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McFeely: Fleck, not Klieman or Bohl, the Next Big Thing

FARGO--That the University of Minnesota wants to hire P.J. Fleck from Western Michigan to be its next football coach seems logical. He is the Next Big Thing in the college game, the fast-talking salesman who led a small-conference school to natio...

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North Dakota State head football coach Chris Klieman David Samson / The Forum

FARGO-That the University of Minnesota wants to hire P.J. Fleck from Western Michigan to be its next football coach seems logical. He is the Next Big Thing in the college game, the fast-talking salesman who led a small-conference school to national notoriety and a big-time bowl game.

You would like to think that if the brains running the Gophers athletic department want Fleck to be the guy, they would already have some assurance that he wants the job before they fired Tweeting Tracy Claeys. You'd like to think.

This being the University of Minnesota, you never know. But a strong hint might be that Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle didn't dismiss Claeys until one day after Fleck's Western Michigan squad lost to Wisconsin in the Cotton Bowl. The timing seems to point to Fleck being the next coach to try and resurrect the long-dormant Gophers program.

That would be the No. 1 reason why an ESPN report naming North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman as one of several possible candidates to replace Claeys was flattering to the Bison coach, but probably nothing more than water-cooler material. If the Gophers already had Fleck in their sights and were confident (or assured) they could get him, there really were no other candidates.

Even if Fleck gets away from Coyle and Minnesota president Eric Kaler, the idea of Klieman going to the Gophers is a long shot. Perhaps the longest of shots among all the names tossed around-Les Miles, Bryan Harsin, Greg Schiano, Craig Bohl (remember him?).

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Yes, Klieman has had eye-popping success at NDSU. In three years he has a record of 40-5, two Football Championship Subdivision national titles and victories over major-conference foes Iowa and Iowa State. Klieman helped develop Carson Wentz, the Bison quarterback who went to the Philadelphia Eagles with the No. 2 pick in last year's NFL Draft.

There are worse resumes for a head coach to have.

But to understand why the University of Minnesota would be reluctant to hire Klieman, one must understand the mentality of the University of Minnesota. Administrators, boosters, fans and the Twin Cities media believe Minnesota is a plum job, worthy of only the biggest available names.

The rest of the world doesn't quite see it that way, but reality has never dissuaded Gopher boosters from their alternate reality.

For as popular as Jerry Kill became as the Gophers head coach, he was about the fifth choice of then-AD Joel Maturi to get the job. Bigger names were bandied about and Gophers fans got excited ... and they had to settle for a little-known coach from Northern Illinois of the Mid-American Conference. The maroon and gold fans were not excited. They only warmed to Kill later.

They would be even less excited if Coyle stepped to a podium in the major metropolitan area of Minneapolis-St. Paul-home of the big-league Vikings, Twins, Wild and Timberwolves-and said: "Our next football coach comes from North Dakota State, an FCS school in Fargo."

Regardless of Klieman's and the Bison's success, regardless of Klieman's coaching abilities, regardless of whether he could win with the Gophers or not, it would be very difficult for a Minnesota AD to make that pitch to his faithful legions.

Bohl, the Bison coach who preceded Klieman, learned this. Bohl had two cracks at the Gophers job while he was coaching NDSU and came up empty each time. The first came in 2007, when Maturi hired the incompetent Tim Brewster. The second came in 2010, when Maturi chose Kill. Bohl had two interviews in 2010, yet was passed over. A main difference between Bohl and Kill: The latter was a longtime small-school coach (NDSU rival Southern Illinois being one of them), but he had Football Bowl Subdivision head coaching experience at Northern Illinois. It matters.

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There is this reality, too, for Klieman: He has virtually no FBS experience in any capacity. His only experience at the highest level of college football was one year as a graduate assistant at Kansas in 1997. Most of his career has been spent as an assistant in FCS-eight years at his alma mater Northern Iowa, three years at Western Illinois, a year at Missouri State, three years at NDSU. He was also at Division III Loras College in Iowa for four years, three as an assistant. Klieman's only head coaching experience is a year at Loras and the last three with the Bison.

For all the success and popularity he's enjoyed in Fargo-national championships matter-Klieman's resume is not one that knocks over boosters at major-conference schools.

As for Bohl, an extension he recently signed likely anchored him to Wyoming for awhile. He just signed a seven-year extension that requires a $6.5 million buyout if he wants to leave for another school this year. That amount steadily decreases each year of the contract. The timing is not right for the former Bison coach.

Either way, it's unlikely Klieman or Bohl could match up to the popularity of the Next Big Thing coming to the University of Minnesota.

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