FARGO, N.D. — Veteran players on North Dakota State's football team say news that coach Craig Bohl would be leaving for Wyoming after the playoffs was harder on their younger teammates who haven't grasped the commercial aspect of college athletics.
Bison captains Cole Jirek and Grant Olson said Tuesday that many players, particularly the underclassmen, were stunned when they first heard that Bohl would take over the Cowboys, but have accepted the reality of the coach's move to a higher level of NCAA football.
"It's a lot easier being a senior to understand what's going on," Jirek said. "When you're a freshman you don't understand, football's a business. It's college football, it's all about money. We think it's about us as the player, but really it's about the bottom dollar."
Bohl will be guaranteed $750,000 in the first year of his five-year contract with Wyoming. His pay will increase each year to $950,000 in the final year. With various incentives, he could earn more than $1 million a year.
Olson said Bohl's announcement to the players Sunday morning was greeted with a wide range of emotions, from "mad, upset, hurt, shocked and anything in between." After players had "a little bit of time to settle down," Olson said, they realized it's best to pick up the conversation after NDSU's quest for a third straight Football Championship Subdivision title.
"We'll worry about it whenever the season is over. Hopefully that's in January," Olson said, referring to the FCS championship game in Frisco, Texas, on Jan. 4.
Gene Taylor, the NDSU athletic director, met with Jirek, Olson and the other four captains about the choice to keep the coaching staff in place for the playoff run.
Olson said it was "absolutely the best decision." Jirek said captains told the players to get on board or get out.
"If you're not 100 percent bought in to the coaching staff and everything we've got going right now, you're not part of this team," Jirek said about the captains' message.
Players have used different words to sum up the abruptness of the revelation that came midway through the playoffs. Jirek called it surreal. Wide receiver Zach Vraa called it shocking. Running back John Crockett called it hectic.
"We've never had to deal with a distraction like this, but at the same time we know how to take care of business," Crockett said. "You can't let this come between your game."
Vraa said it was business as usual when the Bison (12-0) took the practice field Monday to begin preparations for Saturday's quarterfinal playoff game against Coastal Carolina (12-2).
"It was very positive. Everybody came out ready to practice," he said. "Everybody was in a good mood."
Crockett said he was grateful that Bohl gave him an opportunity to play after he was forced to sit out two years because of academic issues. The junior running back from Minneapolis, who's poised to go over 1,000 yards rushing this weekend, said Bohl took a chance on him when no one else would.
"Coach Bohl, I love him so much, man. He's an unbelievable person. He's someone for the rest of my life I will have deep inside my heart," Crockett said. "He believed in me. He saw the potential of the man I can be. I can never repay a guy like that."
Bohl, 55, has a 101-32 record in 11 seasons with NDSU. He led the team through its transition from NCAA Division II to Division I football. The Bison, who won eight titles at the Division II level, are looking to match Appalachian State's string of three straight FBS crowns from 2005-2007.
"NDSU was fortunate to have him as long as it did. We'll find a new coach," Jirek said. "This program has won a lot of national championships with different coaches and I don't think it will change with the coach."