John Stiegelmeier has built the South Dakota State University football team into a consistent winner in the ranks of the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
Heading into the 2013 season, Coach Stig has led the Jackrabbits to a 102-76 record (.573 winning percentage). SDSU has posted seven winning seasons in the school’s nine campaigns at the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) level, compiling a 60-43 record since moving to the FCS ranks in 2004. Overall, the Jackrabbits have had a winning record in 12 of Stiegelmeier's 16 years as head coach, and have a 27-13 record in Missouri Valley Football Conference games. SDSU has reached the FCS playoffs twice (2009, 2012) under Stiegelmeier’s guidance.
After consecutive 5-6 seasons in 2010 and 2011, the Jackrabbits rebounded in 2012 with their second postseason appearance in four years. SDSU finished the 2012 campaign with a 9-4 overall record, tying the single-season school record for wins. The Jackrabbits also hosted — and won — their first-ever playoff game, defeating Eastern Illinois, 58-10, at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. SDSU was later eliminated by eventual national champion North Dakota State. In 2012, the Jackrabbits were ranked seven of the final eight weeks of the season and ended the campaign ranked 14th in the Sports Network media poll.
The 2009 season proved to be a memorable one as Stiegelmeier led the Jackrabbits to their first FCS playoff appearance and the program's first postseason appearance in 30 years. The Jackrabbits finished as runner-up in the Missouri Valley Football Conference with a 7-1 record and finished the season 8-4 overall. SDSU led for much of its playoff game at top-seeded Montana, before falling 61-48 to the eventual national runner-up Grizzlies. Ranked for the entire season, including appearing in the top 10 for two weeks, the Jackrabbits finished the 2009 campaign with an 11th-place showing in both the FCS Coaches’ and Sports Network media polls.
In 2008, the Jackrabbits entered another new era in their Division I pursuits as they joined the Missouri Valley Football Conference. With the transition from Division II completed, SDSU fell just short of a playoff berth in its first season of eligibility, ending the year with a 7-5 overall record and 6-2 mark in the MVFC. Of SDSU's five losses, four came against ranked FCS opponents, including conference co-champions Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois. The team's other loss was at the hands of Football Bowl Subdivision opponent Iowa State in the season opener. That game marked the first time the Jackrabbits had played an FBS opponent since moving to Division I at the start of the 2004 season.
Under Stiegelmeier's guidance, SDSU has appeared in the FCS rankings six of the last seven seasons. The Jacks cracked the national poll for the first time in late October 2006, after posting back-to-back come-from-behind victories over Cal Poly and UC Davis. After climbing as high as No. 19 on the final week of the regular season, the Jackrabbits finished the 2006 season ranked 22nd by the Sports Network.
SDSU began the 2007 season in a preseason national poll for the first time, checking in at No. 20 in the Sports Network poll. The Jackrabbits dropped out of the rankings after a season-opening loss and didn't return to the top 25 until the final poll of the season with a 19th-place showing.
During the 2007 season, SDSU claimed its first conference title since 1963 by winning the Great West Football Conference championship. After starting 0-3 for the second consecutive season, SDSU reeled off seven wins in its final eight games, including a 29-24 victory over previously undefeated North Dakota State the final week of the season, to claim the GWFC title with a 7-4 overall record and 4-0 mark in league play.
The same day that the Jackrabbits won the Great West Football Conference, gifts totaling $6 million were announced for the construction of the Dykhouse Student-Athlete Center, which serves as the home of South Dakota State football. The facility, located in the north end zone of Coughlin-Alumni Stadium, was completed following the 2009 season.
More facility projects are on the horizon as ground will be broken this summer on the $32 Sanford Jackrabbit Sports Complex, which will include an indoor practice facility and state-of-the art training and rehabilitation areas. Plans are also being drawn for a new football stadium to be built at the current Coughlin-Alumni Stadium site.
In leading SDSU to the GWFC title, Stiegelmeier was named conference coach of the year and was honored by the American Football Coaches Association as the Division I Football Championship Subdivision Region 5 Coach of the Year. In addition, he was named as one of five finalists in the FCS for the 2007 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award.
The Jackrabbits continued to move up the rankings at the FCS level during the 2008 season, reaching the 12th spot in the Sports Network poll after opening league play with home victories over No. 14 Youngstown State and No. 15 Western Illinois in back-to-back weeks. In all, SDSU was ranked seven weeks that season.
After posting back-to-back 6-5 seasons in 2004 and 2005 to begin their Division I pursuits, the Jackrabbits rose another notch in 2006 as they compiled a 7-4 overall record, finishing the season ranked 21st in the final FCS poll conducted by The Sports Network and 22nd in the College Sporting News coaches' poll. Following an 0-3 start, the Jacks rebounded by winning seven consecutive games for the first time since 1963. Three of the victories came in the closing minutes against nationally ranked teams, setting up a showdown with North Dakota State on the final week of the season for both the Dakota Marker and Great West Football Conference title.
Although SDSU fell short in the championship game, the Jackrabbits finished with their most victories since 2003 and their best mark in the three-year history of the GWFC at 3-1.
Stiegelmeier, 56, is the 20th head coach for the Jackrabbits. His tenure of 16 years as head coach is the second-longest head coaching stint in school history.
The Selby, S.D., native first became acquainted with the Jackrabbit football program as a student assistant under John Gregory during SDSU's only other NCAA playoff season in 1979. With the Jackrabbits victory at McNeese State (La.) on Sept. 30, 2006, Stiegelmeier passed Gregory (55-50-3 from 1972-81) for sole possession of second place on the SDSU career wins list.
After graduating from SDSU with degrees in mathematics and physical education, Stiegelmeier enrolled in graduate school at the University of Northern Iowa, where he served on the coaching staff of a Panther squad which posted a 7-4 mark in 1981.
Stiegelmeier coached at Eau Claire (Wis.) North High School from 1981-84, then returned to his home state as defensive coordinator, secondary coach and recruiting coordinator at Northern State University from 1984-87. Northern was 8-3 in his last season with the Wolves and finished fourth in the nation in total defense
Following his time at NSU, Stiegelmeier went back to school, enrolling at the University of Wisconsin, where he was a graduate assistant on the staff headed by Don Morton while working on his doctorate.
Stiegelmeier returned to his alma mater in July 1988, joining Wayne Haensel’s Jackrabbit coaching staff as secondary coach and recruiting coordinator. After Haensel stepped down following the 1990 season, Stiegelmeier was elevated to defensive coordinator by new head coach Mike Daly.
In six seasons as defensive coordinator, Stiegelmeier helped guide the Jackrabbits to a 41-23 record. SDSU turned in a winning record in all six seasons, including five seven-win seasons. That track record of success helped Stiegelmeier secure his first collegiate head coaching position in December 1996, when he was named Daly's successor.
The Stiegelmeier era opened in style Sept. 13, 1997, as the Jackrabbits recorded a 17-7 victory at UC Davis. Although SDSU finished Stiegelmeier's first season with a 4-6 record, the foundation was laid for future success. The Jackrabbits posted a 6-5 record during the 1998 season and broke through with an 8-3 overall mark and a 6-3, fourth-place showing in the North Central Conference.
Led by Harlon Hill Award candidate Josh Ranek, SDSU posted its most victories in 20 years in 1999 and was ranked 15th in the final NCAA Division II regular season poll, despite being picked sixth in the NCC race by both the coaches and media. Following the season, Stiegelmeier was named North Central Conference Coach of the Year.
SDSU went on to post upper-division finishes in the NCC three of its last four years before moving into the ranks of Division I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision) in 2004.