Two-plus seasons removed from retiring as Northwest Missouri State's head football coach, the competitive fire still burned inside Mel Tjeerdsma.
Thought to be done with coaching at age 66, Tjeerdsma entertained the idea of a return to the sidelines this winter, but none of the opportunities that came about were enough to entice him away from semi-retirement in Texas.
Then came a call from Northwest Missouri State president John Jasinski inquiring, initially in a joking manner, about whether Tjeerdsma would have any interest in being the school's new athletic director.
Tjeerdsma gave an emphatic 'no' at first, but after careful consideration and continued dialogue, agreed to return to the school and the town where he became a coaching legend.
"I had too much energy left not to use it," said Tjeerdsma who won three national titles in 17 seasons at Northwest. "As a coach, your goal is always to make an impact on young people. Now, I can make an impact on not only young student-athletes, but coaches as well. I missed coaches. I missed players. And I missed competition. This is going to kind of give me all that. I was ready to get back into coaching. For whatever reason, I didn't do it. I know why now. This is where I'm supposed to be."
Tjeerdsma was introduced as Northwest's new AD Wednesday at a news conference inside Lamkin Activity Center that included several light-hearted moments and rounds of applause from a substantial crowd on hand.
During his address, he mentioned often how much he missed being part of the Maryville community and is thrilled to be back.
"There's something about Maryville, something about Northwest Missouri State that is great," said Tjeerdsma. "The thing about Maryville and Northwest is you appreciate it even more after you've been gone."
After announcing his retirement from Northwest in December of 2010, Tjeerdsma left Maryville for Sherman, Texas the next summer to begin a post-coaching career in the office of institutional development at Austin College—his alma mater.
In his brief time away, Northwest always remained near and dear to his heart.
He kept tabs on Bearcat athletics just about every day and occasionally showed up at football or basketball games. Most recently, he attended the MIAA Basketball Tournament in Kansas City.
"I didn't want to be in the stands all the time because coaches need their own identity," said Tjeerdsma. "I wore out NorthwestBearcats.com. I can tell you everything about everything that goes on here. That got more hits on my computer than anything else."
The deal to bring Tjeerdsma back to Northwest was finalized Monday and a press conference was announced Tuesday night branded only by the university as an "exciting development" in athletics.
Page 2 of 3 - This sent Bearcat Nation into a speculatory frenzy.
Tjeerdsma, who was given the go-ahead to stay in Maryville Tuesday and eat breakfast Wednesday at Hy-Vee, said the agreement came together so quickly he didn't tell his family about it until 48 hours before the news went public.
In accepting the job, Tjeerdsma follows in the same path as successful Division I football coaches Tom Osborne (Nebraska), Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin) and Mike Bellotti (Oregon) who went on to become AD's at the same institution.
"It wasn't on my radar at all," said Tjeerdsma of the Northwest job. "The more we talked, the more I realized this where I needed to be."
Jasinski, who headed up the AD search, said Northwest received applications from a number of qualified candidates spanning all levels of college athletics.
The search committee interviewed three, but all along, Tjeerdsma was the top choice.
"When you set the bar high, you set the bar high," said Jasinski. "That's what Northwest does all the time. Is there anybody better than Mel Tjeerdsma to come in and lead an athletic department?"
Jasinski noted during his remarks this wasn't a "figure-head position" and Tjeerdsma will have both an "internal" and "external" focus.
Despite Tjeerdsma's lack of previous AD experience, Jasinski is confident he'll flourish in the new role.
"He talked about serving Bearcat Nation and he's really serious about this," said Jasinski. "It's a relationship business. It's a business-business. You have to go out and meet a variety of stake-holders. He's used to that. He's used to dealing with the media. All the things we had on the list, you can check them off when you talk about Mel Tjeerdsma."
Among other things, Tjeerdsma provides Northwest with a steadying force at the top of the athletic department after Wren Baker's productive but brief two-year stay. Tjeerdsma also happens to be nearly twice his predecessors age, bringing into question how long he plans to stick around.
Tjeerdsma wouldn't commit to a time table, but hinted this is no short-term arrangement.
"Maybe a year or two years ago if you asked me that, I'd probably put a number on it," said Tjeerdsma. "That was one of my biggest factors. "I'm not ready to retire. I have a lot of energy and I'm not even looking at that."
Tjeerdsma expects to begin his second stint at Northwest some-time in mid-April.
He met with the entire Northwest coaching staff Wednesday morning, only one of which he hadn't known previously.
Most of the current football coaches have worked under him, including current head coach Adam Dorrel who was part of the search committee.
Page 3 of 3 - "It's great for me personally, but it's great for the whole athletic department," said Dorrel. "I talk to him three, four times a week anyway, so it's going to be good for me. I think it's going to be good for a lot of the young coaches in other sports, too. It's re-assuring (to have him back)."
Tjeerdsma said his first order of business is simply to get situated and finish out the spring sports season.
At the end of the school year, he wants to sit down with the all coaches and evaluate each program going forward.
"I think my style of leadership as a coach is to let our coaches coach," said Tjeerdsma. "That's what I think is important here. I'll do everything I can to support them and be the best they can be. That's what I want to do."
Tjeerdsma inherits one of the MIAA's top athletic departments in terms of on field-success.
Almost every sport at Northwest is in the top half of the conference or headed in the right direction. And there are some very talented young coaches in place with football, men's basketball, women's basketball and volleyball.
This level of program stability should allow Tjeerdsma to focus a lot of his efforts on necessary upgrades to the school's athletic facilities.
The baseball and softball stadiums are in dire need of improvements and there's been speculation that Northwest is looking to build an indoor practice facility, similar to the one at Missouri Western. Tjeerdsma acknowledged that was on his agenda.
"Some type of student activity center is something this university needs," said Tjeerdsma. "All of our sports need it. Our students need it. This community needs it and that's going to be a real push on that. I'm sure looking forward to that."
Tjeerdsma was the coach at Northwest when Bearcat Stadium was shaped into one of the top football facilities in the nation.
Now as the school's primary athletic fundraiser, Tjeerdsma's cache with Bearcat fans, boosters and alums should help Northwest acquire the dollars necessary to make future facility upgrades a reality.
"Mel is a relationship guy and with our VP of Advancement Mike Johnson and their relationship with Bearcat Nation, it's huge upside," said Jasinski. "There's such great plans ahead. It's a bright future. We can talk about his 17 years, all the awards and championships, but we're really talking about the future of Northwest Missouri State."