111217-spt-josh kotelnicki

Coach Josh Kotelnicki walks off the field after the University of Mary football team lost to Minnesota-Duluth 62-27 in the final game of the season at the MDU Resources Community Bowl on Saturday. After the game U-Mary athletic director Dale Lennon announced Kotelnicki will not return as head coach.

MIKE MCCLEARY, TRIBUNE

Dale Lennon's ties to Josh Kotelnicki run deep.

The University of Mary athletic director recruited and later coached Kotelnicki at the University of North Dakota. Kotelnicki played for Lennon on UND's 2001 NCAA Division II national championship team.

But with Lennon now serving as Kotelnicki's boss, the on-field results simply were not there. The school dismissed Kotelnicki as head football coach on Saturday, following a third straight one-win season. Lennon will serve as interim head coach until a hire is made.

"The decision to dismiss Josh was a difficult one, but at the same time we just haven't seen the gains we need to see in the football program," Lennon said. "It's a tough day. ... This is not something you ever look forward to doing."

Kotelnicki went 5-6 in 2014, his first as head coach, but struggled to find the right formula in the Northern Sun, one of the top conferences in NCAA Division II football. 

Through a statement released by the school, Kotelnicki expressed gratitude for his first head coaching opportunity. He declined further comment.

"Despite everyone's best efforts, we have not met the expectation and I accept full responsibility for that," Kotelnicki said.

Lennon will head a national search for the new coach. Asked whether he would consider taking the job himself, he said it crossed his mind, but appears more focused on a broad search. Lennon owns a stellar 153-75 career record at UND, Southern Illinois and a 12-9 mark as head coach of the Marauders from 1997-98.

"Naturally, that always comes to mind, but the reality is I'm the athletic director and I need to give the program the best chance to be successful by hiring a good coach and a good coaching staff," Lennon said.

Making the move quickly after the season ended was Lennon's preferred approach.

"I think it's the right time here at the end of the season to let everybody know what's going on," he said. "I have 31 years experience in this profession. I know what should happen next."

Lennon declined to get into specifics when asked what the program has been missing to compete in the NSIC, but he has a clear vision of what is needed.

"There are areas of weakness on our football team and areas we need to address," he said. "We want to be competing for conference championships. We're funded well enough to be at that level. It's time to move forward and start building up Marauder football."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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