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Intangibles at NDSU, JMU make it hard for head football coaches to look elsewhere

North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman has led the Bison to two FCS national championships. David Samson / The Forum1 / 2
James Madison head coach Mike Houston recently signed a 10-year extension with the Dukes. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor2 / 2

FARGO—The proverbial coaching carousel went around so many times in the last couple of months that it would make any college football fan's head spin. Yet, two of the winningest coaches at the Division I level are still wearing the same colors that they did during the first day of practice in August.

And the teams for both Chris Klieman and Mike Houston are still playing. North Dakota State and James Madison will meet Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas, for the FCS national championship.

If either Klieman or Houston had chances to move on to bigger and higher-paying jobs, they either didn't come to fruition or weren't publicized.

Not only that, the grass may not be necessarily greener at some FBS schools.

"In reality we both have great jobs with tremendous administrations and tremendous student-athletes that do it the right way," Klieman said.

It's been a last couple months of upheaval in the FBS ranks with 20 schools hiring new head coaches. Granted, Klieman and Houston would most likely not have been considered for the major positions at Power 5 schools like Oregon, UCLA, Florida or Florida State. But there are several where in theory they would have been in the running.

Maybe they were. Those hiring processes aren't exactly full disclosure by any means.

But schools like Texas-El Paso, Louisiana-Lafayette, Rice, Georgia Southern or Kent State are looking for coaches with winning resumes to turn their programs up a notch.

"It's fun to win, and it's fun to be a part of fan bases like we have," Klieman said. "So if opportunities come about for either coach or for any coaches, you deal with those as they come. But I know this. I have a great job here. My family loves it at North Dakota State, and I know coach Houston really enjoys his time there at JMU. It's fun to be in this championship run like we're both in."

Moreover, both have long-term contracts. Klieman is signed through January of 2022. JMU signed Houston to a 10-year extension in December that takes him through the 2027 season. The Dukes are 27-1 in his two seasons at the school.

Klieman has won four Missouri Valley Football Conference titles and has two FCS national championships in his four years as the Bison head coach. He has a 53-6 record.

Certainly, coaching contracts have buyout options, something that was common with the big-time FBS programs this fall. At one point, USA Today report there was more than $70 million owed in coaching buyouts.

"You know, I'm sure Chris went through the same thing, there have been opportunities," Houston said, "and when you look at those opportunities and you look at just everything that is JMU, and it's a pretty special place, and I'm sure North Dakota State is as well, it will take a very special job to ever leave here."

Certainly, money could factor into the equation considering the salaries some FBS schools are not only paying their head coaches, but coordinators as well. Seventy-eight FBS programs pay their head coach at least $1 million per season, according to figures obtained by USA Today. Many coordinators earn around $1 million—and Klieman was a defensive coordinator before he became the Bison head coach.

After that, schools mostly in the Mid-American Conference, Sun Belt or Conference USA pay generally what a top FCS coach is making, around $400,000 to $500,000 to about $900,000 per year.

Money, however, is one criteria to a whole host of factors that play into a head coaching position, Houston said.

"There's a lot more to it than just the football," he said. "There is a lot. The community here. There's a lot to the institution, there's a lot to the people that work at the institution, the way they treat you and the way you can go about your daily life here. So I think there's just a lot of intangibles there that make this a pretty special place that will be tough to ever leave."

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.

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