NDSU Bison Football Coach, Craig Bohl, to Wyoming – and Good For Him


Let’s get this right out there – as someone who is from North Dakota and follows the North Dakota State University (NDSU) Bison football team (and has family and friends that attended NDSU) – we know this was coming eventually – NDSU football coach, Craig Bohl,  has accepted the head football coaching job at the University of Wyoming.  This news was first reported last night by Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports.

Let’s talk about Craig Bohl’s accomplishments over the last eleven years:

  • Since his arrival, NDSU has had eight players earn 11 Academic All-America team honors.  14 different players have received All-America honors.
  • He has 24-8 record against nationally-ranked FCS teams.  He has a 41-2 in Football Championship Series (FCS) games the past three seasons.
  • Cumulatively, he has a 101-32 record with the Bison, including a 10-1 mark in the FCS playoffs and 9-3 showing against Football Bowl Subdivision teams (the biggest win this year was vs. Kansas State). 
  • He has two FCS national titles – he is on track for a likely three-peat.
  • He’s the winningest coach in NDSU football history.
  • His football teams have the best average home attendance at the FCS level.

That’s pretty impressive list of accomplishments.  Right?  Right.

Let’s talk about a few things that aren’t part of the football accomplishments – NDSU was a regional university for several years… and it is now a national university.  Craig Bohl played a large part in putting Bison Nation on the map from a national perspective.  NDSU is receiving applications for its graduate programs from students all over the world – that’s a substantial development that everyone should be happy about.  Students are looking at NDSU’s web site who never did before – and the success of the football team has something to do with that sort of spike in attention for the university.

Oh – and NDSU was on College Gameday if you didn’t know thatYes, it did indeed happen.

Now, being from the Midwest (and more specifically, North Dakota), I am very cognizant of the family values that are part of the culture of the Peace Garden State (I adopt those myself).  NDSU Bison Nation is a family.  When the news of Bohl’s acceptance of the head football coaching job at Wyoming was leaked to Bruce Feldman (and those leaks are from people that are trying to make a name for themselves), understandably, Bison Nation was upset.  They care about their football program – they are highly invested in the university.  I completely understand that.  Do I think that Bohl should have told his players before they heard about it on social media?  He absolutely should have done that.  But NDSU Athletic Director, Gene Taylor, also did not tell the players.  He admitted himself that Bohl and he both should have told the players last night (you’ll see these statements later in the press conference link below).

Bohl was open and honest with the NDSU Athletic Director, Gene Taylor, about his intentions of interviewing with the University of Wyoming – completely.  Bohl told Taylor that he was interviewing with Wyoming – and later, that he was accepting the job with Wyoming.  This was all addressed in Taylor’s press conference today.  Further, Bohl and his staff are 100% committed to coaching this NDSU Bison football team the rest of the season.  You can tell that Bohl is a standup guy.  Taylor himself stated that he know this day was coming – we all did – if you didn’t think this day was coming, then you live a pretty sheltered life.  College sports is a business – it’s not about the student athlete – hasn’t been about the student athlete for several years.

Now, the average NDSU fan is going to to think, “Why is Craig Bohl going to Wyoming?”  I’ll tell you why (from my Virginia Tech and Georgetown public administration/public policy perspective, I call this sitting in the other guy’s shoes heuristic – that’s something we did quite often in graduate school):

  • Bohl has nothing more to accomplish at NDSU – yes, he can win more Missouri Valley Conference football championships – he can make more runs at FCS titles – then what?
  • Bohl is 55 years old – college football coaching is a younger person’s business now – when you are 55, you have a limited payday.  Reportedly, Wyoming is going to pay Bohl 1.4 million a year over four years.  NDSU can never match that sort of pay day.
  • Wyoming is a school at the Football Bowl Subdivison (FBS) level – and FBS schools generally have more resources (e.g. facilities, money, transportation) at their disposition than FCS schools.
  • Bohl wasn’t ever going to get the USC, Texas, Washington, or Boise State jobs.  This was his opportunity to move – and you make those moves when you are at the top of your game when your market value is high.  NDSU football will lose many seniors after this year – while I still think the Bison will be good in 2014, the jury is out on just how good they will be next year.  This opportunity would not have been available next year.
  • Say what you want about Wyoming – they are the only four-year public college in their state – the only NCAA Division 1 sports school at the FBS level in their state.
  • NDSU is not going to the FBS level anytime soon – and maybe not at all (NDSU doesn’t have the facilities or the money to get this done – and then there’s the matter of finding a conference).  And even if NDSU was making this transition as an independent – would Bohl want to go through another 3-year transition period before NDSU were to become an FBS member with full rights and accesses?  No, I’d argue at 55-years old that Bohl would not want to do that.
  • People will say, “Well, how is Wyoming a step up?”  If it doesn’t work out, Bohl can always find himself back into an FCS job – or as a top football coaching assistant at a major FBS university – or even as a member of the broadcast media.
  • Did I mention that Bohl will make $1.4 million per year in a state with very low taxes?  I did – yes – but I think it’s important to note this in a different way:  This is $1.1 million less than Virginia Tech head football coach, Frank Beamer, is making.

Sounds to me like Craig Bohl is making a pretty good personal move for himself and his family.  Nothing is forever on the college sports landscape – as I previously stated, college sports is a business.  This isn’t the Wizard of Oz where everyone goes down that “yellow-brick road” together.  Inevitably, there will be a small part of the NDSU Bison Nation fan base that will hope Bohl doesn’t succeed at Wyoming simply because he’s leaving NDSU and will take pleasure if he has a few early season losses next year – and that’s unfortunate – because Craig Bohl has done well by NDSU (let’s hope this is a small group of fans that gets chastised by the adults in the group).

It just so happens that the college sports business culture, per se, hit NDSU later than other colleges (and this won’t be the last time – because NDSU hires good coaches – see Tim Miles, head men’s basketball coach, at Nebraska) – and Bison Nation needs to be happy with Bohl’s tenure at NDSU.  NDSU, their alumni, friends of the university, and even the entire State of North Dakota are better off because Craig Bohl was NDSU’s head football coach.  And there’s still time to win that third FCS title in a row, BTW.

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