NDSU's Messingham to face his old team from Montana State
BOZEMAN, Mont. — Courtney Messingham knew he would accept if he was ever offered. His friendship with Chris Klieman went back to childhood, and this was a chance he couldn’t pass up.
In February 2017, Klieman — the North Dakota State head football coach – needed to fill his offensive coordinator position after Tim Polasek left for the same role at Iowa.
So right away, Klieman knew who he would call.
“It all happened fairly quick,” Messingham said. “That’s kind of how the coaching profession works. … From a football professional standpoint and then the relationship that I had with Coach Klieman, it was just something I knew I was going to do.”
Messingham served as Montana State’s offensive coordinator in 2016 and will face his former team when the No. 1 Bison host Montana State in the second round of the FCS playoffs Saturday. NDSU ranks seventh in the country with 41.2 points per game and has gone 25-1 in two seasons with Messingham running the offense.
That’s largely because Messingham stepped into a program that already established how to win and sustain success. The Bison have won six of the last seven national titles and won 108 of their last 116 games.
“When you’re sitting in a meeting and a junior or senior looks at somebody and says, ‘Hey, that’s not good enough.’ It’s not the coach saying it. It’s players saying it,” Messingham said. “That’s holding each other to a very high standard and making each other accountable to each other. That’s probably the biggest thing I see that’s different than most places I’ve been.”
Messingham has known Klieman since the two played Little League Baseball together in fifth and sixth grade in Waterloo, Iowa. They played college football together at Northern Iowa and both coached at Missouri State in 1999.
NDSU defensive coordinator Matt Entz, another Waterloo native, has also known Messingham since Entz was in sixth grade. The trio has enjoyed their time together and plans to extend its season another few weeks.
“It’s been a great deal. It’s been a lot of fun,” Messingham said. “Obviously, when you’re having success, it’s fun. … Being from the same hometown all having known each other going back to when we were growing up, that part has really been fun and something that doesn’t happen every day.”
Prior to joining the Bobcats, Messingham coached at Indiana and Iowa State. When Jeff Choate formed the coaching staff in his first season as Montana States’s head coach, Messingham sensed the program would eventually turn around. He believed in Choate’s vision and ability to motivate players.
The Bobcats went 4-7 that year and changed quarterbacks midway through the season from transfer Tyler Bruggman to freshman Chris Murray. Still, Montana State averaged 25.6 points per game.
“He kind of had the last laugh on that,” Choate said. “I think a lot of people around here didn’t think he knew what he was doing. Evidently, he knows what he’s doing.”
Now, the two coaches will have the chance to square off as the Bobcats have reached the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2012.
While NDSU has continued to rely on a bruising run game to wear opponents down, Choate said he can recognize some elements of the Bison offense such as play-action passes and runs out of shotgun formation that Messingham also implemented with the Bobcats.
Throughout the week, defensive coaches have been picking Messingham’s brain about Montana State’s offensive personnel, Klieman said.
When the bracket was revealed, Messingham said a matchup with Montana State wasn’t his preference. But it allows him the chance to catch up with those he’s familiar with and measure his new team against his old one.
“It’ll be good to see the old mustache before the game,” Choate said.