Philadelphia, PA – Craig Bohl was a young football coach on the University of Nebraska staff when the calls would come in.
The caller would ask about the Huskers' program and ways to implement some of their ideas within his team.
And then the visit came. More questions, lots of film study, sideline time at practice. And, yes, the presence of greatness.
The visitor left an indelible impression on Bohl. He was Eddie Robinson.
"He's a pillar in coaching and made such a difference in our country," Bohl said. "One thing that I always appreciated about college athletics, in particular football, is that it has traversed all the racial lines. And here's somebody who was an outstanding football coach, but a better person. And I was impressed as a young coach. He had such a legacy and he was taking the time to constantly hone his skills as far as X's and O's, (and) he was asking pinpointed questions about what we were doing at the University of Nebraska at the time. Then when he came on a visit, he was very humble and just a real student of the game. You could tell by his presence and how he operated that he was truly a giant."
Thirty years later, Bohl doesn't just carry some of the principles of the winningest coach in Division I history, the North Dakota State University mentor is the 2012 Eddie Robinson Award recipient. The 26th annual award honors the coach of the year in the Football Championship Subdivision, where Robinson enjoyed his legendary career.
Bohl, 54, is doing quite well in building his legacy at NDSU. His Bison won the FCS national championship last season, and after losing a dominant senior class, he's kept the team on an elite level this year. In the regular season, NDSU posted a 10-1 record, won an outright Missouri Valley Football Conference title and was ranked No. 1 for nine weeks.
The Bison (13-1) have since won three playoff games and are returning to the FCS national championship game on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas, hoping to defend their title against Sam Houston State.
"What has occurred now is you get your best shot from everybody," Bohl said. "Every Saturday, people recognize that you're a program that has won a championship.
"We're fortunate, I think we've got some pretty good athletes within our program. We're certainly not as experienced this year as what we were last year. What we've tried to do is just really rely on a lot of the legacy that the seniors have left before."
NDSU has a rich football tradition, with nine national championships. After Bohl left Nebraska, his alma mater, and his mentor, Tom Osborne, in 2002, he took over the Bison program for its final season in NCAA Division II. He has been the Bison's only coach on the FCS level, nine of his 10 teams have had winning records and four have won at least 10 games.
Bohl credits the work of his assistant coaches. Perhaps they follow Bohl in his belief of what's rewarding about coaching.
"When you can see a young man who comes into your program and you have a great impact on developing character," Bohl said, "and he leaves as a man with a college degree, hopefully learns a whole lot more about life and along the way wins some football games."