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Klieman brings new personality to NDSU

FNS Photo by David Samson North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman watches practice on Aug. 4 in Fargo.

FARGO — The Trek 7200 hybrid bicycle is perfect for getting from one point on the North Dakota State campus to the other. You probably don’t want to ride it on the high-end trails in Colorado or Utah, but that’s not what Chris Klieman needs it for anyway.

It’s basic and gets the job done.

In one aspect, that’s what he offers the Bison football program. You wouldn’t catch former head coach Craig Bohl riding a bike from the NDSU practice fields to the Fargodome football offices. On the other hand, you won’t catch Klieman wearing as many suits as Bohl did when he was the Bison head coach from 2003 until taking the head coaching position at the University of Wyoming after last season.

Klieman is a common guy coaching an uncommon program.

“I’m a lifetime assistant who got a great opportunity to be the head coach here,” he said. “I know I’ve got to be the face of the staff now, but I guess I know where I came from.”

Where did he come from? He’s an Iowa guy who just happens to be in his home state today for his NDSU head coaching debut. The Bison play at Iowa State in a stadium that Klieman has been to several times as a player and an assistant coach.

As a sophomore defensive back at Northern Iowa, the Cyclones recovered an onside kick and scored late in the game to take a 39-38 victory. It was the Panthers’ first real chance at upsetting an FBS, or back then it was labeled Division I-A, opponent.

“We had them down and they caught us,” said Missouri State head coach Terry Allen, who was the UNI offensive coordinator in 1987. “It was a very disappointing loss.”

Klieman was an all-conference safety for three years. He began his coaching career as an assistant with UNI and also had stops at Western Illinois, Missouri State, Kansas and was the head coach at Loras College (Iowa) from 2002-04.

Life as a head coach for a program that has turned into an FCS power is much different than being the head coach at an NCAA Division III school.

“I was the equipment manager, the defensive coordinator and the academic advisor as well,” he said.

At NDSU, he assumes the CEO role, although unlike Bohl he is still taking a more active role in on-the-field coaching. Bohl worked with the kicking game, but that was about it. Klieman remains a defensive coordinator emeritus.

“There are a lot of guys that are the CEO type that keep their hands off of everything,” Klieman said. “But there are still a lot of coaches out there that still have that, quote, ‘CEO’ label but are still coaching a lot of football. I still want to coach, but I understand I have to take a step back and do a lot of things that are more the CEO type.”

The CEO in him has a news conference every Monday in the NDSU team room. He has a Missouri Valley Football Conference teleconference every Tuesday morning. He has a coaches show, a call-in radio show and every Thursday a Team Makers booster group luncheon.

So far, the first month of the season has been relatively drama free. He said earlier this week that he’s feeling more comfortable every day that the staff is handling the game-planning details for Iowa State just fine.

The players say not much has changed from the Bohl era to Klieman from what they can tell. The practices and meetings are about the same as they were last year. The philosophies of the West Coast offense and the Tampa 2 defense are the same.

The biggest difference may be the personalities of the head coach.

“Coach Klieman is a lot more into it, more personable-type of guy thing where coach Bohl was real business-like,” said quarterback Carson Wentz. “Both have their ways of doing it and both are obviously effective.”

Klieman takes over a program that has won the last three FCS national titles. It’s still a veteran team with 13 senior starters and is still a team that is a favorite to win a conference title.

If there are nerves associated with that task, he’s not showing it. Just because he got a nice pay raise to become the head coach didn’t mean he upgraded to a carbon fiber bicycle.

He is a common guy, after all, coaching an uncommon program.

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.