NDSU volleyball coach staying despite contract not likely being renewed

FARGO--It appears the coaching days at North Dakota State for head volleyball coach Kari Thompson are numbered. NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said Monday, Jan. 23 that Thompson will most likely not have her contract renewed.

North Dakota State volleyball coach Kari Thompson talks to her players during a 2014 match at the Bentson Bunker Fieldhouse. Dave Wallis / The Forum

FARGO-It appears the coaching days at North Dakota State for head volleyball coach Kari Thompson are numbered. NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said Monday, Jan. 23 that Thompson will most likely not have her contract renewed.

Thompson's contract runs through the end of this calendar year and Larsen said "at this point" there is no discussion of an extension. That would mean 2017 would be her seventh and final season at NDSU.

Thompson's response: After talking to all of the returning players and incoming recruits, she said she's going to lead the team until she's told she no longer can.

"Their response to me is what made my decision to coach through my contract," Thompson said. "Obviously it's nothing you plan on. I've been here a long time and I get they want to move in another direction. That's their choice. But I've invested a lot in the program and I care a lot for the players and their future. It's difficult for me to think beyond next year but that's part of the job."

Larsen said the decision was based on the "body of work" of the program. Thompson has a 102-98 record in six full seasons with the Bison. NDSU went 9-2 in 2010 when she was named interim head coach when Erich Hinterstocker resigned during the season.


NDSU reached the NCAA tournament in 2010 and 2011 but hasn't been back since. The only non-losing season since then was a 19-12 mark in 2015. The Bison went 14-18 last year, but 11-5 in the Summit League and were eliminated by the University of South Dakota in the semifinals of the conference tournament.

"Certainly any decision can change but at this point that's where we're at right now. We're pretty set in where we are," Larsen said.

So that means NDSU will have a new coach in 2018?

"Most likely," he said.

Larsen said he didn't want to get into specifics on the body of work of Thompson's tenure.

"It's not just about wins and losses, it's not just about recruiting, it's not just about the student-athletes, I think it's everything," he said. "Overall, is the direction of the program moving in a positive way? And so we've had those conversations with her and I think I'll leave it at that."

The non-renewal of a contract essentially leaves Thompson in lame-duck status. NDSU has never bought out a coach's contract and that continues to be the case. It also brings questions on the ability to recruit future players without a contract.

"She's our coach, we expect her to coach the same way she's done during her tenure here," Larsen said.


Thompson and her staff are continuing their recruiting but are not making any new scholarship offers beyond next season, she said. The Bison are bringing in seven new players next fall and Thompson hopes to add a transfer to that class.

"We're being honest and upfront with the current situation," Thompson said. "That's how I've always been with everything. I don't want any surprises. I called every one of the players and yeah they're all still in, still supportive and committed and they're ready to go."

Her last year-end evaluation was last April following the 2015 season from NDSU deputy director of athletics Todd Phelps. The document stated team goals of winning the Summit tournament and making the NCAA tournament were not met. It also detailed the possibility of growing the assistant coaching staff and emphasized academics as a team strength with a 3.54 cumulative grade-point average.

The report added the volleyball student-athlete survey came back positive from "recruiting visits, academics, playing/practice facility, strength and conditioning, athletic training and overall coaching and handling of the program."

The 35-year-old Thompson signed a three-year contract in 2011 that was effective until June 30, 2014. She then signed a new two-year contract at a base salary of $77,280 with an amendment signed in 2015 extending the original agreement to three years and another amendment signed in 2016 making the original agreement a four-year deal, ending Dec. 31, 2017. Both amendments were signed by Thompson, Larsen and NDSU President Dean Bresciani.

Thompson came to NDSU as an assistant in 2006 after spending two years as a graduate assistant at the University of Alabama. In 2010, she was honored by the American Volleyball Coaches Association's "Thirty Under 30" award that recognizes the top young coaches in the country.

Monday was the team's first full day back in the gym with individual training and workouts. The spring volleyball season will not change with four weekend events scheduled.

"It's still a great place to play and it's still a great program," Thompson said. "And that's where we're focusing right now."

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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