Photos By Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul Photography
How does NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen quantify the unquantifiable?
Seven national titles in eight seasons, that’s a new NCAA record. It took the previous record holder, Georgia Southern, 31 years to win six titles. It’s taken NDSU eight years to beat that record. Can you quantify that at all?
It’s hard to quantify. It’s so much more than what the trophy represents; it’s a lot of hard work, dedication, support from players to coaches to administration to the university to the community to the fans to our donors. There is so much that goes into it to compete at such a high level without a fall, without a drop-off, without complacency. The saying is “it takes a village” and it has taken a village to not be satisfied with one, to not be satisfied with two or with three, that the expectations don’t change from a fanbase to the coaches to the players to the administration.
We want to compete for championships every single year, and to be able to stay focused and grow annually is hard to do, but we’ve found a way to do it. I think that’s the part that makes it most remarkable because this is something you’ve never seen in college athletics or college football before. It’s been great to be a part of.
You’ve been heralded for how you went about this coaching transition both in swiftness and transparency. Coach Entz has now been able to check off his first big to-dos as head coach in holding a recruiting class together and filling out a staff. Now that he has done that so seamlessly, does that give you the peace of mind that you made the right choice?
It does. At the core of all our decision making during that process was doing what was best for the student-athletes. To be able to announce who our next head coach would be before the semi-final game I think was really important. You saw a sigh of relief from the team that they knew what the future would be and then on Friday they can go out and play and not have to worry about some of the outside noise.
It also says a lot about this program, the 24 seniors, it says a lot about the reputation of NDSU football and Coach Entz to be able to put together a staff as quickly and as seamlessly as he did with what I think is a great group. To be able to do so, I think it speaks to the quality of our program and the relationships that Coach Entz has built.
With all the circumstances surrounding the trip, it seemed like this year in Frisco was a little different compared to past years. Did you feel that, and from an administrative standpoint, what were some of your favorite things to watch unfold in Texas?
This one more so than any of the other years was special in a number of different ways. I think just the historical nature, this being the all-time winningest program. I’ve said it before, I think we witnessed the best FCS team of all-time. Certainly being able to live it through the seniors’ eyes and what they’ve meant to this program was really special. The fan support, the passion, the excitement was at a higher level than I’d seen it before, too. I think they recognized that they were witnessing history.
Also, from an administrative standpoint, to make sure with all the transition and change that the goal was still the goal. I got to witness that on a number of different levels from Coach Klieman to Coach Entz to the seniors and the rest of the staff, the goal was still the same. That was special for me on a number of different levels because adversity hits, people respond differently. Collectively, I think our group responded in a really positive way to come out on top in the national championship.
People drew comparisons to this 2018 team and the 2013 team. Now, more people are drawing parallels to this 2019 roster and the 2014 team. Everyone believed that the 2014 team would regress a bit due to the outgoing senior class. Obviously, they went out and won a national championship. What do you see out of the 2019 Bison?
Every year we have those similar conversations as to who is going to become the next household name. Fortunate for me to be at practices and around the team a lot to see those young guys who maybe haven’t broken into the starting lineup because we’ve been so deep. We’re going to see some of those guys emerge next year and have their opportunity to come out and compete and shine. I’m really confident about the level of talent we have in the program. When you look over our history, we’ve had three losing seasons in 65 years. That doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s not because of one player or coach, it’s a program.
This program is built for success, and that starts from the top down. Making sure we do the little things to make sure we’re built for success. Having Jim Kramer stay here was a big piece of the puzzle to make sure we do the same things we’ve done historically to be successful. I’m excited, I think the future continues to be bright. We’re not going away anytime soon, and I’m really excited about the future and the 2019 version of NDSU football.
From an overall athletic administration perspective, what do you want to see on the horizon at NDSU? The indoor practice facility is one thing, I’m sure, but where do you want NDSU athletics to be in 5, 10 years’ time?
We strive every year, and we talk about your goals as a staff. Our goal is to be one of the best athletic programs in the country. Across the board, we are coming off one of our most successful years with eight conference championships, a national championship, our highest GPA ever, but we know we can do better. That’s what’s great about the staff and the student-athletes that we have in place. They want to get better, they want to continue to grow. It doesn’t matter what you did last year; let’s build upon that and grow.
We want to continue to build first class, Division I facilities and the indoor practice facility is a big piece of that; we need to re-do the outdoor track, but our thing is to continue to invest and continue to get better every single day, every single semester, every single game, every single week and everything we do. The good thing is we have a great group here that understands that that’s what our goal is.
When you look over our history, we’ve had three losing seasons in 65 years. That doesn’t happen by accident, and it’s not because of one player or coach, it’s a program.