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Kevin Schnepf, Published April 08 2014

Schnepf: Recent success means in-house hire makes sense

Fargo - Dave Richman was named the 23rd men’s basketball head coach at North Dakota State on Tuesday night. If you have any desire of becoming the 24th Bison coach, you better start working on becoming Richman’s right-hand man.

Richman was previous coach Saul Phillips’ trusted associate. Phillips had been his predecessor Tim Miles’ sidekick. Starting to see a trend here?

Actually, this is a trend within a trend that has developed during NDSU’s decade of making a name for itself at the Division I level.

The obvious trend is this: As long as NDSU keeps tasting success – like the basketball team did this past month with a monumental win in the NCAA tournament – it is going to lose its coaches. It’s a given for a lower-tier, mid-major program like NDSU. Guys like football coach Craig Bohl and Phillips move on to bigger programs that can offer bigger paychecks.

The resulting trend – at least at NDSU – is this: Replace those coaches with assistants. Guys like new football coach Chris Klieman and the 35-year-old Richman are testaments to the old adage that if it ain’t broke, why change it.

“I think what we’ve been fortunate with here is our coaches hire great coaches,” said NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor. “To me, if you don’t worry about who you’re going to surround yourself with and you don’t hire strong people, then you probably are not going to be a successful head coach.”

About the only time Taylor didn’t opt to hire an assistant is when he hired Craig Bohl more than a decade ago. That’s when he bypassed assistant Casey Bradley – who, of course, now is an NFL head coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hard to blast Taylor’s decision to hire Bohl, who finished his Bison career with three straight national football championships.

Hard to criticize other assistants Taylor has hired, like track and field coach Ryan Godfrey and women’s softball coach Darren Mueller. Hard to poke holes in Taylor’s decision seven years ago to hire Phillips, who Tuesday afternoon was in Athens, Ohio, being introduced as Ohio University’s new men’s basketball coach.

“The formula works well,” Taylor said of hiring assistants. “I think part of it is, they understand who we are as a culture. They understand the type of kid who has to come here. They understand this is a unique place. If you don’t understand that, you probably aren’t going to be successful here.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if this formula will continue to work with Richman or Klieman. Odds are it will, mostly because NDSU has found its niche as a low, mid-major program. It’s certainly not at the mid-major level of Ohio University, which will pay Phillips $550,000 a year, more than three times the $175,000 he was being paid at NDSU.

That figure, which surprised even Taylor, is a big reason Ohio athletic director Jim Schaus avoided the in-house, assistant coach-ing route and went looking for a successful head coach. He could afford that kind of hire. Taylor can not.

“I know that frustrates some people here,” Taylor said. “But we pay very, very well for the league that we are in and the level we are at right now.”

So until the day comes when NDSU would move up a level in football, don’t expect its coaches to be getting paid a great deal more.

Instead, be content with continued success, realizing in another seven years that another coach could be leaving.

“A lot of people would love to have a Saul Phillips for seven years or a Craig Bohl for 11 years,” said Taylor, who has probably conducted the two quickest coaching hires in the last five months.

To make this last hire even quicker, he relied on the guidance of the coaches who groomed Richman: Greg McDermott (Creighton head coach), Tim Miles (Nebraska head coach), Ben Jacobson (Northern Iowa head coach) and Phillips. The advice? “If you don’t hire this guy, it will be the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”

The trend continues.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549 or kschnepf@forumcomm.com. Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com