The 2016 campaign marks the fourth season that Mike Babcock will serve as the head coach of the McKendree University football program in 2015. Babcock was named as the 17th football coach in the history of the Bearcats’ program back in December 2013.
In the three-plus years since taking the helm of the Bearcats’ program, Babcock as helped lead McKendree through its early steps as NCAA Division II members. The Bearcats have increased their win total in each of Babcock’s first three years in Lebanon while leading the team’s rise within the Great Lakes Valley Conference ranks as well. Babcock enters the 2016 season with a record of 17-14 at McKendree.
Under Babcock’s leadership, the McKendree football program enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2015. The Bearcats turned in the first winning season in the program’s NCAA Division II era, going 8-2 overall while finishing second in the GLVC standings at 6-2. McKendree -- which won its final five games of 2014 -- continued its roll into 2015 by opening the year with a five-game win streak. The Bearcats’ success was noted by the raters in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll as the team earned its first-ever vote in the weekly ratings in early November. Along the way, Babcock coached 15 players to All-GLVC honors in 2015, including six first-team selections.
Babcock received the first post-season coaching honor of his McKendree career last fall when he was selected as the HEROSports 2015 Super Region 4 Coach of the Year. The award placed Babcock among a list of finalists for the HEROSports 2015 NCAA Division II Coach of the Year.
Offensively, McKendree rewrote the team’s record book, setting new program marks for points scored (388), points per game (38.8 PPG), total offense (4,873 yards), passing yards (2,872 yards), completion percentage (.661) and passing touchdowns (23). McKendree also equaled a school record by scoring 51 touchdowns. In addition to leading the GLVC in scoring offense, total offense and rushing offense (200.7 yards per game), the Bearcats finished the year ranked in the top 20 of the final NCAA Division II statistical report in completion percentage, scoring offense and third-down conversion percentage (.480).
The offense explosion in 2015 was led by senior quarterback Isaac Fisher, who capped his final season in a McKendree uniform by being named the GLVC Offensive Player of the Year. Fisher registered school records with 3,595 yards of total offense, 2,792 passing yards with 21 touchdowns through the air. On the ground, Fisher rushed for a team-leading 803 yards with nine more scores. He closed his playing days for the Bearcats as the program’s career leader with 10,257 yards of total offense, 780 pass completions, 8,508 passing yards and 64 passing TDs.
Senior wide receiver Cameron James put the final stamp on his four-year McKendree career by taking over the team’s career lead in nearly every receiving category. James ended his playing days with 150 catches for 1,614 yards and 16 touchdowns. Equally as dangerous in the return game, James set a new McKendree career standard with 62 kick returns. He also took over the program’s lead in all-purpose yards with 4,583.
McKendree was just as impressive on the defensive side of the ball in 2015. The Bearcats paced the league in scoring defense, allowing its opponents just 19.8 points per contest. After finishing at the bottom of the conference in pass defense in 2014, McKendree improved dramatically just a year later, closing the 2015 campaign by ranking second overall in the category. The team was fourth in the nation in quarterback sacks per game, averaging 3.5 per outing.
For the second consecutive year, junior linebacker A.J. Wentland set a new program mark for tackles in a season. After ending the 2014 season with 132 tackles in 11 games, Wentland bettered the mark last season with 135 total stops in the Bearcats’ 10-game schedule. Wentland, who was a first-team All-GLVC honoree, picked up second-team All-Super Region 4 accolades from the Division II Conference Commissioner’s Association (D2CCA).
The 2014 season turned into a memorable one on many fronts for Babcock and the Bearcat football program. McKendree closed the year as one of the hottest teams in the Great Lakes Valley Conference, winning its final five games to post a 5-6 overall record. The late-season run also gave the Bearcats a 5-3 mark in GLVC play, which enabled the squad to finish in a tie for second place in the league standings. That is McKendree’s highest GLVC finish in the conference’s brief football history.
Sophomore defensive lineman Lucky Baar rewrote the McKendree record book by leading NCAA Division II with 26 1/2 tackles for loss and 18 quarterback sacks. Both statistics also set new program records as Baar earned GLVC Defensive Player of the Year honors along with first-team Little All-America accolades from the Associated Press. Baar became the first Bearcat player to earn either honor. In all, 10 McKendree players received All-GLVC awards, including first-team selections in Baar, junior offensive lineman Derrik Starrett and sophomore linebacker A.J. Wentland. In his first year as a starter at middle linebacker, Wentland registered a school-record 132 tackles.
During his first season at McKendree in 2013, Babcock led the Bearcats to four victories, including a thrilling 32-28 come-from-behind win in the 2013 season opener against Tiffin University. A total of 11 McKendree players earned All-Conference honors from the GLVC during Babcock’s rookie season as a head coach, including first-team selections in senior Richie Rebmann and sophomore Brett Pearman.
Babcock came to McKendree after spending five years as an assistant coach at Colorado State University-Pueblo, one of the top NCAA Division II programs in the country. In his last four years at CSU-Pueblo, Babcock served as the ThunderWolves’ quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator. Under his leadership, CSU-Pueblo registered back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and claimed Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference (RMAC) championships. The ThunderWolves were the top-ranked team in the final American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) regular-season poll in both 2011 and 2012.
With Babcock at the offensive controls, CSU-Pueblo set 13 team and 15 individual offensive records as the ThunderWolves advanced to the national quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2012. CSU-Pueblo set new team season standards in every major passing category, including attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and completion percentage. The ThunderWolves also established new records for total offensive yards, plays and points scored.
During the 2012 season, CSU-Pueblo averaged 35.8 points and 442.6 yards of total offense per game this season. The ThunderWolves were ranked first in the RMAC and 11th in NCAA Division II in passing efficiency. In addition, CSU-Pueblo ranked among the top 30 in the nation in scoring offense.
Babcock arrived at CSU-Pueblo after spending the 2007 season as the tight ends coach and director of football operations at the University of San Diego, where he helped the Toreros to a Pioneer Conference championship. Prior to that, Babcock served as the quality control intern for offense for two seasons at the University of Colorado. He served as an assistant in coaching the Buffaloes’ offensive line, tight end and special teams.
Babcock began his coaching career at his alma mater, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). He was an undergraduate and graduate assistant with the Bruins from 2000-04. After spending the 2000-02 season coaching the UCLA linebackers, Babcock shifted to defensive line coach in 2003. He wrapped up his stay at UCLA by guiding the Bruins’ offensive line in 2004.
During his stay at UCLA, Babcock helped coach the Bruins to four bowl appearances, and also helped guide the top-ranked defensive unit in the Pac-10 in 2001.
As an undergraduate at UCLA, Babcock was a linebacker and played on the Bruins’ 1997 and 1998 Pac-10 championship squads, and played in both the Cotton Bowl (1998) and Rose Bowl (1999). UCLA put together a 20-game win streak during Babcock’s playing days. Babcock earned both of his degrees from UCLA – an undergraduate degree in 2002 along with his master’s degree in 2005.
Babcock and his wife Kimberly have two children: Tyler and Emily.