Bison defensive coordinator Klieman has quickly established credibility
FARGO -- When North Dakota State went in search of a new defensive coordinator last January, the list of candidates was probably a short one. As in one coach.
Head coach Craig Bohl only needed to look down the office hallway to tab Chris Klieman. After 14 games and statistics that border on historic within the program, the pick was obviously the right one.
He was named the Division I Football Championship Subdivision Coordinator of the Year by the coaching website FootballScoop.com, an honor taken seriously within the fraternity of coaches. He'll receive his award at the American Football Coaches Association convention next week in Nashville, Tenn.
"It helps when you have really great players and a great staff to work with," Klieman said. "It's a collective award for us."
It's a collective award for a few former mentors who helped Klieman along the way. A safety at Northern Iowa in the late 1980s, he graduated in December and was looking for a career when then-UNI head coach Terry Allen asked him if he wanted to give coaching a shot.
He was also encouraged by the athletic director at UNI at the time, Bob Bowlsby -- who also was a family friend through Chris' father, who was a high school football coach. So Klieman became a graduate assistant.
"Chris was never the fastest guy on the field or the biggest guy on the field, but he may have been the most important guy a lot of the time," Bowlsby said. "He was a safety calling defensive signals, and he was probably already preparing to be a defensive coordinator in those days."
Allen, now at Missouri State, has 123 career coaching wins. Bowlsby, a 1974 graduate from Minnesota State Moorhead, is the commissioner of the Big 12 Conference.
"I didn't want to give up the game just yet," Klieman said.
A virtual lifelong Iowan -- he was a quarterback in high school who led his Waterloo Columbus team to the state championship -- he left the state behind last year when he left UNI for Missouri Valley Football Conference rival NDSU.
It was a move that carried the predictable questions, mainly, "Why?" Why would a UNI graduate and assistant coach leave his hometown and state?
"It was probably harder for him to be away from his family," Bowlsby said, "but to have an opportunity with a great program like North Dakota State, I'm not surprised he took it. It's one of those places where it's the big university in the state. Just them and UND, and that's always a good situation."
It's been more than a good situation this year. Heading into the FCS title game Saturday against Sam Houston State (Texas), NDSU is leading the FCS in scoring defense (11.4 points per game), total defense (223.3 yards per game) and passing defense (131.0 yards per game).
The Bison changed little after former defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton left for USC last winter.
"They have a different coordinator this year, but they're running essentially the same things," said Sam Houston head coach Willie Fritz.
That would be the Tampa 2 defense. When Klieman was named the defensive backs coach last year, he made it a point to assimilate into NDSU's defensive language -- and not the other way around.
At UNI, he was an assistant coach on two FCS semifinal teams in 1992 and 2008. At NDSU, he finally got a title ring last year.
"I always had this thought (at UNI) that it would not be too surprising if he went into coaching," Bowlsby said. "He's stayed with it. In my family, I have one son in the athletics business, and we say it's a genetic defect if they want to be involved in sports. Maybe Chris has that genetic defect. But I do think Chris will be a good head coach someday."