"Yes, we will run the ball. We will run with it after we catch it."
With that quote from his 1999 introductory press conference, UW-Platteville Coach Mike Emendorfer ushered in a new, exciting era of Pioneer football.
In his 18 seasons, Emendorfer's teams have become synonymous with assaulting the record books, as the Pioneers have broken more than 40 school and 10 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams. In the past six years, the Pioneers have also become synonymous with winning and national rankings.
Since 2011, the Pioneers have compiled a 48-15 record, with NCAA III playoff appearances in 2013 and 2016. UW-Platteville has finished in the top 15 in the final D3football.com poll in four of the past five seasons. Emendorfer became the winningest coach in Pioneer history in 2016, a year he led the Pioneers to an 8-3 record and national playoff berth. The Pioneers' season ended with a controversial 32-31 loss at St. John's in the NCAA III playoffs.
The Thrill is in the Air
In 1999, Emendorfer's very first year, the Pioneers snapped a 24-game WIAC losing streak with a stunning 27-14 win over UW-La Crosse. The Pioneers more than lived up to their “Thrill is in the Air” motto, as they passed for 2,651 yards and 20 touchdowns, in stark contrast from their former Wing-T running attack. UW-Platteville fans embraced their exciting brand of ball as well, with attendance jumping by an average of 904 fans per game from the previous year.
Emendorfer earned the WIAC Coach of the Year Award for 2004, a season in which the Pioneers achieved their first winning record since 1992. The Pioneers finished 6-4, beating top-20 teams Augustana, UW-Whitewater and UW-Eau Claire. Emendorfer also took his team out to Pennsylvania, where the Pioneers beat Thiel 40-14. Along the way, the team toured Notre Dame and its stadium as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The Pioneers returned to .500 in both 20-6 and 2010 with a 5-5 mark and since the latter season have strung together six straight winning years. In 2011, Emendorfer led the Pioneers to its first seven-win season, including five in the WIAC for the first time since 1990. In the process, they rattled off four-straight conference wins for the first time since 1980. The Pioneers' exorcised road demons including wins at UW-River Falls for the first time since 1981, at UW-Stevens Point since 1988 and at UW-Stout since 1999.
In 2012, Emendorfer guided the Pioneers to a record of 8-2, their most wins since 1976. The Pioneers had an explosive offense that averaged 41 points, good for eighth in the country, and 471.9 yards per game.
NCAA III playoffs
Emendorfer earned his second WIAC Coach of the Year Award in 2013, a historic season for the Pioneers. UW-Platteville finished 10-2 and made its first ever NCAA Division III playoff appearance. The Pioneers hosted Concordia (Wis.) in the first round and went on to defeat the Falcons, 54-20. The 2013 campaign ended in the second round of the tournament at the hands of North Central, 52-24.
The Pioneers challenged for playoff spots but just missed in 2014 and 2015, finishing with 7-3 and 8-2 records. The 2016 Pioneers returned to the national scene with an 8-3 year that saw them face playoff teams. Emendorfer's club topped 45 points in six of the 10 regular-season games before dropping a 32-31 game at St. John's on a disputed touchdown on the final play.
Focus on the person
The veteran coach has also implemented a "Pillars of the Program" that focuses on developing life skills that will carry far beyond the playing days. In 2009, Coach Emendorfer presented his program's overall plan to the Chancellor's Cabinet, earning wide praise for things such as commitment to community service and academics. He brought back former Pioneers for the first football career day, as the alumni met with the current team to talk about obtaining jobs and how being a Pioneer football player helped in their careers.
Emendorfer and his staff focus on the person first, the student and then the athlete. He leads the team in life skills during the year with sessions on resume writing, tying ties, and interviewing for jobs.
Emendorfer grew up in Lockport, New York, and attended William Penn College. During his 1982-85 playing career, he became the Statesmen's all-time leading receiving with 158 catches, a record that still stands. He also holds two of the top five single-season reception marks. He came to UW-Platteville after previously stops as the offensive coordinator at Hanover, the offensive coordinator at Quincy University and the passing coordinator at Grinnell College.
He and his wife, Lisa, have two children, son Logan, and daughter Rachel. Lisa is a lecturer in Health and Physical Education program. Logan earned his degree from UW-Platteville and served as the running backs coach for the Pioneers in 2016, and Rachel is a sophomore at UW-Platteville, where she plays on the Pioneer basketball team.