Collin Klein was speechless.
He probably shouldn’t have been, given that he was trying to answer a simple question about his coaching aspirations. It’s something he admits he should have thought about before he agreed to become an entry-level assistant on Kansas State’s staff.
Then again, until a few months ago his dream job was NFL quarterback. He wanted to be the next Tom Brady. That was his focus coming off a college career in which he led K-State to 21 victories in two seasons as a full-time starter and became a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Ask him what his dream coaching job is and, well, he doesn’t know how to respond.
“I have no idea,” said Klein, K-State’s new assistant director of recruiting and defensive quality control, after a long pause. “I really don’t know. It’s one step at a time. I am just learning a ton. I am seeing a ton of stuff even as a player I didn’t see. I’m learning and getting a grasp for it all. I guess I am just going to be the best coach I can possibly be and see what happens.”
Klein entered coaching last month after two years of failed attempts to catch on with professional teams in North America. He went undrafted as teams questioned his arm strength and throwing mechanics, but he came close to playing for the Houston Texans straight out of college as a free agent. They didn’t offer him a contract at the conclusion of a rookie camp, but that led to an opportunity in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes earlier this summer.
The team publicized the signing and teammates complimented Klein on social media, but he failed to make the opening-day roster. He was cut after one preseason game.
“That was very frustrating,” Klein said. “They brought in quite a few rookie quarterbacks, and I was the last one they let go. I felt like I was really close to making it with them and couple NFL teams, but close is only good enough in horseshoes. It didn’t work out for me. I’m glad they gave me the opportunity.”
Some have suggested that Klein could have made it as a professional football player at another position — tight end, receiver or safety – and blamed his unwillingness to move away from quarterback for the abrupt ending to his playing career. But Klein said that was never the case.
“A team never came to me and said, ‘Hey, we would really like to have you on our team and we would like you to play tight end or wide receiver,’” Klein said. “If that would have happened, I would have definitely considered doing it.”
Instead, K-State coach Bill Snyder called with a different offer: Return to Manhattan and begin a coaching career.
Klein was hesitant. He wanted to keep playing. But he warmed to the idea quickly, remembering how much fun he had helping his father coach youth teams and how much he enjoyed playing at K-State. The thought of tutoring senior quarterback Jake Waters and teaching players the intricacies of an offense he mastered two short years ago was too good to pass up.
His impact has already been felt.
“It is awesome having a guy like him around after all he did as a player for this school and what he stands for,” Waters said. “I am just trying to absorb any ounce of information I can from him, because he knew this offense inside and out. He ran it to perfection when he was here. I am asking him so many questions that I am probably annoying him.”
Klein insisted that is not the case.
“He’s so big time,” senior receiver Curry Sexton said. “He knows how to read defenses better than anybody. For him to get to work with Jake and us and the entire offense is huge. We are only just starting to work with him, but you can tell he is going to be a big help.”
Added Snyder: “The team has so much respect for Collin that I’m sure they will play close attention to him.”
Klein is taking the job as seriously as possible. This isn’t a stop gap in between NFL tryouts.
He may not have a dream job yet, but he knows this much: He wants to become the best coach possible.
“It’s the same thing I hope to teach these players,” Klein said. “Learn to be the best that you can possibly be and don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. In football, it’s about putting it all out there and being good with whatever happens.”