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Sources: Western Michigan hiring national champion Division III head coach

Long before he was a national champion head coach, Jeff Thorne was a young coach working with a high school quarterback named Tim Lester.

Western Michigan is hiring North Central College head coach Jeff Thorne to a senior position on the offensive staff, sources told FootballScoop on Wednesday.

The 2021 season was Thorne's 20th at the Naperville, Ill., based Division III school. Hired as offensive coordinator in 2002 under his father, John, he was promoted to assistant head coach in 2010 and then to head coach in 2015. In his six years leading the program, Thorne took the Cardinals from a consistently good team to a great one. 

The club went 65-10 under his leadership, including a 27-2 mark of the past two campaigns. The Cardinals won their first national championship in 2019, and finished runner-up in 2021. (There was no Division III season in 2020.) In winning the 2019 crown, North Central became the first Division III team other than Mount Union, Wisconsin-Whitewater or Mary Hardin-Baylor to win the Stagg Bowl since Linfield University in 2004. 

In two decades with the program, Thorne helped North Central win 11 CCIW championships and reach the Division III playoffs 12 times. Four North Central teams produced undefeated regular seasons, and 62 Cardinals earned All-America honors, including 27 in Thorne's six seasons as head coach. 

This past season, North Central finished top 10 nationally in scoring offense (52.6 points per game), passing efficiency (186.04), rushing offense (293.1 yards per game) and total offense (539.7 yards per game). The Cardinals topped 50 points 10 times, including games of 84, 77, 62, and two games of 64 points. 

Equally important to his success in Naperville, Thorne and WMU head coach Tim Lester go back nearly 30 years. Both hail from Wheaton, Ill., and, after finishing his career as a quarterback at Eastern Illinois, Thorne returned to Wheaton and coached under John Thorne at Warrenville South High School. Warrenville South happened to be quarterbacked by Tim Lester

Lester's success at Warrenville South earned him a scholarship at Western Michigan.

He returned to Kalamazoo as quarterbacks coach in 2005-06, but left to join John and Jeff Thorne at North Central; Jeff coordinated the offense, Tim the defense. Lester left in 2008 to become the head coach at Elmhurst, a CCIW rival of North Central. He returned to FBS in 2013 and to WMU in 2017, and now the pair Lester and Thorne will work together once again. 

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.