There will be a new head football coach at Northwestern State next season, director of athletics Greg Burke announced Tuesday afternoon.
The contract of seventh-year head coach Scott Stoker will not be renewed, said Burke, who called it "the most difficult decision" since he took over as athletics director in 1996.
A nationwide search will begin for a new coach for the Demons, who have made five playoff appearances in the past 12 seasons.
Northwestern finished 7-5 overall and 4-3 in the Southland Conference this season, the first winning record since a 2004 SLC championship season.
Stoker was 43-38 overall as head coach at his alma mater, including playoff teams in 2002 and 2004. His record included a 21-21 mark in conference play, a 2-11 record against Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) opponents, a 33-27 record against Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) foes, and an 8-0 mark against Division II teams, including two this season.
"This is the most difficult decision — and one which was heavily weighed — that I have been involved with during my time as athletics director at Northwestern State," Burke said. "A year ago, the football program was closely scrutinized and it was decided to move forward with the same coaching staff. While progress was made this season, the best way for the program to make the strides that are ultimately needed is to go in another direction in terms of the coaching staff.
"I cannot say enough about Scott's dedication, passion and tireless work ethic over the course of his head coaching tenure," Burke added. "Add to that the fact that he has endured more tribulation in seven years than some coaches do over an entire career and my level of admiration for his ability to stay on task with the program is very high."
Stoker was a record-shattering quarterback for the Demons from 1986-89, leading Northwestern to its first SLC championship and first Division I-AA playoff appearance in his junior season, 1988.
Earlier this fall, he was inducted in the Graduate N Club Hall of Fame, the university's highest honor for its former athletes and coaches.
Burke was director of the NSU Athletic Association during Stoker's playing career, and when Stoker immediately joined the coaching staff while completing his undergraduate degree in 1991 and beyond, before Burke left for a post at Akron in 1992.
"What does not make this any easier is the fact that Scott is an NSU alumnus and former Demon player. He bleeds purple," Burke said. "At the same time, as we went through the evaluation process over the past few weeks and days, I had to keep my focus on the future of the program. That's not easy when you're talking about an individual whom you have known and respected for over 20 years."