K-Staters are nervous today, wondering whether their athletic director, Gene Taylor, has sold them down the river based on his loyalty and ties to an FCS football program.
Even though that program, North Dakota, is looking like a great bet to win its seventh FCS national championship in the past eight years and fourth in five years under Chris Klieman, who was hired by Taylor on Monday as Bill Snyder’s successor at Kansas State. Taylor was the AD at North Dakota State from 2001-14 before spending three seasons at Iowa. He has been at K-State since May, 2017.
On paper, Klieman looks like the Nick Saban of FCS, with a 67-6 record and 43 wins in the past 45 games.
But it’s those initials – a ‘C’ in the middle of ‘F’ and ‘S’ instead of a ‘B’ – that has folks a little jumpy.
I get it. Klieman is 51 and has had just a cup of coffee at the FBC level as a defensive backs coach at Kansas in 1997. He played at Northern Iowa and has spent 99.9 percent of his career coaching in the boondocks of college football: UNI, Western Illinois, Missouri State, Loras College.
An optimist would point out that winning is winning, regardless of the level. And North Dakota State has more than held its own against FBS teams over the years. Plus, the Bison has overwhelmed its level of competition for years. Klieman has nothing left to prove in the Missouri Valley Conference.
It was Klieman, though, who developed Carson Wentz into one of the best college quarterbacks in the country before Wentz helped the Philadelphia Eagles reach Super Bowl LII earlier this year.
But for every optimist, there’s a pessimist. And they can make a lot of noise.
The naysayers simply utter this name: Terry Allen.
He was hugely successful at Northern Iowa for eight years before being hired at Kansas in 1997. That didn’t go so well. That didn’t go so well at all. Allen was 21-35 in five seasons and found himself back in FBS at Missouri State.
Allen, though, never led Northern Iowa to a national championship. Klieman is producing them like flapjacks on a breakfast buffet.
This is the second time Taylor has hired Klieman. The first was when he picked him to take over for Craig Bohl at ND State after Bohl jumped to Wyoming.
Bohl, a former player and assistant coach at Nebraska, started the championship ball rolling in Fargo with consecutive national championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013 before Wyoming came calling.
But in five seasons with the Cowboys, who play in the Mountain West Conference, Bohl is 28-35. He did produce Josh Allen, a quarterback who was taken in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills, but Wyoming was 6-6 this season after going 16-11 in the previous two seasons.
Klieman is obviously stepping onto a bigger stage. A Big 12 stage in which he’ll have to match wits with Lincoln Riley, Tom Herman, Mike Gundy and, in his own state, new Kansas coach Les Miles.
Oh, and about Miles.
As down and out as KU has been over the past decade, the Jayhawks were able to attract a coach who has coached in two FBS national championship games while at LSU, winning one.
Miles is a national brand. Klieman is a national mystery guest. Even though North Dakota State has been winning like crazy for a long time, all of that success barely creates a ripple in comparison to the big-time football in which Klieman is about to experience.
Not surprisingly, he’s ready to get going, which he will after North Dakota State’s season – which could last a couple of more games – is finished. There’s the matter of hiring a staff and gaining familiarity with returning players.
But thanks to Snyder, Kansas State’s program is in better shape than the one Miles inherited in Lawrence. K-State has taken a quantum leap forward in facilities. And even in recent seasons, when K-State hit a lull under Snyder, the Wildcats have been superior to Kansas.
This will be a huge challenge for Klieman, of course. And Miles has just as many hurdles ahead of him at Kansas.
When hiring a new coach in any sport, the goal of an athletic director is to hit a home run.
We’ve watched as Taylor and Kansas AD Jeff Long have swung for the fences with two entirely different types of hires.
Long went with the tried and true, although there could be questions about how much the 65-year-old Miles has left in the tank.
And the questions about Klieman’s lack of FBS experience are legitimate.
K-Staters weren’t tossing confetti after Snyder was hired in 1988, either. That turned out well.
How will the hiring of Klieman turn out? No one knows and if they say they do, they’re not being genuine.
Leave it to this: Gene Taylor hired a coach he believes will do a great job. Time will tell. But you have to give the guy a chance.