Chris Klieman will return the core of his coaching staff for the third season this year. The nine assistant coaches Klieman hired when he took over the head-coaching job are back for another shot at the FCS title. In the day in age of coaches jumping from job to job to find the perfect situation, Klieman and NDSU have defied the odds by bringing the band back together again.
The Missouri Valley Football Conference will have three schools introducing new head coaches for their football program this season. Nick Hill will take over at Southern Illinois, Bob Nielson has moved from Western Illinois to South Dakota and Charlie Fisher will replace Nielsen as the head of the Leathernecks program.
Hill joined Dale Lennon’s staff at Southern Illinois in 2014 as the program’s quarterback coach. He played quarterback for the Salukis during the Jerry Kill era in 2006 and 2007. Six coaches on Hill’s staff have either played for or coached under Kill during his time at Southern Illinois.
Nielson went to South Dakota last December and brought the majority of his staff with him. Nielsen’s co-defensive coordinator Tyler Yelk has been with him since he was the quarterback at Minnesota-Duluth in 2005. Co-offensive coordinator Ted Schlafkel was also a quarterback under Nielson in 2008. He rejoined Nielson in 2013 at Western Illinois.
Fisher has spent the last two years as the offensive coordinator at Richmond before officially becoming the head coach at Western Illinois in January.
“Continuity is huge,” said Fisher, who coached at Vanderbilt for nine years and witnessed very little coaching turnover on the Commodore’s staff. “You bring guys in that you trust that share the same vision, passion and enthusiasm for the game that you do.”
NDSU has been the epitome of building continuity over the past two seasons.
Head coach Chris Klieman had a few previous connections with several of the coaches he hired for his staff in 2014. He coached with wide receivers coach Atif Austin and defensive coordinator Matt Entz while at Northern Iowa. Then, when he came to NDSU as the defensive backs coach and eventually defensive coordinator, Klieman coached with Conor Riley, Tim Polasek, Tyler Roehl and Nick Goeser. Before the 2014 season, Klieman had never coached with defensive ends coach Jamar Cain, defensive backs coach Joe Klanderman and quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg, although Cain and Hedberg had past experience coaching in the MVFC prior to coming to NDSU.
The coaching staff has glued together, while continuing the run of national championships and have posted a 28-3 record along the way. The success has helped the retention on the football staff remain unblemished. It also helps the recruits NDSU brings into the program.
“If you’re a defensive lineman and you know that Coach Goeser or Coach Cain are going to coach you year after year after year, you build a bond and relationship,” Klieman said. “All of our staff is like that. This is a rarity in college athletics. You can go across to all the schools in our league and I don’t know how many have had the same staff for three years.”
In the MVFC, only South Dakota State and Indiana State can say they’ve returned the same head coach and defensive and offensive coordinators for more than three years.
What’s the secret to staff retention?
It’s a combination of things, said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier, who’s had the same coordinators on his staff for seven years. It’s facilities. NDSU checks the box with the Fargodome, the third largest football stadium in the conference. It’s the community. According to Forbes, Fargo is one of the best cities to start a career. It’s administrative support. NDSU ranks fourth in the conference in total revenue and is estimated to have one of the highest football budgets in the FCS.
“Retention and stability among your team, among your staff, among your administrative staff, all those things lead to success,” Klieman said. “We have great staffs in our league, but how many have all coaches back? It’s a commitment from our administration; it’s the great community that we live in. Our families love it here and that’s so important.”
The fluidity of the coaching carousel doesn’t guarantee a fourth year without any changes to the staff. But in the meantime, Klieman and NDSU can use the continuity to their advantage as they seek to remain the pinnacle of success in the FCS.