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Bohl's long departure from NDSU becoming ugly behind the scenes

by Mike McFeely

It is Craig Bohl's long, ugly goodbye from North Dakota State. It is mostly behind the scenes, could have been avoided and is completely unfortunate. 

It is also a fact, no matter if Bohl says publicly everything is fine and dandy.

Multiple sources inside and outside the Bison athletic department say a deep rift developed between Bohl and defensive coordinator/next head coach Chris Klieman shortly after Bohl accepted the head coaching job at Wyoming. The split is based mostly on Klieman indicating he would consider going to Laramie as Bohl's defensive coordinator, but then declining to accept athletic director Gene Taylor's offer to succeed Bohl as NDSU's next head coach. 

 Craig Bohl
There is also a smaller rift over Bohl offering scholarships at Wyoming to athletes who had been offered scholarships at NDSU, a situation acknowledged in some circles  but denied by Bohl. 

The situation between Bohl and Klieman has been described by sources inside the Bison athletic department as anything from "awkward" to "a sh** show." All agree Bohl is the instigator of the rift. 

At the same time every source offers lavish praise for Bohl, the job he has done with the NDSU football program and his skills as a coach and leader. They are genuine in their professional happiness that Bohl is moving up the coaching ladder, for a far higher salary. More than one said the university should be grateful to Bohl because the football program generated huge sums of money the last few years because of its success. 

Nobody in the athletic department I contacted agreed to speak on the record about the relationship between Bohl and Klieman.

When I asked Bohl Monday about his relationship with his assistant coaches, considering some are staying at NDSU and some are following the coach to Wyoming, Bohl said, "Everything is fine."

Publicly and in terms of results on the field, one cannot argue. Since Bohl announced Dec. 8 he was leaving NDSU for Wyoming, the Bison have crushed a pair of opponents in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs (Coastal Carolina by a 48-14 score and New Hampshire by 52-14) to advance to the national title game. NDSU will play Towson (Md.) in Frisco, Texas, on Saturday. The Bison (14-0) are trying for their third straight national championship.

The only public hint of Bohl's displeasure with Klieman is Bohl's noticeable praising of offensive coordinator Brent Vigen, who is going to Wyoming, while carefully avoiding talking at length about Klieman.

But athletic department sources say Bohl became miffed with Klieman the week Bohl privately accepted the Wyoming job, a couple of days before it was leaked to a reporter from CBSSports.com and became public. Bohl reportedly asked Klieman if he would consider becoming defensive coordinator at Wyoming and Klieman said he would consider it, but didn't want to make a decision because he wanted to focus on preparing the Bison for that week's opponent, Furman, and the rest of the Bison playoff run.

Vigen and other assistants, meanwhile, accepted Bohl's overtures to take jobs at Wyoming. Vigen was offered an opportunity by Taylor to discuss becoming the Bison's head coach, but declined. Klieman, meanwhile, accepted Taylor's offer to talk about the job. Klieman eventually agreed to take it and was named the next NDSU coach on Dec. 15, one day after the Bison beat Coastal Carolina.

Sources say Bohl was upset because he believed Klieman was going to take the job at Wyoming and then reneged. A friend of Klieman's says Klieman never indicated he was going to take the job, only that he would consider it.

Bohl still has not found a defensive coordinator for the Cowboys. The Forum's Jeff Kolpack reported former Bison assistant Scottie Hazelton, now defensive coordinator at Nevada, also declined Bohl's job offer at Wyoming.

 Chris Klieman

While athletic department insiders say Bohl's behavior is unusual and unfortunate, they also acknowledge the 11-year coach is in an unprecedented situation by spending nearly a month as head coach at NDSU while having accepted the job at Wyoming. They give Bohl credit for staying at NDSU and trying to win another national title, saying that many or most coaches would have left Fargo immediately (and taken most of the staff with him) and concentrated on the new job in Laramie.

"This is something that has never happened before," said one NDSU source. "This isn't the same as a coach sticking around for one bowl game. This is staying for four weeks and four games, knowing that every word you say is going to be parsed and every move you make is going to be examined. I give him a ton of credit for staying here and trying to see this through."

For those who say Taylor should've told Bohl to leave, sources say Taylor couldn't do that because Vigen and other key assistants would've also left, leaving NDSU with a skeleton staff to try and win a national title. "The assistants are under contract until the end of the year, but there is nothing keeping them here. They would have just left," one person said.

The sense I got from speaking to a number of people is that they want NDSU to beat Towson on Saturday and then for everybody to go their separate ways and move on. Nobody is begrudging Bohl and his assistants the opportunity to move to a higher level, take on a new challenge and make significantly more money. Nobody is begrudging Klieman for accepting a head-coaching job at a premier FCS program. Nobody believes Bohl's legacy at NDSU will be tarnished. His place as a Bison hall of famer is rightly secure. He is one of the greatest NDSU football coaches of all-time.

"Time heals all wounds," said an athletic department employee. "And the people who deserve the most credit are those kids in the locker room. This has been an odd situation and it hasn't affected them at all. They are on auto-pilot. It has been remarkable to see."

We've also learned this, again: Goodbyes are always hard.

(Mike McFeely is a talk-show host on KFGO-AM in Fargo, N.D. He can be reached at mike.mcfeely@mwcradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcFeelyKFGO.)