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Joe Menzer | | January 3, 2014

Menzer: Finishing what he started

FRISCO, Texas -- When the announcement came Dec. 8 that Coach Craig Bohl would be leaving North Dakota State to become head coach at Wyoming, there was some initial confusion about whether or not Bohl would finish out the season at his old job before moving onto his new one.

And as it turned out, the decision was not entirely up to Bohl.

Looking back on it now, Bison senior running back Sam Ojuri said he credits the school’s director of athletics, Gene Taylor, for handling the situation perfectly.

“The way that he handled it, it was first-class,” Ojuri said. “A lot of people found out through social media that our coach was leaving. The next morning, it was the whole team in a room with just Gene Taylor. He let us voice our opinions, and as a team we were able to vote. Did we want [Bohl] to stay [through the postseason]? Or did we want to let him go?

“We all collectively came to the agreement that this is the 2013 Bison. Our goal needs to be achieved. So basically we want to keep him as long as possible.”

So the players voted to have Bohl coach them through the NCAA Division I Football Championship Series playoffs, and he agreed to attempt to complete North Dakota State’s run at a third consecutive FCS national championship and a prominent place in college football history. If the 14-0, top-ranked Bison defeat Towson (13-2) at 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Toyota Stadium, they will become only the second team in FCS-level history to win three consecutive national titles. (Appalachian State also did it when it was known as Division-IAA).

Bohl appreciates being along to help guide the ride. After announcing he would be departing for Wyoming, North Dakota State went on to defeat Coastal Carolina 48-14 in the quarterfinals of the playoffs before trouncing New Hampshire 52-14 in the semifinals.

“This is certainly a unique group of student-athletes that I’ve had the privilege to coach in the last 11 years,” said Bohl, who enters this latest national title tilt with a career record of 103-32 at NDSU. “What this group and our coaches have been able to do all along and particularly during this playoff stretch is be focused on the mission at hand.

“This is about the 2013 season. … There is a galvanized laser-like focus.”

Some of the players admitted to having mixed feelings about Bohl accepting the Wyoming position in the midst of their latest playoff run. But they said they got over it quickly, focusing on the common goal of winning that third consecutive championship and extending a winning streak that has now stretched for 24 games.

Freshman defensive end Brad Ambrosius, for instance, said he initially wasn’t sure how to process the fact that Bohl would soon be leaving. He added that it helped when Taylor stepped in again to name current defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Chris Klieman the new head coach, beginning next season.

“Being a freshman, I kind of look toward the future. So it was emotional for me. I was like, ‘What am I going to do now?’ This is the coach who recruited me and I thought I would be playing for him all four years,” Ambrosius said. “But we kind of got over that hump and now that we know Coach Klieman is coming in as head coach, I think everybody is doing fine.

“There really isn’t a right way or a right time during a season to announce something like that. But the way he handled it, he had to tell us sooner or later. He’s doing a good thing for himself and his family, and I have no problem with that.”

Then there are the seniors on the team. They aren’t as worried about the future. But they were worried about the present.

“To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter as much to me. No matter what, I’m going to be done playing,” senior linebacker Grant Olson said. “For the guys who are going to be back here, though, obviously it matters a whole lot. So I think it’s a little bit harder for them. They’re still thinking, ‘Well, who’s going to be my position coach next year?’ A lot of them don’t know, so that can be a little nerve-wracking.

“A lot of us don’t necessarily like change. The program has been basically the same for so long. So it’s going to be a new and exciting challenge, but I think you’re going to see some new and positive changes to keep the program rolling.”

In the meantime, Olson said Bohl has gone about the business of coaching the team just as he always has.

“Coach has just been coach. It definitely hasn’t been easy for him,” Olson said. “You can tell when he’s emotional, and I know when he made the announcement that he was about as emotional as I had ever seen him. This has been a good run for him, as it has been for all of us. But I don’t think there has ever been any question that he’s 100-percent committed to this.”

Ambrosius added, “I’m really glad he’s sticking with us. This is what he started. This is his team, and he deserves to be here.”

Ojuri admitted it is an unusual situation that appears to have been handled with uncommon grace all the way around. And he said that he is certain that the players, the director of athletics and Bohl himself all came to the proper common ground in the end.

“He’s meant so much to this program. As for this year, for Coach Bohl and all the seniors, we all want to leave here with a good taste in our mouths. We want to leave here winners,” Ojuri said.

“A lot of new coaches just leave and go start recruiting for their new team. I think it says a lot for Coach Bohl that he wanted to stay behind and finish what he started here first.”

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