Chris Klieman was handed the keys to the Bison football kingdom before the Bison went to Frisco to become three-peat national champions in 2013. But what he received was a program missing most of its assistants and one that had lost 23 seniors. Left over were leaders that had been bruised and battered from playing 45 games in three years. Klieman reacted how his predecessors before him had — not by rebuilding his program but restoring it with proven coaches and a talented recruiting class. The 2014 football team worked as one unit and ultimately spearheaded their way back to the champions’ podium at Toyota Stadium. Here’s what Klieman had to say after a successful journey.
Interview by Joe Kerlin
Photos By J. Alan Paul Photography
Coach Chris Klieman’s take on…
…the four years of success since coming to this program.
“I kind of felt like I was a part of their senior class in the fact that I was a first year guy when all of them were freshmen and I don’t think it’s something that will ever be replicated again. It’s something that’s really hard to do with the parity in college football, but it just goes to show you the culture of football around here at NDSU and that goes way before any of us were ever here. It goes back into the 60s and 70s and so on, the foundation that was laid here. Another guy that should get a lot of credit is Jim Kramer. He keeps that same energy and same hunger and lack of complacency all the way through the offseason conditioning. Jim was a huge part of this just like our coaching staff.”
…preparing for the National Championship.
“We went back to what we did in 2011 because that was the last time we had a three-week window. I think we took a couple more days off on the front end than we had in the years past. We gave them five days off opposed to three. But some of that had to do with how the calendar laid out and the game was a little later. I think the big key for us was to make sure we had 10 good practices in prior to us going to Frisco and that’s what I did.”
…what was said on Friday when former and current players converged on the field.
“I’d like to keep that between the players and the alums. … We’re just so appreciative of those former players. We play for those guys. We do it for those guys. They are the ones that laid the foundation all the way back in the ’60s and it just means so much to us as well as players that those guys come back with the great support.”
…the growth and continuity of the new coaching staff.
“We didn’t have any egos on our staff. There were guys that really got along and guys that leaned on each other for input. I thought Matt (Entz) and Tim (Polasek) did a tremendous job of leading both sides of the ball as well as taking great input from both sides of the ball and not making it a one-man show. Everybody contributed. … I was so impressed with how they communicated on Saturday. And that sometimes is the hardest thing. You can see how people work on a week-by-week basis during a normal game week, but when guys can do it on Saturday and be able to communicate what they see and what the adjustments are, that’s the thing I was impressed with — with all of our staff, was the game day adjustments and halftime adjustments that they were able to do and able to make on both sides of the ball.”
…who kept the team focused on the task at hand throughout the season.
“The entire senior class. You can’t really pick out one in particular. … They kept everybody grounded and everybody hungry, which is probably the hardest thing because people have a tendency to get complacent after winning as much as we’ve won. This senior class wasn’t going to allow this team to be complacent; they were going to make sure they stayed hungry. We worked as hard or harder this offseason and spring and fall than we ever have.”
…who will carry the leadership torch going into next season.
“It will be the next group of seniors. It’s just a little different this year than it has (been) in the years past. We have a lot more returners on offense than we do on defense, so I think on offense it will be your easy names like Carson Wentz, Joe Haeg, Zach Vraa and Andrew Bonnet. … You look at the few seniors we have (on defense), I know Brian Schaetz has played an awful lot of snaps for us and he’ll be a senior, as well as CJ (Smith) and Champ (Jordan Champion). Those guys, they’ve got to step up in the leadership role, and I know that they’re willing to do it and I know they’re excited about it; it’s a challenge they have.”
…which position group battle he’s most looking forward to this offseason.
“I think we have some really talented linebackers that — other than Nick DeLuca who has proven himself on the highest stage — we got a lot of competition between guys that have been in the program as well as some new guys that redshirted this past year. And we have a lot of athletes in the secondary. Obviously CJ and Champ will be two hard guys to beat out and those guys will anchor our secondary, but we got a lot of good athletes that we were able to redshirt that we’re looking forward to seeing who steps it up in the spring.”