Schnepf: Beginning of the Chris Klieman NDSU era
FARGO — Last year at this time, Craig Bohl was answering questions on how to keep his North Dakota State football team from becoming complacent while aiming for a third straight national championship.
The championship came and Bohl left — heading off to Wyoming, literally hours after the Bison won another championship in Frisco, Texas.
Seems like a long time ago.
Since then, Bohl has been relying on the same suit-wearing, “say-cheese” smile, work-ethic shtick that won over all those Bison fans who filled the Fargodome, not to mention the stadium in Frisco. So far, Wyoming fans are optimistic Bohl can resurrect their “Cowboy Tough” mantra for a program that hasn’t won a conference championship since 1996.
Since that Jan. 4 day in Frisco, Bohl’s successor — Chris Klieman — has exuded a humble confidence you don’t often see from first-year head coaches. During Wednesday’s media day, we even saw Klieman look as dapper as Bohl — sporting a dark suit, white shirt and striped tie.
“It’s no big deal,” Klieman said of his attire. “It’s media day … you’ve got to dress up.”
But don’t let appearances fool you. Klieman would just as soon work up a sweat in practice working defensive drills with his players — something Bohl would rarely do in his last few years at NDSU.
“It might take coach Klieman a few years as a head coach before he starts wearing a suit every day,” said Bison senior free safety Christian Dudzik. “I don’t think he wants to be the total CEO type just yet.”
Welcome to the Chris Klieman era.
There is no doubt the 47-year-old Klieman has some big shoes to fill. After all, Bohl became NDSU’s all-time winningest coach, lost only two games in the last three seasons and created an excitement that has filled the Fargodome parking lot with rabid tailgaters and, at times, has blown the roof off the place.
Bohl snatched Klieman out of rival Northern Iowa in 2011, eventually naming him his defensive coordinator — one who has assembled some of the strongest defenses ever seen at the FCS level. Expect more of the same this season.
So when Klieman declined to join Bohl in Wyoming, it was visibly noticeable the two weren’t best of buds in Frisco. Nonetheless, Klieman still has been thankful for the three seasons he got to work with Bohl.
“Craig was always good to delegate responsibilities,” Klieman said. “We have always had great assistants here, you just have to let them do their job. And I’ve got a lot of confidence in my coaches.”
Even though most of them are new. The only two holdovers from last year’s championship team are Conor Riley and Nick Goeser, each promoted to oversee the offensive and defensive lines — perhaps the two biggest question marks for this year’s Bison.
Riley said the transition has been as smooth as can be expected.
“It’s always a joke that you really never know what kind of head coach someone will be until they are actually a head coach,” Riley said. “But coach Klieman has not changed one bit. He’s a great guy to work for.”
“Bringing in a new coach has brought some excitement,” he said. “It has rejuvenated me a little bit and I think it has rejuvenated some of the other coaches as well.”
Yes, it seems like eons ago this time last year when the media-day buzzword was “complacency.” If there is a buzzword this year, Dudzik says it would be “disrespect.”
“I guess our team kind of feels disrespected because it seems every time they talk about us, they talk about what we lost from last year,” said Dudzik, one of 18 seniors back from last year’s 15-0 team. “The thing is, we want to show everyone that we are the same Bison team.”
And with a head coach who embraces the same philosophies as Bohl did, but with a little bit of different personality that may require fewer suits and camera-ready grins.
“It’s a whole new team,” Dudzik said. “Every year is really a whole new team. It’s just kind of a new era.”
Schnepf is the sports editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum News Service.