FARGO — The last coaching move Dan Larson made was going from the offensive coordinator at Minnesota-Duluth to the head coach at Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He took over a Bluegolds program that went 0-10 the previous season.
This coaching move is 180-degree change in terms of wins and losses.
Larson was named an assistant coach in charge of running backs at North Dakota State in January, not long after the Bison polished off a 15-0 season in the Division I FCS national title game.
With Eau Claire, it was a chance to turn around his alma mater. The Bluegolds went 4-6 last season, their best win total in six years.
“They were at a tough point and he got them going in the right direction,” said NDSU defensive line coach Nick Goeser. “He did a great job recruiting.”
With NDSU, it’s a chance to reunite with a former teammate in Goeser. They were defensive linemen at Eau Claire, both being team captains their senior year. They coached together as graduate assistants at Marietta College (Ohio) in 2003 and 2004.
“Funny how things have worked out,” Goeser said. “Both of our first stops were at Marietta College in southeast Ohio. Then we went our separate ways, learned different schemes, worked with different people and now it all comes back together.”
It’s back together at NDSU, a school that Larson has followed closely for many years. He coached at the Bison summer camp dating back to 2008 when Craig Bohl was the Bison head coach.
He’s good friends with former Bison assistant coach Tim Polasek, now the offensive line coach at Iowa.
“Coaching college football is so much about relationships,” Goeser said. “You have guys around you who understand what this program is about. It’s a comfort level.”
Eau Claire is an NCAA Division III program that plays in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. But Larson said he’s never been concerned about the level of football.
It’s about working for the right people and the right program, he said.
He called the offense for Duluth teams that went 32-6 in his three years. He called all the shots as head coach at Eau Claire. Giving up the authority of a head coach in favor of a position coach was not part of his decision in coming to NDSU, he said.
“I think as a head coach, we’re always serving,” Larson said. “I might be serving this program differently than how I was serving at Eau Claire. At Eau Claire, it was serving the whole team.”
At NDSU, he’ll be helping offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl and head coach Matt Entz.
“My role when it comes to the players is a little bit smaller,” he said. “This is a program that fits who I am as a coach. It really wasn’t hard being a head coach and then coming here and being an assistant. It’s just serving in a different way.”
He’ll be serving a running backs group that lost one of its best players when Seth Wilson went down with an ACL injury two weeks ago. He’s out for the 2019 season.
“It was hard just because you see how much potential Seth has,” Larson said. “He was having a really good spring and asking good questions. His effort and his attention to detail when he got on the field was moving in a direction where I think he was going to play at a high capacity this season.”
His absence means the committee approach of seniors Ty Brooks and Dimitri Williams, junior Adam Cofield and freshman Saybein Clark will have to carry the load. It’s possible an incoming true freshman could join that mix. NDSU had a similar look last season with five backs having at least 82 carries and 563 yards.
Nobody reached 1,000 yards.
“The amazing thing as an outsider looking at this program,” Larson said, “to not have one running back average over 100 yards a game and yet still be as explosive in the run game as this offense was is impressive. That’s pretty selfless to have a lot of guys who just want to be a part of it.”
Just like Larson wanted to be a part of the NDSU program.
“It was an opportunity at my point and time where I felt like I had to take advantage of it,” he said.