FARGO — It’s 450 miles from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Fargo, a distance that has become quite popular with North Dakota State football coaches in recent history. When the Bison hired David Braun away from Northern Iowa as the defensive coordinator in January, it marked the third time NDSU has plucked an assistant coach with ties to its Missouri Valley Football Conference rival.
It’s been a quick transition for the Braun family. Last week, he came home from work one night and his two boys each presented him with a painting: one a “horns up” depiction and the other a bison.
“Those are things that will be hanging in my office,” Braun said.
The UNI-to-NDSU office switch started in 2011 when former NDSU head coach Craig Bohl hired Chris Klieman, who was not only a UNI assistant coach for nine years but a former Panther all-conference player as well.
One of Klieman’s first moves when he was named the Bison head coach in 2014 was hiring Matt Entz as the defensive coordinator. Entz wasn’t a direct Panthers hire, having spent 2013 at Western Illinois, but was at Northern Iowa the three previous years. He and Klieman coached on the same UNI staff in 2010.
Now comes Braun, who was at UNI the past two seasons.
Like Klieman did several years ago, he noticed the NDSU buzz when the Bison traveled to the UNI-Dome last fall. NDSU routinely has a fan base that travels better than any other program in the Missouri Valley and it was evident in the 56-31 victory in October.
“To be frank, that’s something to see that much green and gold in the stands at your home stadium,” Braun said. “That’s something that I think speak to you as a player and a coach and also speaks to what this community and the support that the fans provide to this program and NDSU. It’s impressive.”
It appears NDSU pays its assistants more than UNI, which could be one reason coaches have made the move. Klieman used words like “personal growth” and “potential” when he took the Bison job.
It was also no secret he and UNI head coach Mark Farley didn’t see eye to eye, although Klieman either declined comment or never addressed that issue publicly.
With only two years at UNI, Braun never got entrenched with the program. Unlike Klieman who made a lateral move in job title to Fargo, Braun was promoted from outside linebackers coach to calling the shots as the Bison coordinator.
Three weeks ago, he was prepping for NDSU spring football by watching video tape and analyzing game plans how opposing teams attacked the Bison.
“I’m in my comfort zone,” Braun said.
But since practice started on March 27, it’s been a whirlwind. The entire playbook has been in play.
“And there are conversations of back in 2013 that ‘this is how we did it,’ those are things for me from a growth standpoint that have been a challenge,” Braun said. “But you embrace those challenges and you start to understand why we’ve played the level of defense that we have here over the years.”
The level of defense came under the philosophical umbrella known as the Tampa 2. It’s evolved over the years, but the basics remain. Four down linemen. Three linebackers. Two safeties and two cornerbacks.
Braun said he’s relied on holdover Bison assistants like defensive line coach Nick Goeser, defensive ends coach Buddah Williams, cornerbacks coach Kody Morgan and former Bison linebacker Grant Olson, who is in his first year of coaching that position group full-time at NDSU.
“Those guys have been here, done it and each day is a learning experience for me,” Braun said. “I feel like we’re progressing. We still have a lot of work left to do but we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
It also helps the Bison have veteran, knowledgeable players like senior safety James Hendricks and linebackers Jabril Cox and Jackson Hankey. All three have been cited by coaches for their grasp of the defense.
Braun’s connection to NDSU goes back to his days at Winona State, where he was a graduate assistant in 2008 and 2009 when Entz was the defensive coordinator for the Warriors. Braun returned to Winona in 2011 and was the co-defensive coordinator for four years.
He spent 2015 and 2016 as the defensive line coach at UC Davis. Then came his first taste of the Missouri Valley Football Conference at Northern Iowa.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for UNI and a tremendous amount of respect for what the Missouri Valley Football Conference stands for,” Braun said. “To have an opportunity to do it here at North Dakota State and compete in this conference is something I certainly don’t take for granted.”