K.C. Keeler produced one FCS national championship at Delaware. His new goal is to help Sam Houston State take the final step to get there.

Keeler was named the Bearkats' 15th coach on Thursday. He replaces Willie Fritz, who left earlier this month to take the head coaching job at Georgia Southern.

The 54-year-old Keeler was among five finalists for the job. Former Northwest Missouri State coach Mel Tjeerdsma was considered the front-runner earlier in the week.

Instead, Keeler emerged as the choice. In addition to winning a national title with his alma mater in 2003, Keeler led Delaware to the championship game in 2007 and 2010.

Sam Houston State has come close to winning it all, falling one victory short in 2011 and 2012. This past season, the Bearkats finished 9-5 and again qualified for the playoffs.

"This is a tremendously exciting opportunity for me and my family," Keeler said. "We're coming to an institution that not only has enjoyed outstanding football success recently but also is growing as an academic institution."

Keeler, 54, holds a career record of 174-73-1. He also guided Rowan University to five Division III national championship game appearances.

"I knew a little bit about Sam Houston before visiting for the interview," Keeler said. "But after doing some research about the university, I was amazed to find that Sam Houston is a hidden gem. Meeting with the administration, the athletic staff and members of the university community, I was so impressed. With an ever-growing enrollment, outstanding academic and athletic programs and an energized alumni base, Sam Houston a perfect fit for me."

At Delaware, Keeler posted a 86-52 record from 2002 to 2012 and had the Blue Hens in the playoffs four times. One of his players was Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, the Super Bowl XLVII MVP.

"One of the things that jumps out at you first is Coach Keeler's record at the FCS level," Sam Houston athletic director Bobby Williams said. "Not only has he won a national championship, but he has returned to the championship game two other times. He has a track record of building a program and then continuing that success."

Keeler, a Emmaus, Pa., native, played linebacker at Delaware from 1978 to 1980 and was a member of the Blue Hens' Division II national championship team in 1979.

As a coach, his honors include AFCA FCS National Coach of the Year, Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year, Maxwell Club Tri-State Coach of the Year and the All-America Football Foundation Johnny Vaught Head Coach Award.

"Keeler coached in the Atlantic 10 and the CAA, widely considered as one of the strongest conferences in FCS football," Williams said. "He made the Delaware program one that was always in the national FCS conversation. Between my work on the NCAA selection committee and return trips to the FCS National Championship Game in Frisco, I had the opportunity to meet Coach Keeler on several occasions and was always impressed."