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Published December 31 2013

Forum editorial: A Bison is ‘Person of the Year’

It’s easy to forget, now that the Bison football team glows with an aura of invincibility, that when Craig Bohl took over at North Dakota State University, he inherited a program that finished the previous season with a 2-8 record – in Division II competition. He was given a mandate by then-NDSU President Joe Chapman to make the team a competitive Division I program. Naysayers said the ambitious move to Division I would spell doom for the Bison. Today, 11 years and two national championship seasons later – and favored to win a third consecutive national title – Bohl probably has exceeded even his own expectations. His achievements as head coach are impressive by any measure.

Bohl did more, however, than coach a powerhouse football team. He also elevated NDSU – and Fargo – into a national spotlight. That was most evident when ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast live from downtown Fargo, with the iconic Fargo Theatre sign as backdrop. It demonstrated that the NDSU Bison had arrived on the national stage. For those accomplishments Bohl merits selection as The Forum’s Person of the Year for 2013.

When athletic director Gene Taylor hired him, Bohl made clear he would give his assistant coaches a lot of autonomy and flexibility. He surrounded himself with top-notch assistants; and he presided as a chief executive officer, developing a vision for his lieutenants and players to pursue. The program was built on mutual trust and respect, but also demanded hard work and discipline.

It hasn’t been a straight trajectory to the top. Along the way, Bohl’s Bison struggled at times. His 2009 team had a 3-8 record, his only losing season at NDSU, after finishing a mediocre 6-5 the year before. But Bohl altered course, redoubling his recruiting efforts. The changes soon bore fruit, with a Division I quarterfinal finish in 2010, followed by his back-to-back national championships.

For Bison fans, the exhilarating drive to a possible perfect season, and third national championship, is clouded, but only partly, by the knowledge that this will be Bohl’s last season at the helm of the Bison. He is headed to the University of Wyoming, a Mountain West Conference team. It’s important to understand that it’s rare these days for a successful head coach to stay in one place for 11 years. Quite simply, it seems there really is nothing left for Bohl to accomplish at NDSU, where he now ranks as the football coach with the most wins.

You don’t have to be a fan to appreciate Bohl’s accomplishments, and his example. In fact, he’s been in the running several times to be named The Forum’s Person of the Year. In 2013, he is the obvious choice. For him, coaching has always been more than winning football games. It’s also about molding young men, and raising the national profile of NDSU, Fargo and North Dakota. That’s worthy of recognition and celebration.

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