Craig Bohl has coached at three different jobs over the last 22 seasons and counting. He bounced around as every coach does in establishing his career, but in 1995 Bohl returned to his alma mater to coach linebackers under his mentor, Tom Osborne. He remained on staff through the transition to Frank Solich, and was promoted to defensive coordinator in 2000-02.
He left to take over at North Dakota State in 2003, where he turned the Bison into the greatest dynasty in college football at that time, leaving the program winning the first three of an eventual five consecutive national championships. After years of speculation, Bohl finally jumped to the FBS in 2014, taking the Wyoming job and leading the Cowboys from 2-10 in 2015 to a Mountain West championship game appearance last fall. That success led him to sign a contract extension through 2023, when he'll be 65 years old. There's a greater than zero chance the Wyoming job is the last one Bohl ever has.
This makes Bohl an extreme outlier in his profession, a coach good enough to keep his jobs and content enough to stay. It also means those jobs have come in Lincoln, Neb., in Fargo, N.D., and in Laramie, Wyo. Each of those cities is (presumably) a wonderful community, but none are exactly retirement hotbeds. There's a reason Jerry Seinfeld's parents picked Del Boca Vista, after all.
To build a fruitful career at a place where fruit doesn't grow, Bohl says the first step is being realistic about your location and your ability to fit the idea of the program you have in your mind with reality. "Your head coach's vision must align with the culture of the university," Bohl told a gathering of thousands of coaches at the AFCA Convention earlier this month. "Your program should reflect your state, your region, or your area.
"Your location will not change," he said. "Know who you are. Don't use it as a crutch."
Bohl said the key to combating a geographic or image disadvantage lies in evaluation. While serving as linebackers coach under head coach Don Morton at Tulsa in the mid-1980's, Bohl said Morton told his assistants, "When you walk in that high school, you're all equal. Your talent to evaluate is as good as those guys." Another key: learning when to take no for an answer. A prolonged, persistent sales pitch might make for a successful Singing Day, but that temporary buzz will turn into a slow burn for player and coach in the long run. "Coach Osborne once told me, 'All the guys I have to convince to come here never end up playing.'"
To build a successful program, Bohl said the key was defining a clear vision and winning key stakeholders. "You cannot seize what you want unless you see it first," he said. "There's got to be conviction, and you have to see it as a leader. If you can't fit your big idea on the back of an envelope, you don't have a very good idea.
"The sooner you're able to identify what resonates with your university and state, the more resources you will garner."
There's no greater resource on Bohl's side than former Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal. "When the Cowboys win," the governor told the coach, "this state is happy."
Freudenthal gave Bohl a quote about winning over Wyoming residents that works both inside and outside the program: "To lead them, you've got to know them." In addition to getting to know people around the state, Bohl also goes to great effort to spend one-on-one time with every recruit and his family. He visits the home of every Cowboy recruit, even if the visit has to come after Signing Day.
Another step Bohl took when arriving in Laramie was to speak to former players and coaches that won at Wyoming.
When all that work is done, when the residents, the students, the players, the parents, the alums, the former coaches and the governor are on your side, Bohl's final tip for building a winner: consistency. "Maintain offensive and defensive schemes long enough to create a book of experience that is greater than your opponent's."