On Monday night, what North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen had referred to as a “matter of time” finally came to fruition. It was announced that current Bison football head coach Chris Klieman would be departing NDSU for the head coaching vacancy at Kansas State. The Wildcats’ position was officially made available when former head coach Bill Snyder retired after 27 years.
Klieman’s contract with Kansas State is for six years at a salary of $2.3 million with $200K increases in each subsequent season. The Wildcats finished the 2018 campaign at 5-7 and finished eighth in the Big 12. K-State’s last conference title came in 2012 when they were co-champions with Oklahoma.
A key note for Bison fans is that Klieman will remain with NDSU for as long as the season continues. That could end either Friday night when the Herd hosts South Dakota State or in January if NDSU reaches the title game.
The announcement of Klieman’s new position brought an end to roughly a month’s worth of speculation regarding Klieman’s future. Because Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor used to hold the same position for NDSU and hired Klieman, a Manhattan reunion had been theorized. The two have had strong ties since 2013, when Klieman began the lead job with the Bison.
Speculation turned into a legitimate possibility following Snyder’s retirement, when respected college football reporters in Kansas as well as around the nation began linking Klieman to the opening. Other respected names across the college football landscape were considered to be in the running as well. Mike Norvell of Memphis and North Texas’ Seth Littrell were considered to be leaders for the position. Neal Brown of Troy, Brent Venables of Clemson and Oregon’s Jim Leavitt were also rumored to be in the running. Norvell made it clear that he was committed to Memphis, while Littrell stuck with the Mean Green.
Truth be told, Klieman was in all likelihood Taylor’s top option. As the leader of the Bison for five seasons, Klieman has compiled a 67-6 record to go along with five conference titles and three FCS championships. Including his one season at Loras College, Klieman’s winning percentage is the third highest of any current NCAA coach across all divisions.
“He is a perfect fit for us, both from a personal standpoint and as a head coach,” Taylor said in K-State’s Monday night press release. “He will bring a ton of energy and excitement. His teams play extremely hard, disciplined football. He’s a winner. That’s all he does is win, and we’re excited to have Chris, Rhonda and the entire Klieman family join our K-State family.”
While Taylor — and by extension donors — have given Klieman a vote of confidence, many on social media have questioned the hire. Specific concerns include a lack of recruiting ties to Texas, a lack of FBS experience and that his résumé is diminished by being an FCS coach.
Perhaps in the short term the concerns regarding Klieman’s ability to recruit in Texas have been quelled. Over an hour after the announcement, Dallas cornerback Logan Wilson committed to K-State. While the current Wildcats staff deserves credit for that, it shows that the incoming Texan is confident in Klieman.
A critical concern for both NDSU and Kansas State is the status of current assistant coaches. Klieman has expressed that he would like to meet with the Wildcats’ current staff as he tries to build one of his own. Whether or not his staff would include expatriates from the Bison remains to be seen.
NDSU defensive coordinator Matt Entz would appear to be the leading internal candidate for the Bison’s vacancy, should Larsen decide to go in that direction. Entz has stewarded what has undoubtedly been the subdivision’s top defense since he was hired in 2014. Offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham would also be a leading internal option.
As far as the Bison’s identity is concerned, not much will change. “We’re going to run the ball. We’re going to play great defense,” Larsen commented. “That recipe has worked.” He indicated that he hopes interviews for the next head coach will begin this week.
With college football’s early signing period falling between Dec. 19 and Dec. 21, it was imperative for K-State to find their head coach before then. This allows for more stability for the program, as well as giving players a fair opportunity to assess their options. Klieman has experience in the realm of stabilizing an uncertain recruiting situation as well. When Craig Bohl abruptly left NDSU in December 2013, Klieman was tasked with righting the ship and ensuring that top recruits stuck with the Bison. He accomplished just that, and those recruits in large measure make up this season’s class of 24 seniors.
How NDSU’s coaching staff coalesces will be of the utmost importance in retaining this season’s recruiting class. The Bison have 20 commits in what may be their highest rated class in program history. According to the recruitment ranking website Rivals, NDSU has five three-star recruits, which includes Luke Weerts, Jaren Lewis and Hunter Poncius. Regardless, Larsen is confident that while Klieman was a major selling point, current commits will stick with NDSU for other reasons. Meanwhile, Kansas State’s class of 2019 contains a dozen commits and ranks No. 81 in the nation.