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McFeely: Richman's done enough to get contract extension

His personality falls short of predecessors, but men's basketball coach has had enough success to remain

North Dakota State head coach Dave Richman
North Dakota State head men's basketball coach Dave Richman. David Samson / The Forum

Fargo

Dave Richman is not Saul Phillips. Nor is he Tim Miles. Or Chris Klieman or Craig Bohl, for that matter. He will never leave you laughing, cry before the cameras or capture a fan base by winning the dang day.

None of which means Richman cannot coach. It only means on the personality scale he is closer to dour than dynamic, far more boring than bonkers.

He's a lifelong North Dakotan, never having played or coached for a team out of the state, so what did you expect?

So when you debate whether the men's basketball coach at North Dakota State deserves a contract extension, we'd ask that you factor in how Richman's persona colors where you fall on the issue. If you're calling for him to be run out of Fargo, are you doing so based on results or that he's not Chris Rock?

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(You can listen to Forum columnist Mike McFeely's conversation with former Bison basketball coach Saul Phillips about the historic 2008-09 in the podcast above.)

Life is about who you follow and Richman had the misfortune of following both Miles and Phillips, two standup comedian/salesmen who own any room into which they walk.

Richman also has not replicated the success of Miles and Phillips, to be fair, but that could be coming soon enough.

As the Bison head to the Summit League tournament this week in Sioux Falls, S.D., a trip that will likely not end in a trip to the NCAA tournament, talk eventually will turn to whether Richman should remain the team's coach beyond next season. His contract runs through 2019-20 and there is a significant chunk of the Bison fan base, if anecdotal evidence can be trusted, that wants the coach gone.

The Bison are not winning enough, Richman's only trip to the NCAAs was with Phillips' players, the team seems to play tight because of Richman's hyper-tense style and the coach never smiles. Those seem to be the main complaints.

Athletic director Matt Larsen, already dealing with a dumpster fire in the women's basketball program, will have to decide whether he fires Richman (extremely unlikely), doesn't extend his contract and leaves him hanging into the final year (very possible but unproductive), extends his contract for a year (very possible but ultimately useless) or extends his contract for four or five years (seemingly unlikely).

The objective answer is that Richman should get a multi-year extension. He's done enough in his five years to deserve that, even if he's done it without being a bundle of charisma.

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Basketball at NDSU ain't football at NDSU, folks, and your expectations shouldn't be blurred by all those trips to Frisco. What's happening in the Fargodome isn't real, even if it actually is.

The reality of Bison men's basketball is about what you've seen in Richman's five years: one trip to the NCAA, one early flameout in the conference tournament, another run to the Summit League championship game, a badly disappointing season and another swing toward the top of the league.

And guess what? The Bison might be the preseason favorite in the Summit League next year with the graduation of Mike Daum at South Dakota State and John Konchar at Purdue Fort Wayne.

Welcome to mid-major basketball. You rise, you dip, you build, you fall, you build again. That's the cycle.

As much as Bison fans don't want to hear it, NDSU basketball doesn't have a distinct advantage over any of the other North and South Dakota Division I programs. The Bison football team? It has every advantage over almost every other FCS program in the nation, much less along the I-29 corridor. But in terms of budget, facilities, fan support, coaching salaries and media coverage the Bison men's basketball program is not substantially different than the schools it is recruiting against.

It is -- gasp! -- just another program.

That doesn't mean the expectations should be lowered, just realistic. Richman's teams have competed well in the Summit League -- save for last season when the Bison were crushed by the unexpected transfer of point guard Khy Khabellis -- and that's what the expectation should be.

Other departures (some voluntary, others not so much) means Richman's teams have never gotten old. They are never veteran enough. He hasn't had senior-laden teams like the ones that qualified for the NCAA tournaments. Part of that is on Richman for recruiting the wrong players; some of it was out of his hands (Khabellis).

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Yes, Richman could lighten up a little bit. Yes, he could stop talking in non-stop cliches about "culture" and "attacking the process." Yes, he could take the training wheels off his players so they played with more freedom. Yes, he could be less rigid in the types of players he's trying to recruit.

But the Bison under Richman are not a train wreck, an embarrassment or a cringe-worthy headline waiting to happen. He's not cycling in six transfers a year trying to make the NCAAs so he can get his next job. He's trying to do it the right way, even if the results are not as immediate as some Brookings-obsessed fans would like.

There's something to be said for that, quaint as it might seem in 2019. NDSU should reward Richman with another contract.

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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