Photos By Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul Photography
You came to NDSU in May 2010. The following season, the football team made the FCS quarterfinals. The next year, a national championship. Is President Dean Bresciani that good luck charm for NDSU football?
I wouldn’t want to suggest that I am detached from the program, but I also wouldn’t want to suggest I’m responsible for its success. I think why it has become so successful and why it’s a modern era dynasty is that everyone involved with NDSU and the football program and the athletic department is absolutely rowing in the same direction and rowing in synchronization. You don’t usually see that at a major research university. Different priorities and competing perspectives sometimes puts segments of the university at odds with each other.
At NDSU, from the president on down, everybody is working towards the common success of NDSU and working towards the success for athletic programs and working towards success for individual sports. Obviously, that’s highlighted by the football program’s success.
The dynamic between you and Matt Larsen and Matt Entz seems so cohesive. That sometimes isn’t the case at other universities. How have you cultivated those relationships with those two people?
I think you’re absolutely right. This is my ninth university, the fourth Division I program I’ve been affiliated with, and you do not see this type of relationship commonly, even infrequently. From early on, I made myself accessible and visible to the athletic department and particularly the football program. I go to their practices, I get to know the coaches individually, I get to know the players individually.
I have not missed a home or away game in my nine years at NDSU. When I tell my colleagues around the nation that I go to the away games, they look at me in disbelief and more than once they’ve said, “That’s crazy,” and it probably is, but it results in a relationship where we are colleagues, we are engaged with each other and we know what our shared directions and mission is.
You’ve had experience in Texas working at Texas A&M, so you’ve been a Texas resident in the past. You’re a resident of Fargo now, but what do you think are the similarities between those two communities?
There is a passion for the sport and a passion for this team’s success that is all the good things about college sports, but it is not at the obsessive level that we see it in some Division I FBS programs. It is a healthy enthusiasm and support, and it’s what brings the campus community together, even though that campus community comes together halfway across the country.
You would see a very similar culture at Texas A&M; it’s certainly a bigger school and a bigger stadium, but the culture and atmosphere of both campuses are very similar. They’re academically very similar, and the orientation of the athletic program is very similar.
From a university standpoint, whether it’s academics or athletics, how does the football program’s success trickle down through the rest of the university?
It absolutely sets the tone of success. It sets the tone of high expectations, but of achievable expectations. It calibrates people as to what NDSU is, it’s a major, top 100 ranked research university. I’m still compelled by the year we beat Colorado State in Fort Collins. The Denver papers referred to us as a “peer institution” of Colorado State. Well, they have two times as many students and do three times as much research, but we became a “peer” of theirs because of the success of the football program against their program.
It’s a gauge people use, either rightly or wrongly. The reality is people use athletics as a gauge of major universities and how successful they are. We’re very fortunate to have one of the winningest overall Division I programs in the nation, obviously a history-making dominance in football. An incredible record against FBS teams and Power Five teams, it redefines what NDSU is in the eyes of the nation.
How rare is it for a university to have such a high GPA within its athletic department as NDSU does?
This athletic program far exceeds any academic profile of the student body at large. There are very few programs at the competitive level we’re at where the student-athletes would identify themselves as students first, athlete second. For the last four years now, every semester we’ve had at least 60 of our 400 student-athletes with perfect 4.0 GPAs. That number was 79 this last semester. I cannot find any Division I league in the nation that has that sort of academic performance, much less that academic performance as an overlap of athletic performance.