Klieman Mum About Dismissals, Getting Rumor Mill Going

Chris Klieman did what football coaches do. More, actually. He opened his Monday press conference by volunteering information that three backup players were kicked off the North Dakota State football team and a fourth backup was suspended for one game. And then he wouldn’t talk about it anymore.

Some football coaches, perhaps many, would not have offered such information about player dismissals without being asked about it. It’s good he did, probably, from a coaching perspective. Get out in front of the story and move on.

Klieman let it be known freshman quarterback Henry Van Dellen, senior safety Darren Kelley and freshman receiver Sean Engel were removed from the team. He also said junior receiver Dallas Freeman will be suspended for the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoff game against San Diego at the Fargodome on Saturday.

Then Klieman did what every other football coach does when they don’t want to be asked questions about team discipline issues. He said, “I’m not going to get into any reason other than a violation of team rules.”

A couple of reporters, including me, asked Klieman for more details on the dismissal and suspension. Specifically, I asked whether he could narrow down the reason for the dismissals into a category like “academics” or something else and he responded by saying, “I said we’re not going to talk about it.” KVRR-TV reporter Keith Albertson followed up by asking whether the dismissals and the suspension were related and a slightly agitated Klieman responded by saying, “I said we’re not going to talk about it.”

Former Bison coach Craig Bohl told Forum sports editor Kevin Schnepf in 2013 to “park those questions” because Schnepf kept asking about Bohl leaving NDSU for a job at Wyoming. This was Klieman’s “park it” moment. It was clear he wasn’t going to offer any further information.

The Forum’s Jeff Kolpack, the Bison beat reporter, contacted the Fargo and NDSU police departments and both said they have no record of any of the players being subject to arrest. A school administration spokesman had no additional information, according to Kolpack. We continue to try to get information from other sources.

Klieman’s approach is common for college coaches. Handle a team discipline issue, acknowledge that it occurred (often because they know they’ll be asked about it when players are noticed to be missing on game days) and then stonewall. There is a mixture of reasons why they refuse to provide more information.

No. 1 might be that it involves a drug test (or something else medical) that might be deemed private information.

Or coaches might be shielding the players from being embarrassed by something stupid or silly (but not illegal) they did. If it’s an academic issue, the coach might not believe it’s appropriate to talk about a student’s classroom work in public if it is not measuring up. Fair enough.

There is also the more cynical possibility, of course, that the players did something involving an activity that’s against the law but not considered a “serious” violation — getting caught smoking marijuana or drinking underage, for example — and a coach doesn’t want that information made public for obvious reasons.

Or, it might be a much more simple and macho reason like: “Screw you. What happens on this team stays on this team and we’re circling the wagons because we have a football game to win.”

There’s probably something everybody can agree on: Whatever the players did must have been pretty serious to get booted.

There is a downside to this vague approach, even if the coach is simply doing what he has to do or has the best intentions in mind.

In today’s world, the rumor mill begins churning the moment a player is dismissed or suspended. There is Twitter, Facebook (and comments), Snapchat, fan message boards, texting, e-mails, blogs, talk-radio and likely a dozen other platforms this old traditional media guy doesn’t know about. This story is already generating some speculating and rumoring — although not as much as if the dismissed players were starters.

And that’s why I tried to get Klieman to narrow down the reasons for the dismissals — to perhaps clarify a little bit. It might have given insight into his reasoning. James Madison coach Mike Houston did that last year to stop rumors about some of his players being in trouble with the law or using performande-enhancing drugs. If Klieman was willing to say “academics” or “missed meetings” it would have, if nothing else, eliminated some possibilities. Albertson’s question was good, too. Freeman is being lumped in with three players who were kicked off the team when there is a chance his suspension is a stand-alone penalty. Then again, there’s a chance Freeman is lumped in with them. We just don’t know because Klieman was so evasive.

Klieman is doing what he deems best for his program and it’s hard to argue with his resume. By the time Saturday rolls around, the focus will be on whether the Bison will beat San Diego. In the meantime, rumors and speculation will be rampant about what the Bison players did to get kicked off the team. That’s the downside of the head coach not offering information about his decision, whether he’s doing it purely by choice or because there is a bigger picture about which to think.