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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 15 2013

Schnepf: Family, Fargo mean a lot to Klieman

FARGO - During his last 11 seasons as North Dakota State’s head football coach, Craig Bohl has often referred to Nebraska legend Tom Osborne as his mentor, his idol.

So does Chris Klieman, who was named Sunday to replace Bohl once the Bison season ends, have such a hero?

“My idol is my father,” Klieman said without hesitation during Sunday morning’s news conference, which announced him as NDSU’s 30th head football coach.

“My dad has been the world to me. I am so happy he is here to share this with me.”

There was a brief moment of silence when Klieman choked up, with tears in his eyes.

“I love you, Dad.”

Bob Klieman was sitting in the front row of the football team meeting room in the Fargodome, where his son took center stage for the first time during his 21 years of being an assistant coach. Sitting near the elder Klieman was Chris Klieman’s wife, Rhonda, his two sons and daughter plus his brother, Scott.

The only one missing was Bob’s wife – who didn’t feel well and decided not to make the trip from Waterloo, Iowa, this weekend.

“She’s kicking herself right now because she didn’t make the trip,” Chris Klieman said. “But I love you to death, Mom.”

Family is a big reason Klieman decided to stay at NDSU instead of following Bohl to his new head coaching job in Wyoming.

Yes, there are other major reasons Klieman is staying: He inherits a tradition-rich program, he will get a pay raise from his current $100,000 salary to one that is expected to exceed the $206,000 base pay Bohl had, and he’s fulfilling his goal of becoming a head coach at this level.

But you could tell Sunday that family means a lot to him.

“This is a special, special place,” Klieman said of Fargo and NDSU. “My family loves it here. We love this place, and we don’t want to leave.”

The 47-year-old Klieman grew up in Waterloo – where backyard tackle football games got so intense, Bob Klieman would have to halt play for fear of someone getting hurt. Chris was the one “hitting people like nobody else would hit people,” according to Bob, who coached his son in junior high.

That competiveness explains why Chris became a two-time all-state high school football player in Iowa. It explains why, as a defensive back at the hometown college of Northern Iowa, Chris once held the school record for starting the most games.

“I have always been competitive,” Klieman said.

There was only one year when Klieman broke ties with football. After spending three years as a graduate assistant at Northern Iowa, Klieman moved to Colorado, where he lived with his sister and worked for a credit card company. Then came an opening at Western Illinois where, according to Bob, Klieman was given some chalk during his interview and he started charting plays.

“I remember Chris called me and told me it ‘might have been the best interview that I had in my life,’ ” Bob said. “He told me, ‘They stopped me in the middle of chalking plays and said, “You’re hired." ”

Klieman must have had just as effective an interview Saturday night – not long after NDSU’s playoff win over Coastal Carolina – at the home of NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. When the three-hour discussion ended, Taylor told Klieman he would have to sleep on it.

“Well … OK,” said Klieman, somewhat confused.

“I’m just kidding with you,” Taylor said. “I couldn’t sleep on this if I wanted to. You’re hired.”

That’s when Klieman went home and broke the news to his family – much to the relief of his wife, Rhonda.

“It was kind of stressful. There were lots of sleepless nights, lots of uncertainty for our children, too,” Rhonda said referring to her oldest son, Devin, a high school sophomore, 9-year-old son Colby and sixth-grade daughter Haley.

“But we love Fargo,” said Rhonda, who is a paraprofessional in the West Fargo School District. “Our kids are very happy here, very settled.”

Rhonda, like many wives of college coaches, has been fully supportive of her husband’s career. She probably won’t see much of her husband during the next few months – when first he will be wearing the hat as defensive coordinator developing schemes to help the Bison win a third straight national championship, and then, as the next head coach, he will be busy assembling a coaching staff while making phone calls to already-recruited players to make sure they are still committed to NDSU.

“There are only so many hours in a day, and you got to pack it all in there,” Klieman said. “My wife will make my lunch and throw something in there for dinner and say ‘I will see you late, late at night.’ ”

It appears Klieman is ready for the change – just as he was when he decided to leave behind nine years of being an assistant coach at his alma mater, Northern Iowa. According to Bob, the move to Fargo was a good one.

“I was tickled to death,” Bob said. “I think the move was a good deal for him. I think it gave him some freedom to do what he was really capable of doing. I think his hands were tied a little bit at Northern Iowa. I know he still has good friends at Northern Iowa.”

Including Bob’s family attorney, whom he said offered Klieman some good advice during this past week’s process of becoming NDSU’s head coach. He’s the same attorney who worked contracts for Ben Jacobson, a former UND and NDSU assistant who is now the head basketball coach at Northern Iowa, and Greg McDermott, a former UND assistant and NDSU head coach who is now the head basketball coach at Creighton.

Chris Klieman said he also got valuable advice from Bohl – who was supposedly spreading the word among other Missouri Valley Football Conference coaches that someday they needed to find a job for him.

“Well, we got one,” Bob said of his son’s new job. “In football heaven.”


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com