By Randy York
Whoever said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes must not have met Paul Klempa, Nebraska’s longtime assistant bowling coach who is now walking in the same shoes as his former coach, his good friend and his current boss, Bill Straub, who has been hospitalized since January 9th in Lincoln.
University of Nebraska Athletics Tuesday afternoon released a statement acknowledging Straub’s successful emergency surgery for an aortic dissection. The head coach for Nebraska’s reigning and 11-time national championship bowling program is taking an indefinite leave of absence pending his full recovery. The statement communicated Coach Straub’s confidence in the team’s development and cited Klempa’s leadership as pivotal to the Huskers’ successful move forward.
Straub’s health issue was abrupt and unexpected and since it happened while Husker student-athletes were still on Christmas break, Nebraska officials waited until members of the team returned to Lincoln before telling them about the temporary change in leadership.
Straub, Klempa Have Worked Together 22 Years
“One day he’s there; the next day he’s not,” Klempa said, referring to his boss’s pervasive influence. Klempa competed for four seasons (1991-92-93-94) under Straub before becoming his volunteer helper for two years prior to his appointment as a full-time Husker assistant coach in 1996. “Bill and I have been together for 22 years,” Klempa said after a Tuesday press conference to update Nebraska fans on the only coach who led the Huskers to an NCAA national championship in 2013.
Straub has said for years how philosophically aligned he is with his longtime assistant. “We work so closely together, you could almost call Paul our co-head coach,” Straub told me four seasons ago after the Huskers won the 2009 NCAA championship. Klempa also has had a pivotal role on Nebraska teams that won national titles in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2013.
Kim Straub, Bill’s wife, serves as the office manager for the Husker bowling program. “She’s been by his side since this happened, and since we’re in the heart of the season, the athletic department has really helped us get through all this,” Klempa said. “I knew I wouldn’t be left alone. It’s been stressful, but we’re dealing with it one day at a time.”
MVP of ’13 NCAA Championship Team Weighs In
Lizabeth Kuhlkin, a sophomore from Schenectady, N.Y., and the NCAA Championship’s Most Valuable Bowler last season, spoke on behalf of the team at Tuesday’s press conference. The first-team All-American said missing Straub’s very presence “has been a real shock” because “everyone is used to seeing a 6-foot-6 real tall man in the back”.
Kuhlkin said the transition in leadership has been smooth because of shared vision between a highly successful head coach and his trusted, loyal assistant. “This is not Coach Klempa’s first rodeo,” Kuhlkin said. “Coach Straub has prepared him for this. Coach Klempa is an awesome guy. He’s very outgoing and has a lot of knowledge not only about the Nebraska program, but bowling itself. He’s really helped us cope with the situation very well.
“We’ve kind of been sheltered about it a little, but that’s helped us. I think it needed to be done that way.” Kuhlkin said. “Coach Straub’s health will always be our No. 1 priority, but the expectations to go to Cleveland have always been there and will continue to be there. We still know what our No. 1 job is (qualify for the NCAA Championships in Cleveland in April and compete for another national title). As bad as this whole situation was, it has brought us all together as a team, and I feel it’s brought our team chemistry up, too. We’ve shown a lot of leadership qualities.”
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