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DIVISION I FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP: EASTERN WASHINGTON VS NORTH DAKOTA STATE

January 4, 2019

Chris Klieman Easton Stick Greg Menard Robbie Grimsley

Frisco, Texas

COACH KLIEMAN: Good afternoon. Thanks everybody for coming out. We're excited to be back in Frisco again for the 2018 season. We talked earlier in the season about some of our goals of simple things, of winning every day and attacking every opportunity. And one of the goals we had was to win the Missouri Valley Conference championship. And if we were able to do that it would set ourselves up for potentially a good run in the playoffs if we could get some home games.

And this group of seniors -- we have 24 seniors that have really raised the bar, dominated the standard on a daily basis and held each other accountable. We haven't had any bad practices. We've been fortunate. We haven't played poor football games. And it's a credit to these guys and the other 21 seniors that they challenge each other and they challenge us as coaches every day. That's a special thing that this group has had. And it's what makes this season such a special ride.

So we're thrilled to be back here. We're glad the sun is shining. We're going to get a quick walk-through outside today on the field and then lock into the final details of our meetings tonight and be ready to tee it up tomorrow morning against an exceptional Eastern Washington team that we have a ton of respect for, their program and how they play the game. We're excited to be here.

Q. Easton, have you made a decision on the Walter Payton ceremony for tonight?
EASTON STICK: Obviously incredibly honored to be a finalist for that award. Understand that that's an awesome opportunity for our team and great recognition for our team. But my focus is the team and none of that stuff would be possible without the guys in that locker room.

So it's just a bad timing that I'm not going to be able to make it tonight. It's a later ceremony. With the 11.00 a.m. kickoff my focus needs to be on this group right here. I appreciate having their support and all that.

Q. Greg, can you talk a little bit about how having been here as many times as you've been here, maybe not an advantage but something that just you guys get into a routine and understand what Thursday's like, what Friday's like and obviously what you have in store for you tomorrow?
GREG MENARD: I think it is an advantage definitely being able to have the routine, know where we've got to go as a group. And I think just everything that you don't really think about until you come here, we've thought about it because we've been here before. So it really does help us out, just smooth things out on the schedule and makes us ready to go.

Q. Easton, the practice today, what do you look forward to? I know the quarterbacks from past like to take a photo.
EASTON STICK: This is an awesome tradition that we've been able to develop and take part in. It's definitely one of the top memories that I think I've had and these guys have had coming down here and seeing 200, 300 former Bison football players and just getting a chance to talk and tell stories and hear about their experiences.

And we talk all the time about how awesome the former players have been to us and our program. And they've laid the foundation for what's happening right now. And so we're thankful for them and we'll enjoy some time together.

Q. Greg, Robbie, Easton -- Greg, I'll ask you first, is it going to be strange knowing this is the last walk-through, this is the last practice, I guess, for you guys as Bison?
GREG MENARD: Yeah, it is kind of crazy. It's kind of funny, last year I started saying, oh, this is my last time doing patterns with Coach Kramer and stuff and ended up that wasn't the last time. I usually try to stay away from stuff like that.

But I do know now this is my last game and this is our last walk-through no matter what happens. So it really is kind of a bittersweet feeling. You don't really know how you're going to feel until you kind of get out there on that field. And I'm just really excited to experience that.

Q. Easton, how much has Coach done for you specifically for this program as a whole in terms of getting this program to the point where it's obviously a consistent basis for you guys being here, but not taking it for granted, not knowing you're just going to come in here and roll over whoever is on the other sideline from you guys?
EASTON STICK: Yeah, this program has been successful for a really long time, for decades. And it will continue to be that way. Just because of the type of people involved and the community support that we get. It's really second to none. But I think Coach has come in and taken the program and helped advance it to a new level. And I think that's the goal of whoever is leading the program.

And I think he's done an unbelievable job as far as challenging us, as 18-year-old kids, when we signed on the line and all the way up to now as a fifth-year seniors, challenging us as football players, but I think more importantly, challenging us as men. We see how he lives his life every day and the type of people that he associates himself with, how he is around his family, and so we've got great role models to look up to and strive to be like. And Coach definitely is one of them.

So we're thankful for everything that he's done, but at the end of the day, and he'll say it too, it's our program. It's not an individual's program. And so this place is special. And it will continue to be that way.

Q. Easton, alumni quarterbacks, did you hear from Carson this week?
EASTON STICK: I talked to Carson a little bit earlier today. Obviously they've got a lot going on. I think they're flying out to Chicago here probably within the next day or so for a big playoff game. But he's been obviously a really good friend to me since I stepped on campus here and has played a big role in our program's success and my success. And so he's continued to be a really good friend.

Q. Robbie, your coach has told us again how many times it mattered to him to stay back with all the seniors who have been here with him for so long. How important was it to you guys and how meaningful is it that he's done that with you?
ROBBIE GRIMSLEY: It's huge. I think that's what everyone on our team wanted. We all kind of came together, and we thought that was best for the team. And everyone -- everyone wants to play for all the coaches that are heading out there. We love these guys, and we know they love us and they've given their heart and soul for the program and that's what we do for them. And I don't think anyone would have it any other way.

Q. Greg, has the opportunity to play against Trey and Christian and to play against Easton in practice, whoever happens to be the scout QB, those type of kids with mobility, prepared you to deal with Barriere?
GREG MENARD: Yeah, I think we've been fortunate in this playoff run, played a lot of mobile quarterbacks, given us a look. I think Eric's a really good player and he does a lot of things running the ball that are a little bit different than the teams we played in the past. But he can throw the ball as we saw last game against Maine. So we've got to make sure we're on point.

Q. I know it's not easy or can't be easy to hear that your coach is leaving for a different job. When he did break that news to you guys, how did you take it and what was your reaction to hearing things, coaching both places?
EASTON STICK: I think the first thing is he was incredibly transparent and honest about the whole thing. So when I think the initial rumor started that everyone saw, probably a week or maybe even two before he got the job, he addressed it in front of the whole team and said what he needed to say and was honest with us and continued that throughout the process.

And so honestly when we learned he was going to receive that opportunity, genuine excitement, honestly. And we were happy for him, excited for him, because it's an opportunity that we think he deserves and has absolutely earned.

So, yeah, shoot, we were disappointed to see him leave because we love him. But at the same time we were excited for him and know he's going to do great things.

GREG MENARD: I think what Easton said, the first reaction was, oh, man, this sucks, we're losing our coach. But it's a little easier as a senior knowing that I don't really have to deal with the transition, selfishly. (Laughter).

But I think what Easton said, the transparency, the whole way through Coach Klieman and Matt Larsen, all those young guys really reassured we're going to keep the program going the right direction. It helped those guys out a lot.

Kind of after it all settled down, after the first couple of minutes, the shock factor, everyone was really happy for him. It doesn't happen very often going from an FCS school to a Power 5 school. So everyone was really happy for Coach.

ROBBIE GRIMSLEY: I think a big thing, too, for the younger guys, obviously there's uncertainty when you're younger guys and you remain in the program. But just having Coach Entz stay and be hired as the head coach was huge. Excited for him. Excited for Coach. We knew he was the right man for the job, and I think everyone is kind of feeling good about that and they're happy for all the coaches, just like they said.

They feel for him and they know how great of an opportunity it was to get that and I think it was right.

Q. Easton, Eastern Washington for almost the last decade, two top teams in FCS you have paid attention to them outside of game week. Do you notice what they've been doing?
EASTON STICK: I think the biggest thing we just recognize that's a really good program. And like you said, have been one of the top programs in our division for a long time before we were part of this program and so obviously they've got a really good culture similar to us.

And just the fact that they've gone through transition and continue to be successful and win football games and they play really hard, you can see that. Got good schemes. So I think the biggest thing is we just have a ton of respect for their program and what they've accomplished.

Q. Easton, you guys played Eastern Washington while you were the quarterback in 2017. Scored 40 points at their place. How much can you take from that game? And at the same time, how much is that thrown out the window because it's 2018 now, obviously?
EASTON STICK: It was a really long time ago. It was one of the -- second, I think, game of the 2017 season and so it feels like it's been a decade since we played that one. Personnel, there's some differences, obviously, on both sides of the ball.

Schematically, I think again on both sides of the ball there's some similarities. But it's definitely a different team. I think they're better on defense than they were a year ago. They're more physical. And have more experience, I think, especially at the corner position. They've got three really good players. Rotate a bunch of guys at the defensive line at all spots.

So I think the depth is really good. They've got good schemes and do a good job of fooling people. And so we're going to have to play hard and execute and hopefully that gives us a good chance.

Q. Just wondering from the student-athletes, Robbie, you speak of the team, which is awesome. You've been here before. But how do you prepare your teammates, those freshmen, sophomores that maybe haven't had a chance to show up and play as much as you have the last few years in Frisco and the playoffs?
ROBBIE GRIMSLEY: Looking back to when I was a freshman, just don't let it overwhelm you. Just try to focus on the game itself and not as much the outside circumstances, because if you do that, I think you'll be able to lock in a little better. And obviously it's a big deal. It's the National Championship game. But I think you just have to focus on the game itself and Eastern Washington as your opponent as you would normally. It helps you lock in and focus.

Q. Greg, I know you guys don't take it for granted being in the National Championship game, but for you personally, does it feel like a long time coming since it's been three years since you were on this stage?
GREG MENARD: Yeah, definitely. But I was here last year with all the guys. And so it was great to watch them go out there and beat JMU and get their revenge. This year is a completely new year. I guess it's what we expect here and we've come out and done it one week at a time. It's been a really fun experience. We want to cap it off right.

Q. Easton, I know he's sitting right by you, but is Coach Klieman any different in weeks like this than the first or second week of the season? Or does he become a different guy in a setting like this?
EASTON STICK: No, he's a cool customer. Not much changes. That's what I think guys appreciate about him. He just goes about his business and sets the tone for our program, and that's something we talk about all the time is don't worry about outside noise, distractions, circumstances; focus on what you can do to get better, what you can do to help your teammates get better.

And he sets that example for us and it doesn't change day one of fall camp back in July or August to now. He's the same guy. And leads the same way.

Q. Easton, your offense is obviously run heavy but throw it enough to keep teams off balance. What do you think is the key to the way you guys do that that even though you lean one way, the defense is still always guessing?
EASTON STICK: Obviously we pride ourselves on being able to run the football. I think it starts with getting the guys that fit the system. And there's some really tough kids and blue-collar, hard-working kids in our area. And I think it starts up front with those guys. Shoot, we've got two offensive linemen starting tomorrow in a National Championship game that come from small town North Dakota, played nine-man high school football and know how to work hard and compete.

So it starts with those guys. But I think on top of it the coaches do a really good job of finding ways to run the football. It's not always going to look the same. It might look the same, I guess, maybe to the naked eye or to the fan. But there's a lot of different things that we try to do in the run game and be diverse in how we're doing things, and I think that's huge.

But, shoot, it just starts with getting the right people and we've got really good guys up front. And then getting people to buy in as receivers and stuff that block their tail off on the perimeter and just do their job. It's a fun thing to be a part of.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Coach.

Q. Those three seniors are a pretty good representation of what you've got in your locker room, not just because it's your last time but because that's your group, the group you came in with. Pretty special?
COACH KLIEMAN: Yeah, a lump in my throat just listening to them because I love those guys. And they love each other. And that's what this is all about, is impacting lives and making a difference in people's lives.

They've made a huge impact on my life and on my family's, and obviously they're doing that in the locker room as well. That's what's pretty cool. That's where I know the culture is going to stay the same because the juniors see it, the sophomores see it, the freshmen see it. And that's Bison pride and that's Bison football.

Q. Did you have any input to Easton's decision on the Payton tonight? What did you tell him about tonight?
COACH KLIEMAN: He and I talked about it at length on a number of occasions and it all comes back to the same thing: Easton did not come here to win individual awards; Easton came here to win championships. And that's the conversation that he and I had. And I will support him in anything he does.

And he said, "Coach, I would rather stay and continue my preparation because it's about the guys in the locker room, and I never did come here to win individual awards. If I do, it would be great for our university. But my focus is on our football team." And bottom line, as you know it, that's Easton Stick. You wouldn't have thought anything else.

Q. Do you think he should win tonight?
COACH KLIEMAN: It's popular. I don't know what will happen. I think he should win. You know how I feel. I think he's the best player in college football. So...

Q. I understand the irony of me asking questions about distractions with K-State. Has it been easier balancing it or how has it gone now that we're one day away from the end of it?
COACH KLIEMAN: It's been manageable because of the tremendous support by the Dean Bresciani and at Matt Larsen North Dakota and the great support from Gene Taylor at Kansas State. It's better than anybody ever expected. Credit the guys up front and coaches in our locker room. We're a close, close-knit family at NDSU. And it wasn't going to happen any other way.

Q. Now that it's here, it is different, I imagine than at other times you've been here? How much different does it feel?
COACH KLIEMAN: It doesn't feel any different right now to be honest with you, simply because my total focus has been on preparing, preparing, preparing for Eastern Washington. And no different than last year or three years before that or however many years we've been here.

You always at this time start thinking about this time you have left with the seniors, and that's really my thought right now is, boy, I'm only going to be around these three guys and the other 21 seniors for another 24 hours or so.

And that hits you more than anything. Whether it's my last game here or not, to me, is irrelevant. It's just the time that you have with these seniors. Because I was in every one of these kids' homes, four or five years ago. And that's why I'm so pleased with the support that I have had is we're going to finish this journey. We're going to finish this story together.

Q. Is this a game that you have gone into -- there have been not necessarily games in the past where you protected Easton, but the Easton run specifically are something that you don't want to get your star quarterback hurt. Now there's just 60 minutes left, is that something where we might see the entire playbook is open?
COACH KLIEMAN: Did you see the South Dakota State game? (Laughter). Enough said. Playbook wide open, he's going to cut it loose.

Q. Transition is all over the place, obviously. You were in this position with Coach Entz coming forward. Have you had a chance to talk with him and prepare with him?
COACH KLIEMAN: Every day. Coach Entz is one of my best friends. Love him. I'm so happy for him and his family. Every day he and I have a conversation about this game, about transition, whatever it may be. I will help him for years and years to come, just like he's going to help me for years and years to come because it's been a partnership with Matt and I for five years. Matt was one of the first coaches I hired here. He's been a confidante of mine and that will stay the same for decades.

Q. You've had that alumni moment today, expecting a lot of great former players but legendary coaches as well from the Bison staff. What does it mean to you to have some of those guys there as well?
COACH KLIEMAN: I don't know who all is coming. I know that every year that there's maybe 50 more guys than we thought and Easton said it: It's the most special time of this whole weekend other than the game to see all those guys come back that played in the '60s up until last year, because they're why we do this. We always talk about playing for your brother next to you and playing for the guy that put the jersey on decades and decades ago.

And it's an experience that is unlike any other. I think guys like these appreciate the experience more and more. When you're a true freshman you're just kind of wandering around listening to stories and seeing guys crying their eyes out that played in 1965. And you're thinking, what are they doing? And all of a sudden, as you continue to progress year after year, you realize, wow, this Bison football is a big, big deal.

And once a Bison always a Bison, to those guys and to these guys here. Special time we're going to have here shortly.

Q. At what time tomorrow are you no longer the head coach for the Bison? Is it when the clock hits 0s, when you say bye to the team?
COACH KLIEMAN: No, I hope Larsen is going to give me a ride home on the plane, because my family and I need a way home. (Laughter). It will be at the end of the full day.

Q. I remember you saying a couple weeks ago that you poured everything you had into this program for the last eight years. When you came to Fargo I know you looked at it as an opportunity for professional growth. What are the biggest lessons you'll take from your years at Fargo along with your professional journey?
COACH KLIEMAN: I don't have time to talk about all those things. I've been so blessed here. Took a chance eight years ago. Didn't know much about Fargo at all, and my family and I came up here for a ride that is probably never going to be duplicated in college football again. And I hope it stays going here.

But we talk about that, Matt Larsen and I talk about it every year. This is really, really hard to do. It's so hard to get to this point. And I will never take a day I've had here for granted. It's been remarkable, the student-athletes that I've been around that have meant so much.

Easton and I are at Carson Wentz's wedding in July talking about the times four years and three years ago, those are the things you remember forever. And the wins are great. The championships are dynamite, but the relationships are what I'll always remember and cherish.

Q. Playing on grass for the first time. Looking back, is there an adjustment for you guys?
COACH KLIEMAN: Not really. We would have liked to have gotten on grass yesterday but it was too wet. We're on grass so much now in fall camp and I don't think it's that big a deal. It's really short, tight grass.

And the other thing that helps is we've been here before and many of these guys have played on the surface. And we'll get out there in pregame warm-ups and run around, and we'll be ready for the surface.

Q. This Eastern team has been ravaged by injuries this year and yet they've still gotten to this point. What do you think it says about this squad that they're still producing at this high of a level?
COACH KLIEMAN: When adversity strikes they've been able to attack the adversity. It's a credit to Coach Best. It's a credit to a bunch of seniors. They have a lot of seniors as well. And they're just not going to be denied. If you have a guy injured, you lose that person. The next person better step up, especially for those seniors because it's their last go-around.

We were fortunate to get Greg back after he tore his knee going into his first senior year. And you don't bat an eye; you just keep moving forward, and we were able to be successful last year. Now he gets another opportunity. It just goes to show you probably the leadership and the culture in that locker room is really strong.

Q. Kansas State athletics released a video with some players and such wishing you guys the best of luck today. It really seems like NDSU is hoping you do well on your next venture and Kansas State is on the Bison train. Does the fact that everybody seems to be getting along make this process a lot easier, and are you excited to have Bison fans follow your journey?
COACH KLIEMAN: 100 percent, 100 percent. And that's a credit to the administration at Kansas State. And the people that I know I'm going to work for there are phenomenal people. Just like it's a credit to the people here; that I think Matt Larsen and I are -- we're colleagues but we're really, really good friends.

And I'm so excited to continue my relationship with Matt because he wants me to have tremendous success moving forward and I want him to have tremendous success.

I think when you have people -- and you treat people well and you treat people well and you have good relationships, I don't know how you would want anything else other than to watch that person have great success. Just like I'm going to follow NDSU and stay in contact with Coach Entz and stay in contact with Matt and look forward to continuing the relationship. We're rolling, we're ready to go now.

Q. You have a game with Kansas State-NDSU scheduled coming up?
COACH KLIEMAN: Kenny, what do you think of that? I don't know if Gene will probably put that one on the schedule right now. But we'll see what happens down the road. Let's attack tomorrow right now.

Q. I wanted to ask you about the last three years spending that with your son side by side, what has that meant for both of you?
COACH KLIEMAN: It's been better than I ever anticipated seeing him out there at practice every day, seeing how much Devin has grown to helping Nate, holding chains, to doing whatever, helping Joe Kleinerman throwing balls to running our scout team this year, watching him grow and develop, as well as I know this: I have an unbelievable supporting cast of 24 seniors that have taken Devin under their wing, and I know he's surrounded by unbelievable role models on a daily basis. And forever grateful to have him by my side for three years.

Q. You guys have a winning tradition and culture here. They have a winning tradition and culture at Kansas State. Delicate dance to merging the two?
COACH KLIEMAN: Dedication and hard work, guys buying in all the things that have happened here. You just -- success is very difficult and you have to do a great job of motivating guys, great job of caring for people and letting them know that you're going to be there for them and it's happened here and I think it can -- I know it can happen at Kansas State.

Q. You've talked a lot about the seniors and this group and as they take their next step into their professional life. Do you feel a little bit more senior-ish today since you were doing the same exact thing this group is doing?
COACH KLIEMAN: No question. I talked to them about what their plans are in the next week. A lot of them have graduated, which I think it's really cool that most of them have been done in either four or four and a half years. And Stanley Jones talking to him on the bus going over to the miracle league, he's starting a job in Texas in another month. Yeah, everybody's making that next step and that next journey. And there's a little bit of the fact that I am a senior with these guys, you bet.

Q. What makes Frisco such a special place; they've got an upgrade here and all of a sudden an extension, what has made this such a unique experience for yourself?
COACH KLIEMAN: Hospitality. A great venue. A place for the Fargo crazies to come down and party for four or five days doesn't hurt. The fact that we'll have a sea of green and gold out there tomorrow. It's been a special, special place that I think it will be pretty cranked up here tomorrow.

Q. How thankful are you to have this game and to be able to turn the focus on a game and put all of this and all these questions and stop the conversations?
COACH KLIEMAN: I'm ready. Block the outside noise. I've had to do that a lot myself. But we've had really good preparation, exceptional over the last week. We had some bad weather in Fargo Thursday and Friday. But we've really had a good last couple of weeks of preparation leading into when we came down here, the guys are locked in. We know we're going to have a battle, Eastern Washington is a terrific football team but our guys are fresh and focused and ready to play and now it's going to come down to which team can execute the best.

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