This season, the Nebraska bowling team will have a new head coach for just the second time in program history following previous head coach Bill Straub’s retirement. However, the new coach, Paul Klempa, has plenty of familiarity with the program. He bowled for the Huskers in college and served under Straub for over 20 years as an assistant coach.
Klempa has been involved with bowling for more than four decades, but his exposure to the game began when he was 4 or 5 years old. His family was heavily involved in bowling, so he spent a lot of time around the lanes as a child.
“My dad was a competitive player, and they worked in a bowling center,” Klempa said. “My dad ran a pro shop, my mom ran a snack bar, my uncle did the lanes and was the head mechanic, so I spent a lot of time growing up around the bowling center.”
Eventually, Klempa began bowling himself. He took some lessons, got to the point where he bowled well and things took off from there. From 1992-94, Klempa bowled on the men’s team at Nebraska, earning All-American honors as a senior. Klempa said other highlights from his playing days include averaging over 200 pins a game in a bowling league for more than 20 consecutive years and representing Nebraska in the U.S. Open.
Klempa’s path to coaching began two years after his playing career at Nebraska ended. In 1996, he got a call from Straub. Nebraska’s women’s bowling was going to become a varsity sport and he was looking for an assistant coach.
Klempa took on the position and began in the fall of 1996, although the program didn’t officially join the athletics department until the following season.
One thing Klempa said he enjoys the most about coaching is seeing athletes get better and mature as both players and people.
“It’s pretty gratifying when you can teach them to do something and they end up reaching some potential that you hoped they would,” he said. “When they get to enjoy it, you can’t help but enjoy it with them. It’s very fun.”
While Klempa has been on the coaching staff since 1996, it’s still a tall task to replace Straub. Senior Raquel Orozco said it took a moment for the news to sink in, but the team has had several meetings to talk about the changes and how to adjust.
The team hasn’t had to change much during the transition because both Klempa and Straub have similar goals and ideas, according to senior Allison Morris. She said they are still focusing a lot on fundamentals and keeping their game in the best shape it can be.
Because Klempa spent more than 20 years as an assistant on Straub’s staff, he got to establish relationships with many of the players. That made the coaching transition easier because they knew how to communicate with each other, Orozco said.
The familiarity with each other also made it easier for the players to build trust in the new coach because he already knew the players’ games and each athlete’s flaws, according to Morris.
Another factor making the transition easier for the players is that there’s no new system to learn, unlike coaching changes where the new head coach comes from outside the program. Klempa helped develop the system Nebraska bowling used under Straub, so he sees no reason to mix things up now that he’s the head coach.
Klempa’s lengthy tenure as Straub’s assistant coach also provided him an opportunity to learn from the man who built Nebraska bowling into a powerhouse with seven national titles. As a result, the two have similar coaching philosophies.
Orozco said both coaches keep things simple. She added that she thought the area the two differed the most was in their mental approaches to the game.
“Coach Klempa is more psychology-oriented,” Orozco said. “He focuses more on the psychology part of bowling. Coach Straub is more like ‘just do it, don’t think too much and just let it happen.’ It’s a different approach, but it’s effective on both sides.”
Morris also said Klempa places more emphasis on the mental aspect of bowling and maintaining a positive attitude than Straub did. As a result, the team has focused more on moving on from a bad shot and not letting it affect the next shot.
When Klempa first started as an assistant coach back in 1996, he said he never envisioned leading the program one day. However, the longer he remained on Straub’s staff, the more he wondered whether he would leave if the right offer came along or if he wanted to stay at Nebraska.
He did have chances to leave, getting coaching offers from other schools over the years, but he liked where he was at with the Huskers. Ultimately, he felt his situation was better in Lincoln and never thought it was the right time or place to make a change.
“I ended up always deciding Nebraska was better for me,” he said. “Now I’m happy I stayed.”
According to Orozco, the players are comfortable with Klempa at the helm and think the change will benefit everyone. Morris expressed excitement for the future of the program under Klempa as a new era of Husker bowling begins.
“We’re really grateful to have Coach Klempa and someone who has been around bowling at Nebraska for such a long time, so they made a really good call hiring him and I think we’re all really happy that he’s now the head coach,” she said.
After being involved with Husker bowling for a quarter-century — three years as a player and another 22 as a coach — Klempa enters his first season as head coach appreciative for the chance to lead the program he’s been involved with for so long.
“I’m humbled and blessed to have been given this opportunity, and I’m thankful to the Nebraska athletics administration, Bill Moos and [deputy athletics director] Bob Burton for having faith in me to lead the program,” he said. “It means everything to me.”