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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 20 2013

Business-like approach credited as key to success for Bohl

Fargo - Perhaps author John Molloy didn’t have a head college football coach in mind when he published his best-selling book in the 1970s: “Dress for Success.” It empowered the concept of fashion contributing to winning in the workplace.

When Craig Bohl was introduced as the North Dakota State coach on Feb. 28, 2003, at the NDSU Alumni Center, he wore a dark blue suit with a forest green and yellow hounds-tooth tie. That was standard operating procedure, of course, and Bison assistant coach Brent Vigen thought nothing of the proper attire for an introductory news conference.

“But then it became an everyday deal,” Vigen said earlier this week. “And we’re like, ‘OK, that’s the way he’s going to be.’ ”

And that’s the way Bohl has been in the 10 years since that day. A suit and tie is standard at every Sunday television coaches show and Monday news conference during the season.

It’s the same way at alumni, university or booster functions during the week. When the Bison hit the road, Bohl is the first one in the stadium – and the only member of the NDSU traveling party with the power business look.

Molloy would be proud.

The nameplate on his office door at the Fargodome may say “head football coach” but in reality he is the CEO of Bison Football Operations.

It’s a business, and that’s the way he runs his ship.

That boat has sailed to 91 victories, and the next one will put him in a category all by himself: winningest coach in NDSU football history. If you’re looking for a blueprint, look no farther than Nebraska.

NDSU, in a sense, is the University of Nebraska-Fargo. Bohl is a former player. He was an assistant coach under a man he’s talked about frequently in the last 10 years: former Huskers coach Tom Osborne.

Osborne, Bohl said, believed in running the football and stopping the run. He put an emphasis on toughness, continuity and unity.

“We’ve had a lot of players in our locker room who have played for North Dakota State, not at North Dakota State,” Bohl said. “We’re a solid, physical football team that likes to play disciplined football. Maybe it’s not real flashy, but it works.”

About the only thing publically flashy about the head coach is his agreement with Strauss Clothing in Fargo. He hasn’t changed much since the day he became head coach, Vigen said.

He lets his assistants do the teaching and his players do the playing. While some programs have daily staff meetings, Vigen said his boss calls them on an as-needed basis, usually once or twice a week.

“Obviously the faces that have filled our positions have changed, and maybe he’s adjusted here and there to the different assistants he’s had,” Vigen said. “But by and large, he’s hired guys and let them coach. He’s always been a guy that is a CEO, and that hasn’t changed at all.”

It’s not all behind-the-desk stuff. It’s balanced with a seemingly relaxed atmosphere off the field with one of Bohl’s popular sayings, “You don’t work football, you play football.”

If anything, Vigen said the head coach became more involved with the players after the 3-8 season in 2009.

“That became apparent as something that needed to be enhanced,” Vigen said.

NDSU made the playoffs in 2010 and won FCS national titles in 2011 and 2012. The Bison defeated Kansas State to open this season, and the school is hosting ESPN’s “College GameDay” pregame show this morning. If Bohl is part of the program, it’s doubtful he’ll be wearing a sweatshirt.

“I just think it’s his professionalism, the way he runs things around here,” said junior defensive end Kyle Emanuel. “This is a business, and we need to go out there in a business-like manner. The way he conducts himself I think sets him apart.”

One more win and it will set him apart from Rocky Hager, who said earlier this week, “In all honesty, there is no better person to accomplish it than Craig. He’s been very gracious.”

Hager was 91-25-1 from

1987-96, a run that included two NCAA Division II national titles. He passed another Bison coaching legend, Ron Erhardt, as the winningest coach in program history.

“For me, it was quite humbling,” Hager said. “I grew up in North Dakota, and passing coach Erhardt is something I never even considered. For coach Bohl, the success he’s having might relate to one of his great mentors in coach Osborne. He had some very good advice and obviously he put it to good use.”

Erhardt went 61-7-1 from 1966-72 and later went on to a successful career in the NFL. Hager went on to become the head coach at Northeastern University (Mass.) before it dropped its program. He’s currently the defensive coordinator for Division III College of New Jersey, a job that allows him to be at home with his wife, Peggy.

Rocky last saw NDSU play at the 2011 FCS title game in Frisco, Texas.

“To be honest, that choked me up,” he said. “Seeing the number of people in Texas was absolutely mindboggling.”

If NDSU lives up to its favorite’s role today against Delaware State, Bohl’s ascension of the victory ladder could also be labeled mindboggling considering he took over a program that was 2-8 in the previous season and was in the first year of a five-year Division I reclassification.

The transition scared away several potential candidates. NDSU did not have a conference and it faced postseason ineligibility for four years.

Bohl, however, stuck to the Osborne Blueprint in building the foundation.

He was the CEO the day he took the job. John Molloy would be proud.


Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia