Dale Carlson arrived at Lindenwood University-Belleville in the late summer of 2015 with a reputation for building college football programs.
But after a winless 2016, university administration decided two seasons was all the time the well-traveled head coach needed to lead the Lynx to the kind of success he’d had elsewhere.
LU-Belleville Athletic Director Ryan Kaiser announced Carlson’s dismissal Wednesday.
“It’s not really something I saw coming, but the athletic director and I had a discussion after Thanksgiving that didn’t really go well,” Carlson said minutes after learning the news. “I guess with a new athletic director, they decided they wanted to go their own direction. That’s how it is in college athletics.”
Kaiser became Lindenwood-Belleville’s athletic director in September, just days before the Lynx kicked off their second season under Carlson. In a statement, he said he will begin a nationwide search for Carlson’s replacement.
In the meantime, linebackers coach Tom O’Donnell has been named interim head coach.
Attempts to reach Kaiser have been unsuccessful.
Carlson replaced former head coach Jeff Fisher — who started the LU-B football program from scratch in 2012 — less than a month before the start of the 2015 season.
The Lynx went on to win four games, matching the program’s best, even though they were new to the competitive Mid-States Football Conference, widely considered the best in the NAIA.
“I thought I had been hired under some tough circumstances with just three weeks leading up to the season,” Carlson said. “Under those circumstances, though, I thought we did a good job getting the guys to play well and buy into the program.”
But 2016 was a disappointment for LU-Belleville, which was outscored by an average of 40-12 in 10 games. The low point was a 48-45 double-overtime loss to Taylor University in the second-to-last week of the season.
Four Lynx players were All-MSFA selections, including second-team wide receiver Donnie Foster, a junior from Belleville West.
Still, Carlson said rebuilding the LU-Belleville football program was following a process that would take more time than he was afforded.
“We basically got only one recruiting cycle, and it was going to take more than that to get some of the things fixed,” he said. “It’s disappointing because there is a foundation here.”
Under Carlson in 2007, Ohio Dominican University finished 12-1 in NCAA Division III, just three years after he started the program. He also started football at Indiana’s Trine University (then known as Tri-State) in 1995 and by 1998 had the Thunder in an NAIA national semifinal game.
Carlson earned MSFA-Mideast League Coach of the Year honors in 2007. He also earned American Football Coaches Association Region II and American Football Monthly/Schutt Sports NAIA National Coach of the Year honors in 2007.
He was named the NAIA Independent Coach of the Year in 2009.
Carlson also served as head coach at Lakewood-Wisconsin (1987-89), Taylor (1990-93), Tri-State (1995-02), Ohio Dominican (2003-09), and Valparaiso (2010-2013). His current career record is 117-158-3.
“I would like to thank Dale Carlson for his time spent leading Lindenwood University-Belleville football program,” Kaiser said in a statement. “At this time we believe a change in direction is in order to be able to compete at the highest level of the Mid-States Football Association.”