FARGO-Chapter 14 of Jeff Kolpack's new book on North Dakota State football's championship run is worth the $19.95 Bison fans will have to plop down to re-live their favorite team's historic joyride to five straight national titles.
Oh, there is plenty of other good stuff mixed in with Kolpack's recounting of NDSU's rise from stumbling NCAA Division II program to unprecedented Football Championship Subdivision powerhouse-insider stories of the Bison's move to Division I and the hiring of pivotal head coach Craig Bohl over fan favorite Casey Bradley, for example-but Chapter 14, that's a doozy.
Titled "The Laramie Project," the chapter walks readers through the messy end of the 2013 season when, in the midst of a 15-0 season and a third straight title with possibly the best FCS team of all-time, there was major dysfunction among the coaching staff and anger among the players.
Remember when Bison defensive players gave then-defensive coordinator Chris Klieman a Gatorade shower at the end of NDSU's 35-7 victory over Towson State in Frisco, Texas, to wrap up a title trifecta? Normally only the head coach gets such treatment. The nod to Klieman was a message directed at Bohl, who standing nearby and gave the players "the evil eye," according to former defensive lineman Cole Jirik.
The drama centered around Bohl's decision to accept a new job as the head coach at the University of Wyoming in the midst of NDSU's playoff run and his attempt to keep the news from the players and public. It didn't sit well with many members of the senior-laden team.
Bohl's decision to leave Fargo for Laramie, Wyo., also split the coaching staff. Those who were going with Bohl to Wyoming were on one side and those who were staying at NDSU were on the other. The latter included Klieman, who had been named the Bison's next head coach shortly after the Bohl-to-Wyoming news leaked.
The tension among the staff was thick, to the point office doors normally open were closed (were the Wyoming guys trying to steal NDSU recruits?) and coaches rode in vehicles based on what school they'd be at the next season. It's good stuff.
But like most everything else during this five-year stretch of dominance, things turned out just swimmingly for the Bison. And that really is the gist of Kolpack's book: The inside story of how NDSU football picked itself up off the mat to become, as the book's subtitle says, "the greatest college football dynasty." It will be available to the public Aug. 22, the week of the Bison's season opener against Charleston Southern.
Kolpack has occupied a unique spot in this run. His dad, Ed Kolpack, was a longtime sports editor of The Forum who covered NDSU as a beat writer Jeff's older brother Dave was a sports columnist at The Forum during the waning days of the Bison's Division II dynasty in the late 1980s and early '90s. Jeff has covered the program as the beat writer since 1995. A Kolpack has covered NDSU football for 50 years, including all 13 national championships.
After retiring in 1991, Ed Kolpack banged out the bible on NDSU's earlier success, titled "Bison Football: Three Decades of Excellence." Jeff's book is an addendum to that, sort of. Mixed in with the blow-by-blow accounts of the five championship years and big games over that period is stories of the people and personalities that made it happen.
An advantage of writing thousands of words about NDSU as a beat writer is that Kolpack could draw on that archival knowledge and even re-print some old articles. But he also did some new reporting, sitting down with key people like former president Joseph Chapman, ex-athletic director Gene Taylor, strength coach Jim Kramer and Bison quarterback all-time great Brock Jensen to get fresh, behind-the-scenes stories.
Full disclosure: I've been a friend and co-worker of Jeff's for 25 years, so I'm openly biased. I've covered NDSU football for the last 20 years, most of it for The Forum. Maybe the book seems more interesting to me in certain ways because I was sitting next to Jeff in press boxes in Muncie, Ind., and Missoula, Mont., and Thibodaux, La., and Minneapolis and Macomb, Ill., and Brookings, S.D., as the Bison went from a transitional Division I program to an unstoppable steamroller. It's a helluva story.
For those who've followed the run from the beginning, Kolpack's recounting of the early years of Division I are an enjoyable blast from the past. With all the big games, the love from ESPN and the drafting of quarterback Carson Wentz with the second pick of the NFL Draft it's easy to forget the Bison had a string of remarkable moments during the transitional period when they were ineligible for the playoffs.
There were back-to-back 10-1 seasons, No. 1 rankings, stunning last-second comeback victories engineered by quarterback Steve Walker, watershed victories over Montana and Minnesota. In some ways those five years have been relegated to ancient history because of all that's happened since. For longtime followers and fans, those recollections players and games will often have you saying, "Oh, yeah. I forgot about that."
Ed Kolpack's book began with the legendary story of an NDSU fan calling the ticket office in the early 1960s to ask when that Saturday's football game began. The answer: "What time can you get here?"
Those days are long since gone, likely never to return. His son's book walks you entertainingly through how NDSU reached this point, warts and all.