by Marci Narum | Submitted Photos
While the Friday night lights stay off for a few more months, college football coaches have been ardently recruiting players for the 2018 season. NDSU Bison head coach Chris Klieman leads a defending NCAA Division I championship team. But that’s not his focus, nor will it be when the season begins. He concentrates solely on the players he’s considering for the Bison team—their performance, statistics, and attitudes. And even when Chris sees what he’s looking for in a player, he might ask the young man to do something unexpected: call Mom.
“When I go to a school, I visit with the head coach, the guidance counselor, the principal, all that leg work. But without question, if somebody doesn’t respect their parents, they aren’t going to be a fit here. If they aren’t respectful to their mom, it isn’t going to work. I couldn’t put up with it; all of our coaches couldn’t handle it. It would be a deal-breaker, without question.”
The answer to why Chris is uncompromising on this: 78-year-old Mary Kay Klieman.
“I have a special relationship with my mom. I always laugh because I’m 50 years old, but I’m still her baby,” Chris says proudly.
Chris is the youngest of three children. He has a sister, Sarah, and a brother, Scott. His parents, Mary Kay and Bob—married 57 years—still live in Waterloo, Iowa, where they raised their family. His mom was a preschool teacher for 28 years.
“It was wonderful. I loved every minute of it,” Mary Kay says, remembering her time as a teacher. “My hours were the same as my kids, and my vacations were the same as my kids’. It just worked out very nicely.
“Bob was a high school football coach and biology teacher, so Chris just grew up in a teacher-oriented family,” Mary Kay shares. “Both Scott and Chris played football. They grew up with their dad teaching and coaching.”
When Bob left teaching, he took a job selling sporting goods.
“He got to all my events, but he was on the road a lot, Monday through Friday. Between my mother and my grandma—her mom—boy, we spent a ton of time together. I’ve had phenomenal relationships with my grandma and my mother because I was around those two.”
“In fact,” Mary Kay adds, “when Chris was in college, Mother owned a duplex and he lived in the other half for a while and helped her, doing all the errands. He mowed the lawn when he wasn’t involved in football.”
Chris says his parents attend most Bison football games. And since Chris joined the Bison coaching team, Mary Kay and Bob have been to every national championship game the Bison have played in Frisco, Texas.
“I’ll tell you, I remember the very first game in the national championship, and it was his first endeavor. I was a nervous wreck,” Mary Kay recalls. “Half the time, I had to walk behind the stands, I was so nervous. But I’ve gotten calmer. I know he’ll be fine whichever way it goes.”
Mary Kay says she is proud to see her son at the top of his career.
“To have him called up and stand with that trophy, all his boys around him, and we’re taking pictures; we’ve cried many tears of complete happiness and joy.
“And he can feel good about himself because of the way he accomplished it, never being mean or hurtful to anybody.”
A consistent rule in the Klieman family was the golden rule; it has been a lifelong guiding principle for Chris.
“Treat people right. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Treat people with respect,” Chris says.
“I always taught them, ‘You have to remember everybody’s a human being and has feelings, and you treat people the way you want to be treated,’’ Mary Kay recalls.
That golden rule will be in mind as Chris begins training each Bison recruit before the lights are turned on again for the season.
“He’s leaving his home, and mom and dad have to feel comfortable—especially mom has to feel comfortable that I’m going to take care of their son as I would my own,” Chris shares.
“It’s been so gratifying to me that he’s done so very well, and I’m just so proud of the way he’s done it,” Mary Kay adds. “He does it with humility and wanting to be a part of those boys’ lives; giving them something they can always remember—and doing it with goodness.”