Family. It’s not just a slogan on a shirt. They’re your people, the people who make you who you are, the people who believe in you. Football teams are similar to families in these ways. It’s why David Braun, defensive coordinator and safeties coach at North Dakota State University, has dedicated his life to the game. As a coach, he gets to be one of those positive, family‐ like influences on a young person’s life.
“I made the decision to be a coach because I wanted to have a positive impact on young people’s lives,” Braun explains. “The opportunity to do it through college athletics in an environment where I get to work with a group of student‐athletes and compete every day is absolutely a dream come true.”
The idea of the football family is how he found his way to North Dakota State — home of the Bison — who have won eight of the last nine Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Championships. Braun spent his playing days at Winona State University from 2004‐2007 under the guidance of Matt Entz, the same Matt Entz who is the current North Dakota State head coach. The same Matt Entz who led the Bison to their latest FCS National Championship in 2019.
After graduating in 2008, Braun stayed in the Winona State program as a graduate assistant under Entz for two seasons. While the coaching profession led them their separate ways (sending Braun to Culver‐Stockton College, back to Winona State, then the University of California‐ Davis and the University of Northern Iowa), after nine years, they were reunited in North Dakota, where Entz earned the head coaching job and hired Braun.
The 2019 season was a dream come true for Braun and the Bison. North Dakota State won its National Championship behind Braun’s defense — the least generous in the FCS — giving up just 12.3 points per game. The defense was the FCS’s second best in total defense allowing just 274.7 total yards per game. The team ran the table at a perfect 16‐0 while also earning a ninth straight Missouri Valley Conference title.
When asked about his proudest moment in coaching, Braun, a 2020 member of AFCA’s 35 Under 35 Coaches Leadership Institute, looks back to that 2019 campaign. But he stops short of the championship result.
“One of our starters was out for a week with injury and he embraced the role of preparing his backup,” Braun says. “Beyond what was being done by the coaching staff, he had one‐on‐one meetings, mentored him through practice and helped him get into a game‐day routine. There is nothing more powerful than a locker room full of on‐field coaches that are willing to accept the responsibility of bringing along their teammates for the betterment of the team.”
That togetherness fosters a family atmosphere. Like many coaches, Braun has a wife and children — two sons — and he’s not willing to sacrifice his home family for his football family.
“Since getting married and starting a family, I have had to find ways to be a great husband, father and football coach. My wife and I have found the best way to do that is to involve our family as much as we possibly can,” Braun explains. “Time at the office, stopping by meetings, having the players over to the house. There is no greater joy for us than to see our sons interact and form relationships with our student‐athletes. There are no better role models for our boys than our student‐athletes.”
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Inside The Headset: David Braun [PODCAST]
Likewise, there are no better instructors on how to be good men than two boys running around. Of course, just like everything else in 2020 and in our new COVID‐19 world, family — and football for that matter — have taken on a different look. There’s more time on Zoom and less time in physical contact with loved ones. People are missing those in‐person interactions as they keep those closest to them as safe as possible.
“COVID‐19 has not changed my coaching philosophy or belief system. It has made me realize how we can more effectively tap into technology in the future,” Braun says. “Zoom calls have been a huge asset for teaching and recruiting. These are tools I certainly see having merit for us far into the future.”
This article was written by AFCA Magazine contributing editor Michael Austin.