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McFeely: Dragons hires lack splash, perhaps, but aren't short on grind

Minnesota State Moorhead recently hired Chad Markuson as athletic director and Tim Bergstraser as head men's basketball coach.

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Tim Bergstraser is the new men's basketball coach at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
Avery Nelson / Dragons Athletics
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MOORHEAD — Minnesota State University Moorhead spent seven weeks conducting national searches and doing its on-campus due diligence in a quest to find a new athletic director and men's basketball coach. In the end, the school hired the two people who held those jobs in the interim.

For the Dragons search committees and administration, status quo was the way to go.

Chad Markuson is the school's new full-time AD, replacing Doug Peters who departed more than a year ago. Tim Bergstraser is the new men's basketball coach, taking over for Chad Walthall who resigned in late March after 12 seasons at the helm.

Markuson was the interim AD since Peters left. Bergstraser was the acting head coach since Walthall quit.

If Dragons backers — and, frankly, local media — were looking for splash hires, these aren't them. They were the safest hires.

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Yawn? No.

It doesn't mean they aren't the right ones. Chris Klieman, Matt Entz, Saul Phillips and Dave Richman were all the safest hires at North Dakota State and they worked out OK.

Markuson was the obvious choice once all three athletic director finalists visited campus and had public forums. While not possessing the panache of his predecessor Peters, Markuson was described to me by somebody at another university as a "get (stuff) done guy." The person obviously used a stronger word than "stuff."

And that, in the end, is the job at MSUM. It is an NCAA Division II school operating on a tight budget and there's not a lot of opportunity to delegate duties. Fundraising and glad-handing is important, but so is knowing how to operate the scoreboard at a softball game when the student who usually does the job can't make it. Yes, this recently happened at MSUM.

Markuson was clearly the most qualified for the full-time gig after seeing the other two finalists. They just didn't have the experience or knowledge of Markuson.

Where MSUM could be knocked was waiting so long to hire Peters' replacement. Having a full-time AD in place when Walthall surprisingly stepped down would've streamlined the basketball coach hiring timeline. Word is the Dragons held open the AD for more than a year hoping for that home-run candidate to emerge. They misjudged the attractiveness of the job. It's clearly meant for a "get (stuff) done guy" more than a slick fundraising delegator.

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Minnesota State Moorhead athletic director Chad Markuson.
MSUM Athletics photo

The men's basketball job was far more attractive and drew a large and deep pool of candidates. The pay is above-average, the location attractive, the ability to win good, the conference strong and the program solid. The pluses outweigh the subpar facilities.

Multiple sources told me there were two dozen or more applicants who were considered seriously good candidates. The finalists — Bergstraser, Hillsdale (Mich.) College associate head coach Keven Bradley and Eastern Washington assistant coach Mark Darnall — all were impressive and any would've been a good hire.

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But if neither Bradley nor Darnall utterly blew the doors off the search committee and if their resumes didn't make them such an obvious choice that MSUM couldn't not hire them — think of Walthall's resume as a top Iowa assistant when he came to Moorhead in 2010 — then Bergstraser is the right choice.

He's young, 31, and that might mean there is a need for patience. But like Markuson, Bergstraser is a grinder who gets stuff done. Recruiting at MSUM isn't like recruiting at Duke or even a low Division I school in the Summit League. You can't dangle the D-I label as an attraction. It takes good old-fashioned work and connections that are second-to-none to get winning players and Bergstraser brings that.

"He knows everyone in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas," a regional college basketball coach told me. "And I mean everyone."

There might've been snazzier hires available to MSUM, ones that would've turned heads and grabbed more media and social media attention. In different circumstances, a hire like that might've happened. It's hard not to like the Bergstraser hire, though.

This is MSUM, after all. Possibly a better job than a couple in the Summit League, but still MSUM. It's a place where coaches and administrators better be willing to grind if they want to succeed.

Markuson and Bergstraser both fit that description.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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