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Lennon: Choice to leave not easy

GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Dale Lennon was in the Twin Cities recruiting high school players for the University of North Dakota on Dec. 19 when he received a call from Southern Illinois athletic director Mario Moccia.

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GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Dale Lennon was in the Twin Cities recruiting high school players for the University of North Dakota on Dec. 19 when he received a call from Southern Illinois athletic director Mario Moccia.

Six days, several meetings and many hours of discussion later, Lennon was the new head coach for the Salukis.

It wasn't an easy decision, but Lennon chose Southern Illinois, where he takes over what is regarded as one of the top 10 Division I Football Championship Subdivision programs in the country.

"This is, by far, the most difficult decision I'll ever make in my professional career," Lennon said in Grand Forks on Saturday, a day after he was introduced as the Southern Illinois coach. "It was too good of an opportunity to turn down."

Lennon signed a five-year contract that will pay him $200,000 per year.

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It is believed to be one of the top contracts in the country for a FCS coach.

The Southern Illinois opening, which was created by Jerry Kill's departure to Northern Illinois, drew considerable interest.

But Southern Illinois targeted Lennon, whose nine-year record at UND was 90-24 and included a Division II national championship.

Lennon leaves UND as the Sioux football program is preparing to make the jump to FCS status next season. It is a challenging time at UND, which, in addition to the move to Division I, also is looking for an athletic director and a new president.

Those factors, however, didn't figure into Lennon's decision.

"I made this decision because it was the right opportunity for me," Lennon said. "I made the decision because the position was the right fit for me and my family. It had nothing to do with other factors.

"Like I've always told my teams, 'Nothing is guaranteed forever.'"

Lennon is stepping into a solid situation in Carbondale. The school is spending approximately $80 million in updating its athletic facilities, which include a new 12,000-seat stadium.

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But the former Sioux coach said the UND program is in solid shape.

"The program is strong enough that with my departure it should only be a minor hiccup," Lennon said.

The next Sioux coach also may come from within the UND system.

UND said it will first search internally for its new coach. Chris Mussman, the assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, applied for the Sioux position Friday.

"Going with an internal search is very good," Lennon said. "By following that protocol, the program will be in great shape.

"Coach Mussman would be a very good fit. He knows the philosophy of the program. If that works out, great."

Lennon's move came so quickly that it didn't allow for him to address the returning UND players.

"I wish there was a way for me to communicate to the players what's happened," Lennon said. "Unfortunately, that was something I wasn't able to do. Everything happened so fast."

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The Grand Forks Herald and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co. Lennon: Choice to leave not easy By Wayne Nelson 20071231

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