FARGO — The first spring football practice was about to wrap up, and Tyler Roehl wanted the last word. His face was bursting with emotion. His voice was somewhat hoarse, but was loud enough to bounce off the fabric walls of the Dacotah Field bubble.
Whatever happened with turnovers and the Bison offense during practice, it wasn’t good. With the same type of energy he used during a 20-yard burst when he was an NDSU running back, Roehl let the players know what was acceptable.
Welcome to the job as offensive coordinator.
No longer is the West Fargo High School graduate a position coach teaching the tight ends and fullbacks and making suggestions with a game plan and play calls. He’s the guy now, taking over for Courtney Messingham, who followed former Bison head coach Chris Klieman to Kansas State.
The buck stops with Roehl.
“You have more eyeballs on you,” Roehl said. “You have guys who are listening to you. It’s about having the right message. It’s not always about the tone of the message but what you’re saying when everyone is listening.”
When NDSU opens with Butler on Aug. 31 at Target Field in Minneapolis, there is no questioning the Bison will do so with an inexperienced offensive coordinator. He was the offensive coordinator for the Concordia College junior varsity in 2010 and occasionally called plays as an assistant at Moorhead High School in 2012 and 2013.
His first play call with the Cobbers JV was a halfback toss that went for a touchdown.
“I might have to pull that out,” Roehl said with a chuckle.
In all seriousness, he’s been part of the Bison offensive game plan the last five years. He made suggestions on possible plays during games, but admits he wasn’t the one who pushed the button.
“You’re always thinking ahead and then you put yourself in those shoes,” Roehl said of offensive coordinator. “I knew the next step for me and my professional development would be to call plays.”
The promotion of Roehl from within by NDSU head coach Matt Entz almost immediately after the FCS national title win over Eastern Washington is actually more the norm with the Bison in the Division I era.
Pat Perles got his first stint as an offensive coordinator when Craig Bohl promoted him in 2005. In 2009, that baton got handed off to NDSU assistant Brent Vigen, who had no experience calling plays before getting the nod from Bohl.
Tim Polasek got his first taste as an offensive coordinator under Klieman, who brought the former Bison assistant back to Fargo after Polasek spent one year at Northern Illinois.
After Polasek left for Iowa after the 2016 season, Klieman bucked the norm by hiring the veteran Messingham. Certainly, it helped those two were lifelong friends.
Now comes Roehl, who deflected a question if he had a chance to go to Kansas State by pointing to the school and family. He and his wife, Mary, have two young children: son Maxwell, 3, and daughter Evelyn, 10 months.
“At this point in my life, I’ve got two young kids, my wife has a great job and she travels, I have my parents here, I’ve got my family here, I’m busy all fall and at any point we need help with our kids,” Roehl said. “And I just think coach Entz and I have a really good working relationship and I knew when he was going to be appointed that I wanted to be the offensive coordinator.”
Entz said he sees Roehl being more aware of what’s going on with every position on the offense instead of just his position. Roehl needs to know what the receivers are doing, he said. He needs to figure out what the quarterback is thinking, Entz said.
“Probably more big picture and not always focusing on the tight ends and fullbacks or going back when I was a graduate assistant just the tailbacks,” Roehl said. “You really have to have big picture, take a step back per se and just be able to see things develop, see coverages and not be so narrow minded.”
The big picture at quarterback begins with finding a starter, a four-way battle right now between junior Zeb Noland, sophomores Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders and freshman Trey Lance. A good quarterback, after all, can make for a good offensive coordinator.
Roehl said it’s a decision that will be made between himself, Entz and quarterbacks and associate head coach Randy Hedberg.
“The biggest thing that we’re looking at is making sure everyone is getting a fair shot,” Roehl said. “What I’m looking for is who’s going to take control of the huddle? Who’s going to command and say I’m the guy? At the end of the day, it has to be about execution and knowing our system, knowing the ins and outs and why we’ve been successful in the past is because we’ve had really smart kids. Talented kids but smart kids who could put us in the right checks.”
Roehl knows about intelligence — he was a two-time academic All-American with the Bison. He came to NDSU in 2004 as a fullback. He was switched to running back, where in 2007 he flourished with 1,431 yards rushing and being named a second team All-American by both The Sports Network and the Associated Press. That included a school-record 263 yards at the University of Minnesota, a game that put the Bison on the FBS-victory national map and Roehl on ESPN.
Next August, his first game as the Bison play caller, he’ll return to Minneapolis where he has those fond memories.
Asked about that scenario and he grinned.
Then it was quickly back to reality.
“Right now truly is day to day,” Roehl said.