KEARNEY, Neb. — The coach who brought UNK football back to national prominence is leaving the program.

The university announced Tuesday that Josh Lynn is stepping down to join West Texas A&M as the head coach for the Buffaloes. Lynn has led the Lopers since 2017, compiling a 33-25 record during that time, not including the unofficial 2020 season. UNK won the Mineral Water Bowl in 2019 and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs in 2021. This year’s team went 8-3.

West Texas A&M is a Division ll school in Canyon, Texas, which is just south of Amarillo. Canyon is 250 miles northeast of Lynn’s hometown of Eunice, New Mexico. The Buffaloes compete in the Lone Star Conference and went 5-6 in 2022. Lynn’s alma mater and previous coaching stop Eastern New Mexico is one of the Buffaloes’ conference rivals.

“This is a hard day for Loper football because coach Lynn means so much to us,” UNK Director of Athletics Marc Bauer said in a news release. “Josh helped elevate our program and built it into a nationally ranked playoff team. He grew fan interest and community support and positively impacted Loper football and our student-athletes in countless ways.”

Lynn met with players and staff on Tuesday afternoon to share his decision. UNK says it will begin an immediate national search for his replacement.

“We will move quickly in hiring a new coach, and I am confident we will find an accomplished coach who will continue our Loper football tradition of success,” Bauer said.

Lynn took over the Lopers football program after it posted just one win across the 2015 and 2016 seasons. The Eastern New Mexico grad won three games in his first season and improved upon the team’s win total each season until peaking with a 10-3 record in 2021. Lynn branded the Lopers with the phrase “The Rise” to describe UNK’s ascent in Division ll football.

WTAMU made the playoffs six times between 2006 and 2013 but haven’t won more than 7 games just once since then. The Buffaloes play at the $38-million Bain-Schaeffer Buffalo Stadium. It was completed in 2019 and holds 8,500 fans.

Lynn will be introduced as WTAMU head coach at a news conference Friday afternoon.