MANHATTAN — Blake Seiler wasn’t wearing blinders back in February when he took on the job as Kansas State’s new defensive coordinator.
At the relatively tender age of 33, he still had a pretty clear picture of what it entailed and especially the challenge that lay ahead.
“It’s exciting, a new position and a lot more responsibility on your plate,” Seiler said during K-State’s media day. “It’s also a pretty daunting task in this league, I would say.”
Then he paused briefly and chuckled: “In the Big 12 you had better be ready because it’s not exactly known as a defensive coordinator league.”
Indeed, lining up and game-planning every week against the Big 12′s various high-octane offenses is enough to test the most grizzled veteran, let alone someone who has advanced through the coaching ranks as quickly as Seiler. Then again, he was pretty much bred for the position.
“I think my background helps, having played in the front, having coached in the front, having coached in the secondary and then having coached the linebackers,” said Seiler, a former K-State defensive end who also has spent his entire coaching career on Bill Snyder’s staff. “That definitely gives me an understanding of all three levels of the defense.
“But working directly with all of those guys, I think it also gives you an understanding of what you’re actually asking those kids to do — what’s fair to ask those kids to do.”
It took Seiler just five seasons as a full-time assistant, the first three coaching defensive ends and last year with the linebackers, before he was elevated to coordinator on Feb. 16. He replaced Tom Hayes, who retired in late January.
After completing his playing career in 2006, Seiler went to work as a structural engineer at Cessna Aircraft in Wichita for two years before joining the K-State staff in 2009 as a quality control coach. Two years in that position and two more as a graduate assistant coaching defensive backs led to a full-time job in 2013.
“Blake is a bright young man, quick learner, hard worker and well-received and trusted by our players,” Snyder said in announcing Seiler’s promotion to coordinator. “He helped coordinate our defense this past year with emphasis on our run defense.
“Blake is highly respected by our staff and players for his values as well as his passionate teaching.”
Seiler did carry the title of assistant coordinator last year, helping direct a run defense that ranked 13th nationally. But the Wildcats ranked 128th out of 129 FBS teams against the pass, giving up 309.1 yards per game. They were No. 91 in total defense with an average of 426.8 yards allowed.
“K-State has a long, storied tenure of playing great defense, especially under coach Snyder,” Seiler said. “So I think there’s things that we can do to continue that and to improve on the last couple of years.”
To that end, Snyder brought in Brian Norwood to fill Hayes’ spot coaching the defensive secondary. Norwood spent the past three seasons as associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Tulsa, but before that he was defensive coordinator for three seasons (2008-10) and associate head coach for another four (2011-14) at Baylor.
“I’m happy to have Brian Norwood in here, as secondary coach especially, who has coached in the Big 12,” Seiler said. “Because it’s a different animal.
“With some of the schemes you see and all the spread offenses, that’s invaluable.”
Even though Seiler isn’t planning any major overhaul of the defense, his enthusiasm already has manifested itself in livelier practices.
“The players have so much energy now,” said junior end Reggie Walker, one of five returning defensive starters. “I feel like this year’s going to be a special year for the whole team.
“Like, it’s a difference in the atmosphere; I don’t know what it is.”
Junior Elijah Sullivan, who made two starts last year at linebacker, agreed that the energy level is the biggest difference.
“I know him and coach Hayes worked (together) a lot, so there haven’t been too many changes,” Sullivan said. “But he’s a young guy and he brings a lot of energy and fire to our defense as well.
“He’s a smart guy and he cares about his players.”
So far Seiler, who turned 34 at the end of March, is settling comfortably into his new role. But he throws in a quick qualifier.
“I don’t think it matters what my comfort level is,” he said. “It’s coming fast, right? September 1.
“A lot of stuff looks good on the chalkboard. When you get out there on the field and you play some of these Big 12 teams, you get exposed pretty fast.”
That said, Seiler’s institutional knowledge at K-State is a big advantage.
“If there’s a way to have a smooth transition it would be rising up like I have in this program, working for Coach (Snyder),” he said. “Knowing the system, knowing the demands, knowing what he wants to do, knowing our terminology and knowing our base schemes.
“Now we’ve just got to improve on those. I think that is the mission going forward.”