Tom Sawyer, who has led the Winona State University football program since 1996, has announced he will retire from coaching at the conclusion of the 2021 Warrior football season.
The announcement comes as the Winona State program completed their spring season with the 2021 Warrior Spring Game held on Saturday at Maxwell Field.
Sawyer owns every Warrior football coaching record, earned over 25 years as the head coach of one of NCAA Division II football’s most consistently successful programs.
When asked what was most important to him as the university prepared for the announcement, Sawyer said, “My relationships with the players and coaches. That has been so important to me from day one and I have been blessed and fortunate to be surrounded with terrific people.”
Sawyer has earned the opportunity to let the numbers to speak for themselves.
He is 190-86 in 24 seasons as the head football coach at Winona State University. His .688 winning percentage reflects consistent success earned in one of the toughest football conferences in the country, the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).
Winona State President Dr. Scott Olson said, “Coach Sawyer and the Warrior football program are synonymous. He has built something remarkable here at Winona State: a great, competitive football program where student-athletes succeed in the classroom as in the stadium. We are so proud of the program, and eternally grateful to Coach Sawyer. He will be greatly missed, but he has built something that will endure”
With Sawyer leading the program, Winona State has had Warrior football student-athletes earn Academic All-American honors 13 times, awarded by several different recognizing bodies, including the CoSIDA Academic All-America committee, GTE All-Academic committee, and ESPN The Magazine.
Since taking over in 1996, four of Sawyer’s student-athletes have been honored by the NSIC with the Glen Galligan Award. The Glen Galligan Award is given to a student-athlete who participates at his institution for four years and is academically superior while making a positive contribution to the institution. Under Sawyer, seven Winona State Warriors have been finalists for the Harlon Hill award, the highest honor available to NCAA Division II football players.
Eric Schoh, the director of athletics at Winona State, noted, “We are sad to see Coach Sawyer go, and yet are excited about seeing the 2021 Warriors with Tom at the helm. You cannot talk about Warrior football without thinking of Tom. His successes speak for themselves, but more importantly, his character and the character of the program are second to none. He will always be a part of this program and I look forward to spending more time with him on the sidelines as a fan in 2022, and beyond.”
Tom Sawyer was named the NSIC football Coach of the Year five times, receiving the award as voted on by his coaching peers in 1997, 2000, 2001, 2004 and most recently, in 2017.
Sawyer has led WSU in 10 NCAA Division II post-season contests, including seven NCAA Division II football playoff games and three Mineral Water Bowl appearances. Winona State has finished .500 or better 21 times under Sawyer, and his teams have earned ten NSIC Regular Season or Divisional championships. In the 107-year history of the program, only one other postseason contest which was played without Tom Sawyer as the head coach was the 1993 NAIA Championship Game, in which he served as a Warrior assistant coach.
To say Sawyer has deep roots at Winona State and in the community is a profound understatement. Sawyer played football and baseball for the Warriors as an undergraduate student-athlete and joined the WSU coaching staff as an assistant under head coach Dave Bassore in 1987. When not found on the turf of Maxwell Field or in the weight room of the Integrated Wellness Center overseeing his program, Sawyer is visible elsewhere in the region, speaking to local high school sports teams, connecting with his WSU faculty colleagues, and playing a major role in the community in which he resides.
Said another way, since 1987, Tom Sawyer has stood on a Warrior sideline every fall football season as an assistant coach or head coach, except for 1990-91, a year he spent coaching and teaching at Cochrane-Fountain City High School. He earned both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in education at WSU, where he is an associate professor in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Science.
Tremendously well-respected in the area and in the profession of college football coaching ranks, Sawyer is known around Winona as a down-to-earth, humble, and approachable leader. Aside from his record-setting success on the field, Sawyer’s ability to connect with and relate to people from all facets of the greater Winona area are an indelible legacy of his quarter century at the helm of Warrior football.
Tom Sawyer is a man who has helped shape the careers and lives of countless Warrior success stories, from student-athletes who have gone on to successful careers, as well as professional football players, and dozens of impactful coaches in the NFL, NCAA and high school football communities. While comfortable and successful in the spotlight that comes with being a NCAA football coach, Sawyer is quick to include others in his successes, and has served admirably as an ambassador of the University for more than two decades.
While the timing of writing the last chapter of Sawyer’s coaching legacy is known, the contents of the pages reflect the promise and potential of the 2021 fall football season.
Winona State was 8-4 in 2019, the last Warrior season on record and saw WSU earned their third trip to the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo. The program returns a veteran coaching staff and will feature an experience-laden group of student-athletes. The Warriors, with Tom Sawyer leading the team, will open the 2021 season against Concordia – St. Paul on Thursday, September 2.
Tom Sawyer has two children, Jessica, and Tommy. Sawyer’s son was a member of the Winona State football team from 2007-09, and Jessica and husband Mike have two sons, Max, and Carson. Sawyer and Connie Mettille live in Winona.
As Winona State football begins their preparations for the 2021 fall season, Coach Tom Sawyer said, “I have been truly blessed to lead this amazing program! But to have one more opportunity with this very talented team, the 2021 season will be the best gift any coach could wish for … It is a great day to be a Warrior!”
The WSU Football Players Association (FPA) is planning a 25-year reunion for Homecoming weekend, which will occur on Saturday, October 16, when the Warriors take on Northern State University in a 2 p.m. contest. In what will be Sawyer’s last Homecoming game, the FPA and Winona State Alumni Office will look to the occasion to properly acknowledge Sawyers’ contributions to the program, department, University, and community.
Former players, coaches, fans, and families are encouraged to contact Scott Opfer with the FPA and Tracy Hale, director of Winona State alumni engagement, at email@example.com to learn more regarding the Winona State football 25-year reunion, held in conjunction with WSU Homecoming celebration.