Feature photo by Hillary Ehlen
North Dakota State University’s president has carried front row seats to the Bison football run of championships. As the leader of the University, Dean Bresciani has witnessed first-hand the growth of the Bison brand and how the success of the football team has legitimized NDSU among the top universities in the country.
He’s also enjoyed seeing the bar of academic success raised by student-athletes on a semester-by-semester basis. But he found time away from the classroom to go to Frisco, where he was able to revel in the pageantry only an FCS Championship game could provide.
We don’t want to ask you which championship is sweeter but did the celebration after this game feel a little different after the team lost in the semifinals last year?
“That’s a somewhat ironic question. The first was unquestionably the best … until the next, and so on … as the odds of it ever happening again grew more extraordinary. When we hit an NCAA history-making five in a row, the pressure and expectations became mind-numbing. Don’t get me wrong. Losing last year was painful. But it also reminded NDSU, and I hope everyone in Division I football, that winning your league, then winning throughout the playoffs and then winning a national championship is not easy. In fact, in any given year, any one of those is against incredible odds. Anyone thinking otherwise is being disrespectful to the small handful of programs like Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Youngtown State who have approached what we have accomplished.”
From a football game standpoint, this was definitely one of the tightest championship games NDSU has been involved in. What was the rollercoaster of emotions like for you from where you were sitting and did doubt ever creep into your mind?
“Three years ago, I was literally standing on the sidelines next to Caron Wentz when Illinois State had just scored the go-ahead on what ostensibly would be their game-winning score. Their section of the stands went liquid jumping all over each other; they were understandably going nuts—game over! But Carson looked at his wrist-playbook, looked up and said to the offense with a calm that suggested it was the third quarter ‘OK, we have one minute thirty-eight seconds. Let’s go!’ From what I understand, his pretty incredible successor Easton Stick took the same approach. But this time, it was with his coach and with only four seconds left. ‘Coach, for gosh sake, let me keep the ball and time WILL run out!’
What’s impressed you most about Chris Klieman, as a person or coach, during his four years as head coach of the football program?
“Simply put, he has not changed who he is or how he and his coaches do their job. I regularly ask him for that to never change, and I’m saying that after having worked with three Power-Five programs prior to coming to NDSU. Mike Sherman, who among other things coached several NFC championship teams at Green Bay prior to coming to Texas A&M, was my standard on that front. Coach Klieman is my new standard. Chris is a man who openly talks about loving his players and he means it. He considers them part of his family. You’ll also hear him talk about his love for his own family and how they appreciate the team being a part of their family.
“The culture he has matured at NDSU is about the team and winning the right way. It’s about never letting your brothers down… both on and off the field and throughout their university experience and later in life. I’ve been in the locker room after every game, home and away, in a big part, because he reminds me what’s important about what we do at a university. We create the leaders of our future.”
“GPAs have exceeded our overall student body, every semester, for the past four years.” – President Dean Bresciani
The football team graduated 14 players before this year’s semifinal game. As the President of the University, is there a sense of validation because college athletics helped prompt these young men for a successful future out of pads?
“One of my favorite stories about NDSU is a conversation I recently had with the chair of a Pacific-12 university’s board of regents. He was going on and on (understandably) about the Pac-12 being the ‘academic’ league of the Power-Five, and their high academic expectations of their student-athletes. With purposeful calm, I mentioned how we share that priority and that our student-athletes’ GPA’s have exceeded our overall student body, every semester, for the past four years. He coughed and asked if he had heard that right, but tried to recover with, ‘What about your football team?’ I enjoyed sharing that 20 in the past year had 4.0 GPAs. He quickly changed the topic to the weather.”
The housing and retail complex across University Drive from the SHAC is coming along quickly. How will that benefit NDSU going forward?
“It is certainly intended to be one of the premier student residential facilities in Fargo. But its proximity to campus and the ‘mixed-use’ commercial aspects that I understand will be incorporated into it would be enhancements to what is already the premier event facility in our entire state. The SHAC wasn’t designed just to be an NDSU athletic facility. In fact, I’ve always seen its even greater value as an event asset for the state and region. I’m thrilled that NDSU can offer that to the area. I’m also excited about the events the SHAC will make it collectively possible for us to host—think SHAC, Fargodome, Indoor Track and Dacotah Field Bubble. That said, the SHAC sets an enviable standard for supporting student-athletic success through the extensive academic advising facilities, including sports medicine and performance enhancement facilities (that too few see), in a cutting-edge performance arena.”
What else is happening on-campus this semester that makes it a good time to be a Bison?
“NDSU’s success, in scholarly terms, has been enhanced by our success in athletic terms. The breadth and consistently increasing success of what we do academically extends across virtually all of our athletic programs. The result is that NDSU has a national brand and reputation that much larger and well-funded universities envy. While attending national higher education meetings, I can’t tell you how often presidents of the most elite universities in the nation, through the NCAA’s leadership, openly and publicly say: ‘How do you do it?'”