By Kent Schmidt
CSN West columnist
College Sporting News
At first, I thought this was just another rumor as with any FCS coach that have had success will be courted by the more financially capable FBS schools. But as those two final second round playoff games were finishing, this seemed a little different and as Saturday rolled into Sunday, we found out that indeed Craig Bohl will be leaving the two-time defending national champions to take that Wyoming job.
To give you a little background, I moved to writing for College Sporting News when my alma mater, as well as two other former North Central Conference (South Dakota State and Northern Colorado) and another DII top team in UC Davis decided to move up to the Division I ranks from Division II. Prior to that, I followed Division II football and was still writing at D2Football.com when Craig Bohl started his tenor for the Bison.
What I believe fans need to understand that this type of interruption is a part of both Division II and smaller Division I schools. Yes, there are exceptions to this but for the most part, this is the normal process in the world of college sports today and has been the case before at NDSU. If you have success in lower ranks, a higher ranked school will court these high quality coaches.
Before Bohl, has this type of thing happened to NDSU before?
Yes, I grew up in North Dakota to see this happen to the Bison in the late 1970s and 1980s. Don Morton became the head coach after Jim Wacker moved to Southwest Texas State (now Texas State, former Southland and current FBS Sun Belt member). Wacker replaced Ron Ehrhardt.
Wacker led the Bison to two DII semi-final appearances in 1976 and 1977. Don Morton then led NDSU to three national title games (1981 and 1984) and one championship (1983).
Morton moved on to current FBS Tulsa after the 1984 runner-up finish and Earle Solomonson took over. Solomonson led NDSU to two more DII titles in 1985 and 1986 before taking an FCS job at Montana State.
Rocky Hager took over in 1987 and led the Bison to two more DII titles in 1988 and 1990 before going to be an assistant at FBS Temple. Bob Babich, who had ties at Tulsa with Morton, became the next NDSU coach and had the least success but still made it to the DII semi-finals in 2000 before moving to the NFL’s St. Louis Rams to be an assistant there in 2003.
Bohl was hired in 2003 and also had ties to Morton and NDSU with his grad assistant job in 1984 and followed him to Tulsa and Wisconsin before going to Rice, Duke and back to his alma mater of Nebraska. He was also part of Nebraska’s national FBS national championship teams.
What has Bohl done in his tenure in Fargo?
Bohl led NDSU through the transition from DII to DI and had success right away including the first season where the Bison upset Montana. He missed the DII playoffs that season but led a team to two 10-1 seasons in the DI transition period when NDSU played in the Great West Conference.
After becoming postseason eligible in 2008, NDSU moved to the Missouri Valley Football Conference but it took two years to transition to that league’s level of play (finishing just 6-5 and 3-8 in the first two seasons that NDSU was playoff eligible).
But in 2010, he made some changes and recruited the core of players that are seniors this season, to gain the school’s first playoff appearance—losing to eventual national champion Eastern Washington in the quarterfinals in overtime after two wins.
And we know the story of the 2011 and 2012 seasons where the Bison won the national championships each season with wins over Sam Houston State each season—finishing with 14-1 records each season.
This 2013 season, the Bison opened the season with a win over defending FBS Big 12 Champion Kansas State and is currently undefeated with a 12-0 mark after defeating Furman in the second round of the playoffs and are the top seed so all remaining playoff games will be played at their home of the Fargodome.
Bohl is the all-time winningest coach in NDSU history with his 101-32 record while in Fargo. He surpassed Hager with this mark earlier in the season when NDSU defeated Delaware State when ESPN had their popular Gameday college football pregame show in town to highlight the Bison and FCS in general.
He has an 11-1 playoff record and a 7-3 record against FBS teams while with the Bison.
Will Bohl finish the season with the Bison or will he go right to Wyoming?
After meeting with Athletic Director Gene Taylor, the coaching assistants, and the team on Sunday, all parties wanted Bohl to finish the season with NDSU.
Taylor said he made no effort to keep Bohl "with those kinds of dollars" was offered at Wyoming.
Wyoming announced Bohl Sunday with a guaranteed salary of $750,000 with a chance of earning $1.2 million with bonuses – more than three times the amount he was making as NDSU’s head coach.
"I know this -- that football team in Fargo is an unbelievably focused, resilient, driven, cohesive unit, and they play that way," Bohl said in a press conference that introduced him as the new coach of Wyoming.
Bohl said most of his staff will follow him to Wyoming.
Taylor said Bohl told him he accepted the Wyoming offer after Saturday's 38-7 victory.
"Quite frankly, guys, I knew this day was coming," Taylor stated in a press conference Sunday. "I know a lot of people are questioning the timing of it. There's never a good time. But when you look at obviously the dollars that they are going to commit to him and his assistant coaches, whoever those may be ... It's a step up."
Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman said the decision to announce the hiring was made while North Dakota State was still in the playoffs because "in this day and age there's no way to keep that quiet."
What is up next for NDSU on the field?
The Bison will face Coastal Carolina, who upset #8 seeded Montana in Missoula 42-35. The Chanticleers defeated South Carolina State also on the road in the opening round of the playoffs the previous week.
Coach Joe Moglia’s team is currently 12-2 and were the champions of the Big South Conference and will again try to be road warriors after the nearly 2,500 mile trip to Missoula last week and this week’s nearly 1,600 mile journey to Fargo from their home of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
I know this news of Coach Bohl leaving will be a distraction this week but with 24 seniors that have gone through the playoff run the past three seasons; I don’t think it will be much of a distraction as it might be with a younger team.
Should NDSU win over Coastal Carolina, they would then host the winner of the New Hampshire-Southeastern Louisiana winner the following week.
The national championship game this year is again in Frisco, Texas and will be played on January 4.
What are the prospects for NDSU’s next head coach?
After going through the prior coaching history, I believe NDSU will be looking for their next coach to have NDSU ties like they have done in the past. This could include one of the current assistants or possibly someone from outside with prior NDSU experience much like it did with Bohl.
Taylor said it’s possible a coach could be hired before the January FCS national title game. In that case, Bohl would still remain as the NDSU head coach.
“I imagine that would be a little unusual and a little odd,” Taylor said in the Sunday press conference.
Taylor said he has not set a timetable for a replacement as of yet, however. He stated he will first need to talk with NDSU President Dean Bresciani this week. The current assistants with most likelihood appear to be offensive coordinator Brent Vigen or defensive coordinator Chris Klieman.
But this could also include someone from outside the current coaching team as there have been a number of assistants that left NDSU in Bohl’s tenure.
I think the next coach will also have similar philosophies on coaching like Bohl. That philosophy is a hard nose defensive minded team that uses the upper Midwest area for recruiting. The offense will likely be similar with the run first mentality that mixes in passing with a West Coast style of offense.
As seen in the past, this change of coaching may have been poor timing with the run for three championships in a row but it is not the man in the head coaching spot that has solely led to NDSU’s success. It has come because of a philosophy that all of us that have NDSU ties know about and is difficult to put into words. Winning ways will happen again in Fargo and expect whoever the next coach is to have that philosophy to keep that going just like new coaches have done in the past.