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Bison football enjoys rare sideline stability this offseason

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North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman has placed more of an emphasis on hiring assistant coaches from area schools. David Samson / The Forum

Fargo  - Every year in the North Dakota State Division I era, as sure as the snow falls in the winter and melts in the spring, a coach in the Bison football program would clean out his office and head somewhere else. It’s just part of the deal at an FCS school.
The pay is decent, but it doesn’t compare to the FBS world, and when better offers come around, well, that’s life in coaching. If you’re Reggie Moore and you’ve been at NDSU for four years and UCLA gives you a call after the 2007 season, it’s a no-brainer.
If you’re Scottie Hazelton and, as a defensive coordinator, you just helped the Bison to their first FCS national title in 2011 – and USC knocks on your proverbial door – it’s pretty hard to say no.
So when the Bison won their fourth straight championship in January, it would have been no surprise if head coach Chris Klieman would have had to conduct a job interview or two to replace an assistant. He never had to do it.
For the first time in spring football in the Division I era, NDSU is not breaking in a new coach.
“Is it really?” Klieman asked.
Really. Moreover, the no turnover comes one year after the biggest year of turnover – when head coach Craig Bohl took six assistants with him to the University of Wyoming.
Part of the reason is probably a change of philosophy in hiring assistants, something Bohl started about four years ago. Instead of trying to find experienced FBS assistants, the Bison stayed closer to home with the likes of hiring defensive line coach Nick Goeser from Minnesota-Duluth, Klieman from Northern Iowa and Tim Polasek from Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Klieman continued that trend by hiring defensive backs coach Joel Klanderman from Minnesota State-Mankato, wide receivers coach Atif Austin with experience at UNI and Southwest Minnesota State, defensive ends coach Jamar Cain from Wyoming and previously Missouri State, and defensive coordinator Matt Entz from Western Illinois. Klieman really was home cooking with fullbacks/tight ends coach Tyler Roehl and quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg. Roehl, a West Fargo High School graduate and former Bison standout, was coaching at Moorhead High. Hedberg has several North Dakota ties from high school into college.
“Midwest ties, Missouri Valley ties, and guys that genuinely want to be here,” Klieman said. “It’s no different in recruiting a player and recruiting a coach. If you have to convince a guy to come here, they probably aren’t going to last. These guys that really wanted to be here have enjoyed their experience in the first year.”
Winning certainly helps. The Bison went 15-1 last season. And nobody leaving helps in recruiting – both from a staff standpoint and a prospect standpoint.
Whenever a coach leaves, it’s up to somebody else to pick up the territory and the contacts that coach previously made with a recruit. On the other end, the evaluation process doesn’t change within the staff.
“That means we know what Jamar is looking for in a defensive end,” Klieman said. “We know what Joe is looking for in a defensive back and when you can have continuity and stability each year knowing what this guy is looking for, that really helps us.”
Klieman said most of his assistants “uprooted families and bought homes” in Fargo. Austin is probably the last not to do so because he has a senior in high school in Florida who wants to graduate with his class.
“Once we get him off to school, my wife (Tori) and two younger kids are moving up,” he said. “She’ll be coming up before spring to go house hunting.”
While Klieman enjoyed a stress-free offseason in terms of assistants, the players wouldn’t have noticed much if anybody left. They spend January through March with strength and conditioning coach Jim Kramer, and in fact spend more time with Kramer in a calendar year than any other coach.
Last year, Klieman had his staff hired well before spring football started.
“So everyone came into spring ball and kind of knew their coaches by then,” said quarterback Carson Wentz, “and had a pretty good rapport going in. You could say there’s a little more comfort this year but nothing huge.”
Klieman has a contract through the 2021 season, although in the world of buyouts that doesn’t mean he’s locked in. Assistants are on yearly contracts, although at the current rate there could be more re-upping than hiring.
That’s fine with all involved.
“Our staff really enjoyed this year and how fast we came together,” Austin said. “We’re excited about the team we have and the things we can do. We have a chance again to make history and for us to stay together is good for the players and not having a new coach coming in and try to figure out how we do things around here places us a step ahead.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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