Kansas State University

K-State Q&A: All about new Wildcats football coach Chris Klieman

I can’t tell you how to feel about new Kansas State football coach Chris Klieman. What you think of KSU athletic director Gene Taylor’s choice to replace the legendary Bill Snyder is completely up to you.

There are reasons to like him. He has a winning pedigree that includes a 67-6 record and three FCS national championships at North Dakota State. His current team could likely hold its own against most Big 12 opponents. It’s not hard to envision him succeeding in Manhattan, too.

But there are also reasons to worry. He has spent very little time coaching at FBS schools. Can FCS success translate up a level? It did for coaches like Frank Beamer, Jim Harbaugh and Jim Tressel. It didn’t for coaches like Terry Allen and Paul Wulff. Maybe he won’t win at K-State.

It’s impossible to know what his future holds with the Wildcats. That’s the point I am trying to make. Klieman reminds me a lot of a three-star football recruit. Under the right circumstances, he might develop into a star. Under the wrong circumstances, he could flop.

I tend to think he’s a fine, if not splashy, choice. There are question marks, of course, but no coach is a sure thing. He reminds me a little bit of men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber, who had to win some fans over at his introductory news conference. We will just have to wait and see what happens.

For now, let’s dive into your questions. Thanks, as always, for providing them.

I totally get why K-State fans want Klieman to drop everything at North Dakota State and begin coaching the Wildcats full-time as quickly as possible. Early signing day (Dec. 19) is rapidly approaching and K-State needs players. It also needs a coaching staff and all kinds of other things.

But this is standard operating procedure. Every coach on K-State’s wish list for this opening had unfinished business at his current school. Brent Venables is heading to the playoffs with Clemson, Seth Littrell and Neal Brown have bowls to prepare for. Odds are, they all would have requested to finish out the season and work two jobs while doing so.

Scott Frost did the same thing with Central Florida and Nebraska last year. The world didn’t end.

I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. K-State will formally introduce Klieman at a news conference on Wednesday. The earliest he could really dig in and hit the recruiting trail would be Thursday, leaving him with just six days to sign recruits. That’s probably not enough time to accomplish much. Everyone is probably better off waiting and building toward traditional signing day in February.

One other potential perk to waiting: He might get another championship ring to flaunt in front of recruits. That could be significant.

The Wildcats are also somehow signing recruits without him. They’re up to 11 commits. Klieman began extending offers Tuesday. If Klieman trusts the current staff to recruit while he’s in North Dakota, that seems like a decent arrangement.

Ideally, K-State would have made its hire a week or two ago, giving Klieman real time to work toward early signing day. But that didn’t happen. I don’t see the harm in letting him finish out his final season at North Dakota State.

I wouldn’t point to anything that has happened at Wyoming as a potential sign of what to expect out of Klieman at K-State.

Craig Bohl and Klieman are different coaches. Wyoming and K-State are different schools.

Besides, is what has happened at Wyoming really as bad as you make it sound? Yes, Bohl is 28-35, but Wyoming is traditionally very bad. Bohl went 6-18 in his first two seasons and is 22-17 since, with two bowl games and a .500 or better record all three seasons. He seems to be doing pretty well there.

But, again, that means nothing here. Jim Harbaugh won at Stanford after first coaching at FCS San Diego. So what? Klieman will blaze his own trail.

My forecast for Klieman isn’t all that different from what we saw from Snyder during his second stint as coach. I see K-State contending for Big 12 championships in good years and being on the edge of bowl eligibility in bad years.

His success will boil down to recruiting and player development. The guy can coach, I have no doubt about that. But can he upgrade talent back to the level we saw K-State have in 2012? That’s the real question.

The jump from FCS to P5 is big, so that will obviously be a difficult barrier. At the same time, North Dakota State has more than held its own against FBS teams over the years. He knows what it takes to win at this level.

My biggest advice to him would be to lock down Kansas as a recruiter. I hear so much about improving recruiting in Texas, and that is important, but he would be wise to focus close to home. Too often in recent years, the best in-state players go elsewhere the moment a prominent team offers.

It needs to be hard for any school to come in and sign players from Wichita and Kansas City, because those players want to play for K-State. Lately, it seems like those players have viewed the Wildcats as fall-back options.

Since he took over as North Dakota State’s head football coach, the Bison have produced four NFL Draft picks including Carson Wentz. The guy can recruit quality players.

The leading receiver on his current roster is Darrius Shepherd, a senior from Blue Springs, Mo. He’s got 53 catches for 869 yards and seven touchdowns. Bet the Wildcats wish they had signed him. His leading tackler is Jabril Cox, a sophomore linebacker from Kansas City, with NFL potential. His quarterback, Easton Stick, is from Omaha.

It seems like he has made his living off of recruiting players who belonged in the Big Ten and the Big 12.

His new salary ($2.3 million) is considerably higher than his old salary ($300,000), so it’s a reasonable question. Why is K-State giving him such a huge raise?

The Wildcats could have probably saved a few pennies and offered less, but $2.3 million is still the lowest public salary in the Big 12. David Beaty was earning $1.7 million last year. Every other coach was at $3.5 million or higher.

Not really sure how athletic directors decide on salaries for their coaches, but I imagine they think it looks bad to pay a P5 head coach less than $2 million.

Search firms are, unfortunately, a necessary evil. I used to think athletic directors could hire coaches on their own. Then I saw John Currie try at Tennessee and end up unemployed. I won’t criticize any AD for hiring a search firm.

But I see your point.

Taylor did interview as many as seven potential candidates for the job, though. I assume the search firm assisted during that process.

Chris Klieman and Bill Snyder are similar on offense. North Dakota State likes to incorporate tight ends and run the ball a great deal, but it also has success throwing with a skilled quarterback. Carson Wentz was so good in Klieman’s system that some NFL coaches have said they are now using wrinkles from it.

The Bison averaged 274.2 rushing yards and 185.8 passing yards this season. Five different players have more than 490 rushing yards. Easton Stick has completed 60.7 percent of his passes.

I’m not totally sure how to summarize Klieman’s defense, other than to say it’s good. The Bison held opponents to 11.1 points and 278.8 yards per game this season. Some coaches I have spoken to about it say NDSU is good at getting pressure on the QB naturally, without crazy blitzes or coverage schemes. Klieman is a defensive guy and a former safety. He will value defense more than some Big 12 teams.

The odds favor Chris Klieman. K-State football is in a better place than KU football, and that will give him a head start. These programs are currently closer than they have been in a long time, so it could be close. I really don’t know.

All I can say is this: The rest of the Big 12 better watch out for the Sunflower State.

Klieman has three national titles at the FCS level (and might soon add a fourth) and Les Miles has a national title from his days at LSU. They have four rings together.

Know how many national titles every other coach has in the Big 12? Zero!

And people think the road to a conference championship goes through Texas and Oklahoma.

No one in the know ever mentioned his name to me, and I worked the phones hard every day of the coaching search. So I’m going to say he wasn’t a serious candidate, if he was even considered at all. Some fans and boosters pushed for him, but that’s about it.

I personally like #PrettyFlieForAKlieGuy ... But I just made that up, because the old The Offspring song popped into my head when I saw #KlieGuy.

Think they are both a little better than #RideOrKlie but they are all good.

K-State shouldn’t be concerned, because plenty of coaches had interest in this job.

Gene Taylor could have hired a number of lower-level FBS head coaches, but his eyes were set on Klieman from the start.

Klieman was the leader in the clubhouse from the moment the coaching search began. Another coach would have had to blow Taylor’s socks off to pass him.

No one did. Taylor offered him the job and no one else.

I never reported a word about that actually happening, so that should give you an answer. But I will go ahead and say here that rumor was false.

Seth Littrell withdrew his name from consideration on Friday, because Taylor and K-State’s search committee interviewed Klieman on Thursday and continued to show interest in him afterward. He didn’t want to be stuck in limbo and decided he was better off staying at North Texas for another year and shooting for a bigger job down the line.

The thought of Taylor demanding his future coach retain assistants he has never met makes no sense. Why would any athletic director ask such a thing? Taylor might endorse some of K-State’s current assistants to Klieman, but Klieman will pick the staff.

I imagine the pregame music list and uniform designs will change dramatically. I think we will all be disappointed if those changes aren’t made. Weird to think about how much different the gameday experience could be at Snyder Family Stadium next season.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.
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