The departures affecting North Dakota State’s football program have not been restricted to coach Craig Bohl, several assistants and 24 seniors who were the backbone of three consecutive national championships.
In mid-June, NDSU also learned that Gene Taylor, the athletic director who had led the Bison into Division I competition in 2004, would be leaving to become the deputy athletic director for Gary Barta at Iowa.
“I’m part of the search committee for a new athletic director,” football coach Chris Klieman said. “We have a candidate interview today.”
Klieman was saying this midweek, with the Bison a couple of days from putting a 24-game winning streak on the line in Saturday’s game at Iowa State.
The last of those victories was a 35-7 rout of Towson on Jan. 4 in the FCS championship game. It was almost a relief rather than a celebration for the NDSU faithful, considering the upheaval that had taken place with the Bison program a month earlier.
Word had leaked that Bohl would be taking the head coaching job at Wyoming as NDSU was starting the playoffs as a heavy favorite. Anything less than another title would be considered failure in Fargo.
The official announcement on Bohl’s departure was made on Dec. 8, one day after an opening playoff victory vs. Furman. A week later, Taylor announced that Klieman, the defensive coordinator, would be Bohl’s replacement when the season ended.
Bohl was said to be miffed because he thought Klieman had agreed to join his Wyoming staff. Klieman and NDSU backers were suspicious that Bohl might be interested in luring a few Bison recruits to the rarefied air of Laramie, Wyo.
The title was won. Bohl departed for the immense challenge at Wyoming. NDSU got its recruits, and Klieman set about the task of replacing 12 senior starters on the depth chart.
Any time for a conversation with your former boss?
“No, but that’s because we are both so busy,” Klieman said. “Craig and I are fine. I have a lot of friends out there, on his staff, and Craig has many friends here, so we definitely are rooting for each other.”
Taylor was the athletic director who led NDSU’s charge from its comfortable place in the D-II North Central Conference to becoming a Division I athletic program. As this dream was being laid out, the 2002 Bison were going 2-8 and finishing at the bottom of the North Central.
“There was a game against Augustana late in the season, the Bison got whipped [23-6], and there weren’t more than 5,000 in the dome,’’ said Mike McFeely, a Fargo radio host and former Fargo Forum sports columnist.
It was hard to see what Taylor had as a vision at that moment. A dozen years later, the Bison have both the three consecutive FCS titles and four victories in a row over FBS opponents:
2010: at Kansas (6-3). 2011: at Minnesota (37-24). 2012: at Colorado State (22-7). 2013: at Kansas State (24-21).
What NDSU won’t have at Iowa State are some 2013 seniors from Minnesota — Billy Turner (Mounds View) at left tackle, Grant Olson (Wayzata) at linebacker and Marcus Williams (Hopkins) in the secondary — who will stand as legendary Bison.
NDSU does have enough to be rated No. 1 in the FCS preseason poll, but it is missing some fantastic winners. The list starts with Brock Jensen, the quarterback from Waupaca, Wis., who was in the camp of the Miami Dolphins for two stretches this summer.
“Carson Wentz has been in our program for three years,” Klieman said. “We had him ready in case something happened to Brock. Nothing ever happened to Brock, so this will be Carson’s first start.
“We’re confident in Carson, and at the same time, we know Brock was unbelievable … as a playmaker and as a leader.”
Klieman comes from Waterloo, Iowa. He was asked if this caused him to grow up as a Cyclones fan (Iowa State) or a Hawkeyes fan (Iowa)?
“Neither … I was always a Panther fan,” he said.
That’s Northern Iowa, where Klieman played and was a defensive coordinator, and which now is a menacing rival to NDSU in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Bison will visit there on Nov. 8. First, there is Saturday’s trip to Iowa State.
“We lost great seniors, but expectations are still high,” Klieman said. “We believe in our culture. We believe in our players.”
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org