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Missouri State's Allen could have been Bison's coach instead of Bohl

by Mike McFeely

Life is about choices and you'd certainly be within your rights to say Terry Allen made a bad choice back in 2003.

Allen was a wanted man by North Dakota State president Joseph Chapman and athletic director Gene Taylor. They wanted Allen to take over the Bison football program and guide it into Division I. The Bison were a Division II program, but had announced their intention of going Division I in 2004.

 Terry Allen of Missouri State.

Allen had a long track record of success in what was then called Division I-AA football. He coached Northern Iowa to seven straight Gateway Conference (now the Missouri Valley Football Conference) titles between 1990-96. The Panthers did not win a national title, but served as the model for what NDSU wanted to become in Division I football.

Allen left Northern Iowa for Kansas of the big-time Big 8 Conference after the 1996 season. That did not go well for the coach, other than in the financial department, and he was dismissed after five seasons. In 2003, he was an assistant coach at Iowa State.

Chapman and Taylor wanted to pursue Allen after Bob Babich left NDSU for the NFL late in 2002. They set up a meeting at an Alexandria, Minn., resort and traveled down I-94 to meet with Allen. The coach was impressive, to the point Chapman and Taylor were ready to offer him the job.

"There was no formal offer made at that meeting, we didn't say 'here's a contract and we're going to pay you X,'" Taylor recalls. "But we made clear he was our No. 1 choice. 

"If he had shown interest we would have pursued an offer. In fact, on the drive back Joe said, 'If you are comfortable with him, I am comfortable with him.'"

In other words, Terry Allen could have been the Bison's next coach if he wanted the job.

It was not to be.

"By the time I got back to Fargo, he had left a message that said he wasn't comfortable going through the transition and that he was withdrawing from consideration for the job," Taylor said.

Taylor and Chapman instead focused on two other finalists, Craig Bohl and Casey Bradley.

 Craig Bohl.

Allen chuckled during the weekly Missouri Valley media teleconference when asked about the NDSU job being his for the taking all those years ago.

"Boy, that is a long time ago," he said.

Allen confirmed the transition and conference situation, or lack thereof, scared him from taking the job.

"They just weren't allowed to come into the Big Sky and they had talked to the Missouri Valley, which was the Gateway at the time, and they didn't think they were going to get in there," Allen said. "So I didn't think the outlook was very good at that time."

Allen stayed at Iowa State for a couple of more years before taking the head coaching job at Missouri State in 2006. It hasn't been easy in Springfield. The Bears have not had a winning conference season in Allen's first seven campaigns and are off to a 1-5 start this year. His overall record at Missouri State is 31-53.

The Bears play at No. 1-ranked, undefeated and two-time defending national champion NDSU on Saturday.

That leads to this obvious question: Coach, do you ever look back at your decision and wonder "what if?"

"You can't look in the rearview mirror," Allen said. "You always have to look forward."

Taylor and Chapman decided Bohl was their man, which was a decision that has worked out well for everybody. Bohl has been a resounding success. The Bison football program is the envy of what is now called the Football Championship Subdivision. And the third finalist, Bradley, is now a head coach in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

As for Allen's concerns over NDSU getting in a conference, it eventually worked out perfectly for the Bison. NDSU helped cobble together something called the Great West Conference, which got it through the transition years from 2004-2007. Once NDSU's other sports were accepted into the Summit League, the Missouri Valley was all over NDSU and South Dakota State to join. NDSU's first year in the Valley was 2008.

The rest is history, for better (Bohl) or worse (Allen). 

And you still wonder whether Terry Allen will look around the Fargodome Saturday and wonder, "What it?"

(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.)