Photo By Hillary Ehlen
Next man up.
You’ve heard that one at NDSU before, right?
Regardless of how many times you’ve heard that saying, it remains a key mantra in the success of NDSU football. Carson Wentz goes down due to injury, who is there to save the day? Easton Stick. That’s next man up. There are copious amounts of stories like that throughout the history of Bison football. It all comes back to that saying.
The same is said for coaches at NDSU. Craig Bohl departs for Wyoming, who is there to step into the head coaching role and go 69-6 in his tenure? Chris Klieman. Now, the role has been reversed as Klieman heads to Kansas State. The next man up? Matt Entz, former commander of Code Green.
Entz has been in this type of situation before when he was brought in as defensive coordinator in 2014. He was thrust into the role of recruiting almost immediately. Not only the incoming class but the current roster as well. Entz faced a similar obstacle shortly after being named the head coach before North Dakota State’s semifinal game against South Dakota State. The Bison had 13 recruits on campus that weekend, and the early signing period was fast approaching.
In the end, Entz was able to hold together a class of 25 recruits who signed when the early signing period began. He checked his first box as head coach. For Entz, having that 2014 experience helped him in this recruiting period.
“The first moment I had to utilize that experience was the weekend after our South Dakota State game. We had 13 recruits on campus and all of the sudden, we played Friday night and Saturday morning, there was a different person at the front of the room talking and that was me. I immediately reflected on my experience that happened with the Easton Sticks and the Dan Marlettes and the Aaron Steidls of the world. It is a very similar situation that we find ourselves in right now,” Entz said.
“We found the right people that bought in five years ago, and I looked at our current set of recruits and told them pretty much the same thing. The face at the front of the room has changed, but the mentality or the process that this program has been built upon and the things that are important at NDSU aren’t going to change because the head coach has a different name now. Those kids bought in, every single one of them committed and signed on the early signing day and I think that’s a tribute to our coaching staff for just being who we are, not changing who we are because of the transition and just selling the university and selling the football program rather than selling ourselves as coaches. That is what ultimately allowed us to keep all these commitments.”
While Entz had plenty on his docket after being named the new head coach of Bison football, he still had a game to prepare for. In the three weeks leading up to the national championship game, Entz says he was juggling both head coach and defensive coordinator duties. Because of the circumstances, Entz found this trip to Frisco to be a little different and special at the same time. Special, thanks to the 24 young men who were playing their final game for NDSU.
“The seniors. They’re the same group of kids that when I showed up on campus five years ago, they’re the same ones I was recruiting, home visiting, trying to sell to them because of the transition, nothing was going to change. Those kids through it all, bought into what being a Bison is all about, bought into the new staff in 2014 and there was just a connection with those kids,” he said. “I was just really satisfied with the way they were going to end their career and that was even going into the national championship game. Just getting back there and believing in the staff and Coach Klieman and me as a defensive coordinator, I think that was special.”
The difference this time around for Entz was that he had a few more responsibilities on his plate, ones fit for a head coach. “During the three weeks where I was named head coach and the championship game, it was probably unique in the sense that I had some other responsibilities that I had to take ownership of during those three weeks, but at the same time, I had to routinely kind of get back to the game plan because that was the most important thing,” Entz said. “I felt that I personally owed it to the senior class to make sure they were as well prepared as possible going into the game. It was a little bit of a juggling act, and I’m sure Chris had the same thing, he was trying to juggle NDSU practice plans along with myself and concerned himself with things going on in Manhattan. They’re all special, but those two things made this one different than the others.”
However, one could say that Entz begins his first winter as NDSU head coach with a tremendous amount of team momentum. Despite the shake-up in staff, the team still won their final game of the season. Heading into an offseason where workouts are vital, Entz believes that confidence from the national championship game will translate into the rest of 2019.
“Any time you win the last game of the year, it helps your momentum going into any offseason. Then you can just exponentially grow, but it was big. Being the newly named head coach and my last game as the defensive coordinator at NDSU, it was important to me to win the game and use this momentum in the hiring of new staff, in the recruiting of the few spots we still have available that we need to clean up before the traditional signing day,” he said. “Also for the recruiting process of our current team. I’ve spent a majority of the last week spending time with the current team. I felt it was best to stay in and recruit those guys a bit, too. There’s a number of offensive guys that we know by name, but I don’t really know them personally and that’s been my point of emphasis.”
As the defensive coordinator, Entz has been praised by his defensive players after being named head coach. They knew he was capable and vocalized that through a number of mediums. However, as Entz indicates, he may not know all of the offensive players on a personal level. The same was surely the case when Chris Klieman was elevated from defensive coordinator to head coach in 2014. Nevertheless, Entz has not found it difficult to convince his offensive players of his head coaching ability. In fact, he has noticed that the offense appreciates him reaching out to them.
“I think it’s been seamless. I think they appreciate the fact that I’m reaching out and spending time starting to generate a relationship with them all,” he said. “Part of the seamless transition has been keeping coaching like Randy Hedberg and Tyler Roehl in their expanded roles. That in itself was comforting for our offensive kids because they knew what we were going to be offensively was still intact.”
August 31 seems like a distant date on the calendar for NDSU football. However, their first game against Butler at Target Field in Minneapolis will be here before Entz knows it. When asked what he has on his to-do list for the offseason as spring football approaches, he has a few items. Yet, he feels confident in what his “young” team can bring to the table in 2019.
“The number one thing that I tried to discuss with them was that we have been in this situation before. We’ve lost an unbelievable senior class every year I’ve been here, we have some of the most special kids come through this program. Ones that know how to win and are still winning out in the real world,” he said. “For our guys, it’s kind of a race to maturity, we need some guys to grow up this spring so they can help us come August 31. At the same time, I know there will be those naysayers who say we lost this or lost that, they have a new quarterback, they have a new staff and my challenge to our team was that it’s okay for us to have a chip on our shoulder. If enough people doubt us, let’s take this chip on the shoulder and questioning of our talent and let’s turn it into a positive and turn it into a great spring, summer and into fall camp.”
The staff is filled. The 2019 recruiting class is solidified. A new trophy is on the shelf in the football offices inside the Fargodome. Those are a few of the things Matt Entz has already checked off his to-do list as head coach at North Dakota State. He is not done there, though. Now he takes on a far bigger challenge: continuing a legacy and tradition. Given the sample size, he’s beyond prepared and ready to make that happen.
Next man up, right?