Click here to Skip to main content
University of South Dakota - Football
University of South Dakota - Football mobile


Bob Nielson was introduced as the 30th head coach in the history of University of South Dakota football in December of 2015. It is the sixth head coaching stint for Nielson, who has enjoyed success at every level of college football. He is a three-time national coach of the year recipient, a two-time national champion head coach, and was Missouri Valley Football Conference Coach of the Year in 2016. The 2019 season is the 27th for Nielson as a head coach.

Nielson has been labeled a builder throughout his career and 2017 certainly added to that legacy. In just his second season with the Coyotes, Nielson led the program to a record eight wins at the Division I level and to the FCS playoffs for the first time. It marked the fifth consecutive program that has reached the playoffs within four years of Nielson taking the helm. The Coyotes won their FCS playoff debut and reached the final 16.

Nielson crossed yet another milestone in 2018. The Coyotes’ 31-24 win at Southern Illinois in their conference opener marked Nielson’s 200th career win and he needed less than 300 games to get there. Nielson became the 91st college football coach to reach the plateau and starts 2019 as one of 14 active head coaches with 200 wins.

Prior to arriving in Vermillion, Nielson served as head coach at Western Illinois University for three seasons from 2013-15. He led the Leathernecks to a 7-6 record in 2015 and to the second round of the FCS playoffs. It was the first playoff appearance for the Leathernecks since 2010. While at Western, Nielson coached seven all-MVFC first-team selections including four in 2015.

Nielson grew up in Marion, Iowa, and received his bachelor’s degree from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, in 1982. He began his career as an offensive line coach at his alma mater before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 1987.

Ripon College in Wisconsin gave Nielson his first head coaching position. He was 2-6-1 in his first season and improved to 7-2 in year two. It was the first season the Red Hawks had posted more than four victories in eight years.

Nielson returned to Wartburg in 1991 to serve as head coach and athletic director of the Knights. In 1993, his third season, Wartburg won an Iowa Conference title, Nielson earned his first conference coach of the year award, and the Knights returned to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in 11 years. In 1994, Wartburg recorded its first NCAA playoff victory.

Nielson’s Duluth Dynasty began in 1999. In year three, Duluth made its first postseason appearance by competing in the Mineral Water Bowl. The following season, the Bulldogs won the 2002 Northern Sun Championship with a perfect 9-0 record and qualified for the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time in school history.

Duluth was 38-19 in its first five years under Nielson, who turned in his whistle after the 2003 season to serve as the Bulldogs’ athletic director. He remained the AD when he returned to coach the football team in 2008. That year, Duluth earned its first national championship with a 15-0 record. The Bulldogs duplicated the feat in 2010.

Nielson was 100-26 in 10 seasons at Duluth. In his second five-year stint, the program was 62-7 with five NCAA playoff appearances, five NSIC titles and two undefeated seasons. Nielson was named national coach of the year in both championship years and totaled three Northern Sun Coach of the Year awards.

Nielson and his wife, Terri, have two daughters, Amanda Taylor and Kasey King, a son, Kyle, and three grandchildren, Cash, Rowan, and Finley Taylor. Nielson holds a master’s degree from University of Northern Iowa, which he completed in 1988. He served as Chair of the NCAA Football Rules Committee from 2015-17, and is a member of the University of Minnesota Duluth and Linn-Mar High School Athletic Hall of Fames.