North Dakota State has a second change on its football coaching staff this offseason. Offensive coordinator Tim Polasek is leaving Fargo and heading to the University of Iowa to likely become the school’s running backs coach.
Polasek’s journey to Fargo has been well told, starting as a graduate assistant in 2006 to becoming a beloved assistant on the early D-1 teams, so much so that players created their own hashtag when Polasek first left NDSU in February 2013 to become an assistant coach at Northern Illinois.
Polasek returned to Fargo in January 2014 as Chris Klieman’s first hire when Klieman took over as head coach. He was the man calling the shots for Carson Wentz in the title games in 2014 and 2015 and in the booth at Kinnick Stadium as the Bison ran all over the Hawkeyes last September. His enthusiasm is unmistakable, and the affection he has for his players and what they have for him is also hard to miss. Polasek had his struggles, the season opener at Montana in 2015, notably the 4th quarter in that game. But he developed into being what I thought was a great play-caller, knowing exactly when to seize an opportunities in games. Many will remember the 2014 national semifinal against Sam Houston, when after seeing how much success NDSU was having running the ball, Polasek continued to call for “power”. His ability to see Chase Morlock as a pass catching weapon out of the backfield, something that really developed over the last two seasons with the “wheel route”.
So who will fill this job? Is it an internal candidate?
Randy Hedberg – This is the most obvious candidate to me. Hedberg has play calling experience before, from stops at Central Missouri, UND and Southern Illinois. Klieman called Hedberg the “best quarterback coach” in the nation, and Hedberg has groomed some good ones, Kolpack and I both believe the biggest reason for Wentz’s ascension in the NFL Draft was Hedberg’s experience. This would be the top candidate in my opinion.
Tyler Roehl – Roehl has been on staff for the past three years, he does some play calling experience from his one year at Concordia as the JV offensive coordinator, but one would wonder how much experience he has got at NDSU. He has a great relationship with the running backs and tight ends, which obviously is a huge advantage in this offense. I don’t believe Roehl has the necessary experience to be the guy at OC.
Conor Riley – Riley has all the knowledge you need or want of the offensive line. That has been his specialty since starting his coaching career at Nebraska-Omaha, then Sacaramento State, then Fargo. He has developed some impressive talents up front, starting with Joe Haeg, now Zack Johnson and with the up and comers on the O-line, it’s hard to miss what he has done. The biggest strike against Riley would be his lack of play calling experience.
Atif Austin – Austin has offensive coordinator experience from his days at his alma mater in Tampa for two years, before he returned to the college game. He has had offers to go to other programs over the past couple of years, but has stayed in Fargo, which has benefitted the Bison, namely in recruiting in the state of Florida. His relationship with the wide receivers would be hard to mess with if he were to change positions, I also don’t see him doing both jobs.
That’s the internal candidates for NDSU. Nothing to say that Klieman may go outside and find the next offensive coordinator. The Bison have promoted basically from within on this job since Pat Perles took over the play calling duties in 2005, then Brent Vigen in 2009 to Polasek in 2014. The Bison offense may be a simplistic one to fans and opponents, but finding the right coach with the grasp of the West Coast offense is a major hire.