Conference honors. All-Big Sky first-team selections linebacker Keith O'Neil signed as a free agent with the Dallas Cowboys and recently won a Super Bowl title with the Indianapolis Colts in his fourth year in the NFL. Senior tackle Eric Damko was named to the Verizon Academic All-America squad for the second consecutive season.
Jerome Souers was born May 20, 1958, in Oregon. He attended North Eugene High School, along with another future coach, Danny Ainge of the Phoenix Suns.
He began his coaching career while still attending Oregon. Souers spent time on the staff at North Eugene High School and Williamette, working in the same area of the state where his father, Dwight, was a successful prep coach. Souers earned his degree in physical education in 1983 and upon graduation returned to the high-school ranks. He spent eight years coaching in Oregon high schools before making the move into college football.
In 1984 he made his foray into the collegiate ranks, joining the staff at Western Washington where he coordinated the defense and coached the defensive backs.
A year later, Souers joined Don Read’s staff at then-Division II Portland State. After one year serving as the Viking's running backs coach, Souers followed Read to Montana.
With Souers coaching the secondary, the new staff in Missoula produced records of 6-4 and 6-5 during its first two years. A hint of things to come came in 1988 when the Grizzlies went 8-4 and led the Big Sky Conference in all defensive categories.
In 1989, Souers added defensive coordinator to his duties and the Grizzlies posted an 11-2 record with an appearance in the national semifinals. Montana also tied a national interception record in one game with 10 picks vs. Boise State. A year later, the Grizzlies opened the 1990 campaign with a 22-15 road win at Oregon State.
During Souers’ nine years as defensive coordinator at Montana, the Grizzlies twice ranked among the nation’s top-10 in rushing defense, finishing third in the country in that category in 1992. His last unit in Missoula led the Big Sky Conference in scoring defense.
The peak years during Souers’ stay at Montana came from 1993 to 1996. During that period, the Grizzlies made four straight playoff appearances, played in three semifinals and two national title games. The 1995 squad won the national title and the 1996 team was the NCAA runner-up. The four-year record for Montana during that time was 48-8.
During the national title run, Souers’ defense became the first in NCAA history to post consecutive playoff shutouts (Eastern Kentucky and Georgia Southern).
He coached six All-America defensive backs at Montana, including future NFL stars Tim Hauck of the Seattle Seahawks and Blaine McElmurry of the Green Bay Packers.
In 1996, when head coach Mick Dennehy was sidelined after undergoing major surgery, Souers stepped in as head coach and led the Grizzlies to victories over Cal State Northridge and Portland State.
Souers and his wife, Paula, have two daughters, Anna (23) and Alaina (21).
Year Overall Conf./Finish
1998 6-5 (.545) 3-5 (.375)/t-7th
1999 4-8* (.333) 2-6* (.250)/t-6th
2000 3-8 (.272) 2-6 (.250)/t-7th
2001 8-4 (.667) 5-2 (.714)/t-2nd
2002 6-5 (.545) 3-4 (.428)/t-4th
2003 9-4 (.692) 5-2 (.714)/t-1st
2004 4-7 (.333) 3-4 (.428)/5th
2005 3-8 (.272) 1-6 (.142)/t-7th
2006 6-5 (.545) 5-3 (.625)/4th
2007 6-5 (.545) 5-3 (.625)/3rd
2008 6-5 (.545) 4-4 (.500)/5th
2009 5-6 (.454) 4-4 (.500)/T5th
2010 6-5 (.545) 4-4 (.500)/6th
2011 4-7 (.363) 3-5 (.375)/6th
Total 76-82 (.481) 45-54 (.456)
* includes four forfeits