North Dakota State head coach Chris Klieman is being targeted by the University of Minnesota to be its next football coach. That’s according to a report from ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.
The connection that would raise an eyebrow for Bison fans is that Klieman and Gophers athletic director Mark Coyle attended the same high school, Waterloo Columbus in Iowa and played football together. Klieman just wrapped his third season at NDSU, he’s compiled a 40-5 record, including two national championships and two FBS wins.
Minnesota’s initial preference for its next head coach is Western Michigan’s PJ Fleck. Fleck just wrapped his season Monday at the Cotton Bowl, where the Broncos lost to Wisconsin. Fleck is the hot name in college football, but was passed over for jobs at Oregon and Houston. Fleck’s base salary is 816,000 dollars which ranks 79th in the FBS, according to USA Today’s salary database. Fleck won just one game in 2013, but steadily turned the Broncos into the top team in the MAC, finishing with 13 wins this season.
The other name that should be a frontrunner is Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin. Harsin was hired at Boise by Coyle. Harsin replaced Chris Petersen and has posted a 31-9 record with the Broncos in his three seasons as head coach. Harsin’s base salary is 1.3 million, which ranks 69th in the same USA Today database (Ironically, Minnesota and Tracy Claeys’ salary was just above Harsin at 1.4 million).
I believe Klieman is a long shot for this job. His detractors will say he doesn’t have any FBS experience and has only been a head coach for three years. When stacked up against the two guys mentioned in this blog, he trails both of them, Fleck and Harsin have been head coaches for four years, and both had experience at the FBS level before being hired at Group of Five schools. The high profile boosters may have a hard time accepting a coach from the FCS level to take over the Gopher football program.
On the other hand, the list of positives is impressive for Klieman. As mentioned before, he’s won two national titles, with a trip to the semifinals in the other year. He’s beaten two FBS teams, including Iowa, which surely had to grab the attention of Coyle. He played a key role in developing the number two overall pick in last year’s draft in Carson Wentz. He also is a defensive coach, which should be appealing to the Gophers, playing in a division in the Big Ten where a strong defensive team could take you to the top of the West Division standings.
Klieman signed a contract extension in April that runs thru the 2021 season. If he were to leave NDSU before January 15th, he would have to pay the school his base salary of 300,000 dollars. But after the 15th, it drops in half to 150,000 dollars. I don’t think the Gophers are going to wait that long to make a decision on hiring a new coach, but that number bears watching as well.
It’s a story we’ll be following with a close eye. What do you think? Is Klieman a good fit for the Gophers? Would Minnesota go the route of hiring an FCS coach?