Bob Nielson was introduced as the 27th head coach of the Western Illinois Fighting Leatherneck program on December 19, 2012. He made an immediate impact in turning around the program.
During the 2013 season, the Leathernecks improved nearly 30 spots among the national leaders on offense in: scoring offense, total offense, passing offense and rushing offense. Nielson and his staff developed freshmen and newcomers on the offensive side of the ball into record-setting performances.
Junior transfer J.C. Baker turned in the 17th 1,000-yard rushing season in program history, becoming the only Leatherneck to reach the milestone in his first year of playing Division I football. Redshirt-freshman quarterback Trenton Norvell set three WIU freshman passing records. Joey Borsellino became the first freshman receiver to lead the team in receptions while Lance Lenoir, Jr. was the first freshman to lead the team in receiving yards. Lenoir also set a WIU freshman record with seven touchdown catches.
While the offense was setting newcomer records, the defense ranked among the ‘Top 15’ nationally. Western was third in passing yards allowed (Missouri Valley Football Conference-leading 149 yards per game), seventh in total defense, 12th in turnovers gained and 14th in passing efficiency defense.
Six Leathernecks earned All-MVFC postseason honors and three were chosen to the All-Newcomer team. Senior offensive lineman Jimmy Holtschlag received several academic honors, highlighted by being named Second Team Academic All-America.
Nielson joins the Leathernecks from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, having served as the head football coach and athletics director of the 16-sport Bulldogs program. He owned a 100-26 record during his 10-year tenure as head coach at UMD and won the 2008 and 2010 NCAA Division II National Championship following a 15-0 campaign in each season.
He joined the Bulldogs in 1999 and during his first five-year coaching stint went 38-19 with a Division II playoff appearance in 2002. Nielson was appointed as the Bulldogs' AD in September 2003 but did not take over duties until completion of the 2003 season. He took over the football head coaching duties again starting with the 2008 campaign, and served in both capacities.
During his final five seasons, Nielson and the Bulldogs went to the NCAA playoffs each year, won two national titles and posted a 62-7 record in that span. In each of the national championship seasons (2008, 2010), Nielson was voted Division II National 'Coach of the Year'.
UMD captured five Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference titles during his 10 years. The Bulldog program has produced two Harlon Hill finalists (Division II National Player of the Year), four Academic All-America selections, two NCAA Postgraduate Scholars, 12 All-Americans, and five NSIC 'Player of the Year' awards. Recently, one of his offensive linemen received the Gene Upshaw Division II 'Lineman of the Year' award.
During his three years (1996-98) as head coach at Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Nielson went 22-11 and was named Division III 'Coach of the Year' in 1998.
Nielson was 39-14 during his five years (1991-95) coaching at Wartburg College with two NCAA Division III postseason appearances, and he went 9-8-1 in two seasons at Ripon College.
In 21 seasons as a head football coach, Nielson owns a 174-67-1 record and made the NCAA postseason nine times (14-7 career NCAA postseason record).
He and his wife, Terri, have three children -- Amanda Taylor (who lives in Erie, Colo.), twins Kyle and Kasey; and one grandson.