Jeff Kolpack, Published February 11 2012
NDSU has had stability among head coaches despite mid-major status
And that’s at a school that for half of this decade went through a Division I reclassification that was supposed to spark massive turnover. A funny thing happened.
Hardly anybody went anywhere.
Oil. Low unemployment. Budget surplus. Smog-free air. Quality schools. In Fargo, you might as well add content college coaches to the North Dakota list of affirmative resources.
“I know after we made our NCAA run, I didn’t send my résumé one place. Period,” said head men’s basketball coach Saul Phillips.
Why? Every coach contacted for this story essentially cited four factors:
The necessary resources to win.
Good camaraderie within the athletic department.
In the case of the latter, it took a hefty hike for Cuadrado and former men’s basketball coach Tim Miles to leave.
Miles signed a five-year, $450,000 contract at Colorado State in 2007. Cuadrado’s salary wasn’t immediately available because it had yet to be finalized, according to the Wyoming Office of Compliance, which handles open records requests.
But he did say he wasn’t looking to leave NDSU.
“It was a salary we were not going to be able to compete with,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor.
NDSU salaries rank near the conference top
The compensation that is popular coffee table talk, of course, is that of head football coach Craig Bohl. With bonuses associated with a Division I Football Championship Subdivision national title, he could earn in the neighborhood of $300,000 this year.
That ranks Bohl in the upper tier of FCS football, although it pales to some salaries like the reported $500,000 Turner Gill will get at Liberty University next year or the $350,000 Georgia State’s Bill Curry made last year.
Bohl just finished his ninth year at NDSU and signed a seven-year contract last summer – a five-year extension that includes an automatic two-year rollover. That ranks at or near the top of Missouri Valley Football Conference.
NDSU also does well for salaries in the Summit League, Taylor said.
Citing a league survey, he said his coaches rank No. 1 or 2 in salary in all sports with the exception of men’s basketball, which he figures to be about fourth.
NDSU baseball, track and field, soccer, volleyball and softball coaches all make base salaries between $63,188 and $68,000 per year.
“I think salary always has a direct correlation to job satisfaction in a lot of ways,” Taylor said.
Of course, when a school from a major conference comes calling, the NDSUs of the world have little chance.
“It would have to be one of those golden opportunities,” said Bison women’s track and field head coach Ryun Godfrey.
Godfrey accepted, and then changed his mind, with an assistant coaching position at Wake Forest a few years ago. The salary was about the same, he said, but the tug of an outstanding NDSU recruiting class that year – it included All-American Whitney Carlson – kept him in Fargo.
He was also asked to interview at Northern Iowa, but declined.
“I kept thinking what the future could be here,” Godfrey said. “It was not a good time for me to leave.”
He’s not the only one to have said that.
Head softball coach Darren Mueller could be heading into this season as the head coach at Wisconsin or Minnesota. Both schools pursued him in the summer of 2010.
Instead, he rejected both.
“You don’t know if the commitment is always there,” he said, in a general statement of other schools.
Not many restrictions placed on resources
The NDSU softball team left last Wednesday for a season-opening tournament in Fresno, Calif. It’s a state Mueller and co-head coach Jamie Trachsel are familiar with.
Six of NDSU’s players are from California, which is down from previous years. Taylor said Bison coaches are not limited in where they can recruit.
“Now, most of our coaches are not flying all over creation to do that,” he said. “They are still staying within our region. But if there is a kid in Florida, Texas or Kansas, we don’t say you can’t go get that kid.”
That’s one benefit of the resources the administration gives its coaches. Each sport is not limited in the number of in-state vs. out-state scholarships, which isn’t the case at other Division I universities.
For instance, it took years but Indiana State head football coach Trent Miles was finally able to shed the limits on the number of in-state scholarship players he was required to recruit.
“They’ve done a great job in Division I of giving us a lot of resources,” Mueller said. “They’ve done things the right way here, and I think people see that.”
They also see the facilities as a valuable resource.
With the exception of the Bison Sports Arena, which is on the verge of a renovation, coaches say their facilities add to their desire to remain at NDSU. The Shelly Ellig Indoor Track and Field Facility has broken ground, a building that is expected to be used by other sports like softball and baseball. Softball also uses the Fargodome.
Even head men’s golf coach Billy Iverson, whose program is the least financially funded, doesn’t have many complaints.
“We can always ask for more scholarships and dollars to recruit with,” Iverson said. “But everything I’ve really asked for I’ve gotten. And they stand behind me 100 percent.”
Another factor: NDSU was one of the first in the Summit League to be fully staffed at the D-I level with baseball being the last to get there last year, Taylor said. The Summit has since programmed all of its schools to get up to speed.
Money talks, but not all the time for mid-majors
Miles flirted with an opening at North Carolina-Wilmington before CSU athletic director Paul Kowalczyk came with an offer he couldn’t refuse. Miles got on Kowalczyk’s radar for two reasons: The AD was impressed with Miles when NDSU dropped an 82-80 decision to CSU, and Kowalczyk had some familiarity with mid-majors after having been at Southern Illinois.
But, by and large, NDSU coaches often are not in the conversation for jobs at bigger schools around the country. Taylor said he believes Bohl was on track to becoming the No. 1 candidate for CSU’s next football coach if Kowalczyk wasn’t fired two months ago.
New CSU athletic director Jack Graham, instead, hired Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain. One reason: A general U.S. perception that North Dakota is located north of Canada. And a coordinator at a BCS school just sounds better to boosters.
“What’s going to be the splash on press conference day?” Taylor said. “Do I go and get the assistant soccer coach at North Carolina or the head coach at North Dakota State?”
Taylor, who went for but did not get the A.D. job at Kent State in 2010, said not many people understand the scrutiny and success NDSU has had in its short Division I life.
The Bison have had football assistants come and go over the years – but so far none this year.
The University of Montana, on the other hand, just lost its offensive and defensive coordinators to bigger schools. Montana athletic director Jim O’Day said the television money that larger conference schools are getting makes it tough to compete for coaches.
“They were able to get three to four times the money what we can pay them here,” O’Day said. “It’s just a sign of the times and it’s something we have to be ready to deal with every year.”
Still, like NDSU, Montana doesn’t face much turnover, O’Day said. The women’s basketball coach has been there 34 years.
In football, Joe Glenn went to Wyoming after three years and Bobby Hauck went to UNLV after seven. But O’Day is wary of the future for mid-majors.
“With this new TV money, especially in football, we’ll see,” he said.
Money isn’t everything, however. UNI head men’s basketball coach Ben Jacobson spurned bigger money to stay in Cedar Falls. Certainly, Bohl could get bigger paychecks elsewhere.
But with high major jobs comes more pressure to win – and more firings. It appears more and more coaches like Brad Stevens in men’s basketball, for instance, are choosing to make $396,000 a year at Butler rather than more than double that somewhere else.
The constant coaching carousel at big universities is almost getting to be a deterrent.
“Possibly,” Taylor said. “They see the pressure. And then they know they can be successful here if they have the right mix.”
Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.
Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found
NDSU's head coaches
Information includes years on the job and who each coach replaced:
Saul Phillips, 5 years, Tim Miles accepted head coaching position at Colorado State after 6 years
Craig Bohl, 9 years, Bob Babich resigned to take position with St. Louis Rams after 6 years
Tod Brown, 4 years, Mitch McLeod resigned after 15 years
Roger Kish, 1 year. Bucky Maughan retired after 47 years
Track and field
Don Larson, 33 years, Bruce Whiting resigned after 5 years.
Billy Iverson, 8 years. Matt Johnson resigned after 3 years.
Carolyn DeHoff, 4 years, Amy Ruley promoted to assistant athletic director after 29 years
Kari Thompson, 2 years, Erich Hinterstocker resigned after 5 years
Mark Cook, 1 month. Pete Cuadrado accepted head coaching position at Wyoming after 9 years
Track and field; cross country
Ryun Godfrey, 13 years. Jerry Gores resigned after 12 years.
Matt Johnson, 3 years. Lisa Schwinden resigned after 2 years.
Darren Mueller, 10 years. Mitch Hanson resigned after 7 years.