On Jan. 5, 2014, a new chapter of Bison Football begins. But keep this in mind. While the page turns from one era to another, it’s turning to a new chapter, not a new book. Chris Klieman will take the helm as the new head football coach and leader of Bison Nation within minutes of the team raising our third-straight national championship trophy on that first Saturday in January. The torch will be passed from Craig Bohl, who has guided Bison football to unprecedented heights during his 11 years in office, to Klieman. And it will be carried nationwide on ESPN2.
It will literally be an inauguration of sorts, and your ticket to the National Championship game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco also gets you into the ceremony. The familiar end zone stage in the stadium where the Bison have had program-defining moments the last three seasons will be transformed into the equivalent of the inaugural platform on the West Front of the United States Capitol where the President of the United States is sworn into office. Klieman will be sworn into one of the most important public offices in the State of North Dakota–Bison head football coach–and affirm his oath of office on that end zone stage before the masses of Bison fans that have stormed the field, the assembled dignitaries, university officials, North Dakota’s political class, and anyone else with a vested interest in NDSU.
Talk about coming into office with a bang! It will be unlike anything seen in the entire 119-year history of Bison football. The state of the Bison football program has never been stronger, never more prosperous. Don’t expect a drop off with Klieman or his staff. We’re still the Bison. As Klieman made clear during his introductory press conference where Director of Athletics Gene Taylor announced him as the program’s newest head coach, our culture isn’t changing. “North Dakota State is a really special place, Bison football is unbelievably special,” said Klieman, who was named the 2012 FootballScoop FCS Coordinator of the Year. Klieman put an eager fanbase at ease when he promised the “culture of Bison football will not change” and the team would continue to reload, not rebuild.
Bison players were impressed with not only Klieman’s coaching ability, but his demonstrated commitment to the players as he turned down an opportunity to follow Bohl to Wyoming as an assistant, opting instead to lead the Herd. “It shows he really cares about the players here,” team captain Cole Jirik told the Forum. “Everyone from the walk-on to the scholarship kid.” For Taylor, the search for Bohl’s replacement kept coming back to Klieman. “Every time I looked at their information and asked are they better or what do they bring to the table different than Chris Klieman, nobody was able to do that,” Taylor said.
As for Bohl, he leaves his term at NDSU as the most successful coach in our history, securing his place among the pantheon of Bison greats. Bohl has taken our program and the Bison Family to a level that not even the most ardent booster could have reasonably expected when he arrived in 2003. If you can’t see that, you’re selfish. If you can’t see that and appreciate what Bohl has done, you shouldn’t call yourself a Bison. One of the smartest things I’ve read about the situation and Bohl departing for Wyoming is that too many good things have happened to be bitter. Too many good things have happened to be bitter. We’re in a position for many, many more good things to happen for NDSU because of what our football program has done under Bohl. NDSU is in a better spot today than it was in 2003, and is a nationally known commodity, because of Bohl’s work.
Same goes for Bohl’s staff, whether they stay in Fargo or follow him to Laramie. Those guys bleed Bison green. Those guys, and their families, have given their hearts and soul to this program–to us. They have sacrificed more than you could imagine to give you a football program that you can be proud of. I’m proud to know some of them. I’ll continue to be proud they were Bison, long after they’ve coached their last game here because of where they’ve taken our program. Once a Bison, Always a Bison has never been truer. We’re in a position to continue our success under Klieman because of where Bohl and his staff have taken NDSU Football. We’ll stay in this position because you and me – us – will remain committed and hold steadfast to the Bison Family.
As the Bison Family, we’ll continue supporting this team when the page turns to a new chapter on January 5, no questions asked. That’s our commitment, that’s our job as fans. That’s the strength of the Herd. The Bison Family is bigger and stronger than one person. A Herd is not one Bison. A Herd is the 24 seniors that were committed to finishing this season by raising another trophy in Frisco. A Herd is the 16 juniors who will be on a mission to win four-straight. A Herd is the 15,000+ fans that made the trip to Frisco and turned Toyota Stadium into a home game for the Bison. A Herd are the hundreds of thousands who tuned in from across the country to watch the Bison finish an unbelievable season 15–0. You are the Herd. We are the Herd. Individually, but more importantly, together. This is what the Strength of the Herd is the Bison, and the Strength of the Bison is the Herd means.
We’re still the Bison. Nothing has changed that. Nothing can ever change that. The Herd is not leaving with Coach Bohl. Our tradition is not leaving with Coach Bohl. The Bison Family has never been stronger. Our best days remain ahead of us. If you think this run of success stops with the 24 record-setting seniors riding off into the sunset, to borrow a phrase from an honorary Bison, ESPN’s Lee Corso, not so fast my friend! A return trip to Frisco next January is a definite possibility. In fact, if I were you, I’d plan on it. Because I know coach Klieman, his staff, and every player coming back certainly have their sights set on nothing less. Everyone up for the kickoff, the march is on!
*Swanson is a native of Maddock, N.D., a proud NDSU alum and is a life-long Bison fan.