Head Coach Tom Sawyer retires after 25 seasons

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Winona State University students showing support and appreciation for Head Coach Tom Sawyer at his final game of his 25-season long coaching career. The final game of the season, plus final of Sawyer’s career, was on Saturday, Nov. 13.

Syerah Mulhern-Allred, Sports Reporter

Football Head Coach Tom Sawyer retired after Saturday, Nov. 13’s game with an overall career record of 197-89 after 25 seasons–the highest of any current NCAA Division II coach who has spent their entire head coaching career at a single institution. He is one out of eleven active college coaches who have won 185 games at one school.  

“A lot of people think I’m crazy for working with college kids this long, but I absolutely love it,” Coach Sawyer said.  

Sawyer’s career started back when he played two years of football at Winona State University and was an All-Conference selection on the baseball field. Sawyer graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education in 1983. 

He went on to be an assistant coach for the Warriors from 1987-89 and then again from 1991-94, helping lead the team to NSIC Championships in 1993 and 1994.  

“Being a teacher and a coach in something I always wanted to be back from seventh and eighth grade all the way to 62,” Sawyer said. “For me it’s about the kids; the players; the relationships.” 

Sawyer became Winona State Football’s twenty-first head coach when he accepted the role in 1996 and since then has pushed the team up to higher levels than the team had ever seen. This includes leading the team to six seasons of 10 or more winning games.   

He has also been named NSIC Coach of the Year five times in his career and holds the highest wins percentage and career winning percentage in program history, but the titles that he has achieved don’t do all he’s accomplished justice.  

Sawyer was a leader not only in the university’s program, but in the community as well. Coach Sawyer makes everyone feel important and fosters great leaders. It is shown in all the players that chose to come back for one more year to finish out their career with Sawyer and it is further shown by the people who traveled from various places to attend the final game against Mankato.  

“It has been said that a great person can be defined by a single sentence,” Pete Watkins stated in his ‘Thank You, Tom Sawyer’ letter. “Tom Sawyer used his 25 seasons of football to teach the game of life to thousands of young men while servings as an example of the good in intercollegiate athletics.”   

Sawyer has coached seven Harlon Hill Award candidates, eight Academic All-Americans, 50 All-Americans and nearly 400 All-NSIC selections. Plus, a handful of players who have gone on to play professional football and others who now coach professional teams.   

In all, there have been five Warriors to earn NSIC Offensive Player of the Year and seven named NSIC Defensive Player of the Year under Sawyer’s coaching, most recently this year, when Carter Duxbury was named NSIC Defensive Player of the Year.  

Sawyer’s led the team to the playoffs six times with four Mineral Water Bowl appearances for a total of 10 post-season appearances in his coaching career.   

While Sawyer’s legacy on Winona State’s football program will never be forgotten, the numbers aren’t the true legacy he hopes to leave.  

“Bringing my name up in a conversation with someone who at that moment is not affiliated with our football program–that to me is the legacy,” Sawyer said. “I have people I coached that are 50 years old and I’m recruiting their kids, it’s generational. To me, that’s amazing. That’s the testament of what a legacy is. You leave that and it’ll go on for generations.”  

That legacy will always be with the program and with the generations of athletes that Tom Sawyer has coached, whether on the field or off.  

The final class of seniors comes as Sawyer’s twenty-fifth–two and a half decades of athletes that have been touched by Coach Sawyer.  

With that said, thank you Coach Sawyer for everything you have given to this program, university and community.