“A sports culture here that is different”: Jérôme Souers adopts Le Havre as the new coach of MSU-Northern | SWX right now
MISSOULA – It was only a matter of time before Jérôme Souers found himself head football coach.
And for him, it’s quite normal that he is in a state that he loves so much.
It’s been just over three years since Souers’ 20-plus year career as Northern Arizona head coach ended – and four years since he thought it was over, only for the school to bring him back for one more season in the wake of a currency athletics director.
The former ball coach who led the Montana Grizzlies defense for eight seasons and played in other roles from 1986 to 1997 has found a new home in Le Havre at Montana State-Northern. It’s a place he feels suits him at this point in an ever-evolving career that has taken him back to the Treasure State.
“The reception I’ve received has been incredible,” Souers, who was announced Friday as MSU-Northern’s head football coach, said in a Saturday phone interview with Missoulian and 406mtsports.com. “The people of Montana are genuine, they are genuine. … It’s a sporting culture here that is different. You are not competing against Pac-12 universities or professional sports. The major universities here are Montana and Montana State. So there’s room to exist here and make our own little niche in the state. The response has been nothing short of phenomenal.
“ … I like this feeling of being well surrounded and well received. To be honest, right now it feels really good.
Gone are the days of racking up Big Sky Conference wins in Flagstaff – where he is still the leader at 123, with 113 losses as well. He has 15 wins ahead of Montana Grizzlies leader Bobby Hauck on the conference’s all-time list.
Those 123 wins came with plenty of highs, like five NCAA I-AA/FCS Division Playoffs in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2013, and 2017. But there were lows, which came in the form of seasons plagued with injuries to key players. .
Souers said he was past the politics of high-level college football. Of course, he will still have some of that in Le Havre, but he is eager to strike a better balance between coaching and relationships.
“We don’t have all the bells and whistles of a big program, but there is the people connection and that has always been my thing,” he said.
He’s turned a defensive coordinator job in southern Oregon in Ashland, not far from his hometown of Eugene, into a new challenge. He manages to rebuild and rejuvenate a program that has faced its share of problems.
MSU-Northern was 3-34 overall under former head coach Andrew Rolin, who ended the Frontier Conference program’s 47-game losing streak last fall.
But therein lies the appeal of Le Havre and northern Montana’s Hi-Line, Souers said as he and his sister packed up in Oregon to prepare for the move.
There is a community for him to hug, embrace and help as much as he can. Souers credited the work of MSU-North Chancellor Greg Kegel and how the two align with program goals on and off the field.
“We pride ourselves on our ability to take students who are often at the bottom of the economic ladder and help them climb to the top of the economic ladder,” Kegel said in a Friday press release. “Bringing on a coach like Souers will help our football team rise to the top of the Frontier Conference and compete for a national title.”
Souers has a new orientation at the level of the Frontier Conference. As important as victory and success are, he wants to reach people and provide them with the resources they need.
That has always been his goal, but Souers admitted he struggled to find the right balance between relationships and the substantive work of running a program in his past. He wants to reach athletes, families, rookies, fans and members of the community of Le Havre and the Rocky Boy Indian Reservation.
He mentioned the mental health of athletes as a key goal, giving them resources they may not be getting. He has learned lessons from his long coaching career and many recently since it ended.
Learning and evolving his coaching philosophy is key for Souers. His recent break from coaching is the longest he’s ever had.
It gave him time to reflect, to digest where the sport is and to prepare for what’s next. It just so happened to be back in Montana.
“It gave me a chance to step back,” Souers said. “…I took some time to really study the trends in college football. What are the problems. What are we missing and it gives me the opportunity to take different initiatives and think outside the box. (I want) to address some of the issues that cause problems off the field and build a program that supports student-athletes in more ways than we traditionally have.