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Published December 09 2013

Forum editorial: Bohl sets off raging prairie fire

If timing is among the keys to winning football games, North Dakota State University Bison coach Craig Bohl missed a beat last weekend. His announcement – first leaked and then confirmed – that he would leave NDSU for the head coaching job at the University of Wyoming was a shocker for Bison fans and the Fargo community. Most disturbing, the coach’s decision seems to have sandbagged team members. A few of them initially reacted less-than-graciously, but later embraced the “we-love-and-support-our-coach” party line. They did not get the word from their coach, but from social media after a CBS sports reporter broke the story. Not cool.

Bohl’s 11 years at the Bison helm is the most successful era in the team’s history. He built a team that had a losing record (and an uneven transition from Division II to Division I NCAA football) into a two-time national champion. There is every expectation the Bison will make it three in row next month.

Under Bohl’s tenure, the Fargodome became one of the most talked about football venues in the nation. His teams filled every seat. Tickets for home games, once an easy buy, became nearly impossible to get. The popularity of the team was reflected in a huge expansion of game-day tailgating outside the dome. ESPN GameDay in downtown Fargo a few weeks ago put NDSU and Fargo on a national stage – in large part because of a program made big time by Bohl and athletic officials at the school. And let’s not forget that it was the vision and leadership of former NDSU President Joseph Chapman that laid the groundwork for today’s Bison success.

But simply put, Bison football is the best sports show in North Dakota because Bohl’s skills as a coach, recruiter and promoter made it happen.

So why leave? The money? Maybe. In time, Bohl will make an estimated $1.3 million, substantially more than his earning potential in Fargo. Also, he’s going to a UW football program that needs a coach who knows how to build a team. Bohl’s record at NDSU is the perfect template for the work he has to do to lift Wyoming to national contender status.

Another factor is sustainability of the caliber of play of his Bison teams. Having won two national titles and expected to win a third, Bohl knows the senior core of the team will be gone next year. Even with the best recruiting season ever, Bohl would be hard pressed to assemble a team as talented, focused and confident as the 2013 squad. Moving on at the top of his NDSU game to UW where he will be expected to improve the team over a few seasons makes sense for him.

As traumatized as some Bison fans are by Bohl’s departure, they can take heart that he will be with the team through the playoffs and championship game, if the Bison get in. Wyoming understands how important it is for Bohl to follow through to the final game. NDSU officials are OK with that schedule, too.

That’s the good news. The not-so-good news is that until Bohl exits the NDSU stage speculation about “why?” will rage like a prairie fire.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.