Chris Klieman joked that it was just another day at the North Dakota State football office.
In truth, it was the culmination of a long day that would change his life and also the future of Kansas State football.
Late Monday afternoon, Klieman accepted what he called a “dream job” when K-State chose him to be the Wildcats’ 35th head football coach. He follows in the footsteps of hall-of-fame coach Bill Snyder, 79, who retired just eight days prior.
“I was offered the job and accepted because it’s a dream job of mine, a dream opportunity of mine,” Klieman said on his weekly radio show in Fargo, N.D., where he has led No. 1-ranked North Dakota State to the FCS semifinals with a 13-0 record.
In five seasons as the NDS head coach, Klieman has compiled a 76-6 record and won three national championships. If the Bison beat South Dakota State at home Friday night, they’ll play for a fourth on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas.
K-State’s official announcement Monday night brought much-anticipated closure for Kansas State fans who had agonized over what would be athletics director Gene Taylor’s decision. Judging by the chatter on social media and message boards, the choice of Klieman received a mixed reaction.
But Taylor clearly felt comfortable with picking a man he knew well and held in high regard. It was Taylor, then North Dakota State AD, who promoted Klieman from defensive coordinator to head coach in 2013 when Craig Bohl left for Wyoming.
“Once I got here, and felt the culture and what Kansas State was about and what Kansas State football was about, I was like, ‘Oh boy, there’s a lot of similarities,’ ” Taylor said in an interview on the K-State Athletics website. “And I knew that he would be a great fit personally.
“He’s going to be the kind of coach that our fans will gravitate towards. He’s got a lot of energy, he’s got a lot of passion and his football teams will be prepared and he’ll be prepared all the way through the fourth quarter.”
When offered the job by Taylor, Klieman was equally enthusiastic.
“I’d be so jacked to the next head football coach at Kansas State,” Klieman said. “I’d be so thrilled to be that. It’s a dream of mine to be a Power Five head football coach and I get to do it at an institution like Kansas State that’s a land grant institution, that I’m excited about leading that program and we’re going to win and do it the right way.”
THE CHRIS KLIEMAN FILE
Hometown: Waterloo, Iowa
High School: Columbus Catholic High School
College: Northern Iowa – Bachelor’s degree in health education (1990), master’s in physical education (1992)
Family: Wife: Rhonda; Children: Devin, Colby, Haley
Playing Career: Northern Iowa (defensive back), 1986-90
CHRIS KLIEMAN COACHING CAREER
1991-92: Northern Iowa (Graduate Assistant)
1993: Northern Iowa (Assistant Coach)
1994-96: Western Illinois (Assistant Coach)
1997: Kansas (Graduate Assistant)
1999: Missouri State (Assistant Coach)
2002-04: Loras College (Defensive Coordinator)
2005: Loras College (Head Coach)
2006-07: Northern Iowa (Assistant Coach)
2008: Northern Iowa (Co-Defensive Coordinator)
2009-10: Northern Iowa (Defensive Coordinator)
2011: North Dakota State (Assistant Coach)
2012-13: North Dakota State (Defensive Coordinator)
2014-18: North Dakota State (Head Coach)
It will be a busy next few days and weeks for Klieman, who will continue to coach North Dakota State through its playoff run while presumably recruiting players and assistant coaches for K-State at the same time. He was scheduled to meet with K-State’s current players late Tuesday night before heading back to Fargo.
That he would finish the season at North Dakota State never was a sticking point, according to Klieman, who said he received unanimous approval from K-State’s search committee, from Bison team captains and from NDSU athletics director Matt Larsen.
At K-State, he will begin interviewing potential assistant coaches, who could include some holdovers from Snyder’s staff, as well as from NDSU.
“Now obviously, I have some guys that I’m interested in,” he said. “There’s a process that I’m going to go through in visiting with the guys that are on Coach Snyder’s staff, because they’ve earned that opportunity because they’ve had good success here. So I’m going to visit with those guys in due time as well as obviously visit with the guys here (at NDSU).”
Klieman also addressed his lack of Football Bowl Subdivision coaching experience, a source of angst among the K-State fan base. His only FBS stop was in 1997 as a defensive graduate assistant at Kansas.
“I know there’s a difference between Power Five and FCS, and I know there’s a difference between Group of Five and FCS, but by the same respect, football is football,” he said. “We’ve done really well against those (FBS) schools.
“But more importantly, from a recruiting aspect ... we recruit against Power Fives not on a yearly basis but on a daily basis, and have a really good plan in place to be able to attract, and to get those kids to come play in our system, offensively and defensively.”
Klieman has a proven record against Power Five schools while at North Dakota State. He was defensive coordinator for the 2013 team that beat K-State in Manhattan, and his first game as head coach was a 34-14 victory at Iowa State, followed in 2016 by a 23-21 decision against No. 11-ranked Iowa.
Though he has no direct ties to K-State other than through Taylor, Klieman has encountered Snyder before.
“I was an Iowa kid — I grew up in Waterloo, Iowa — attending Hayden Fry football camps and stood in Coach Snyder’s quarterback line, throwing the ball and him teaching me techniques,” Klieman recalled. “I had a chance to play against Kansas State when he was here as head coach when I was a player (at Northern Iowa), as well as compete against him when I was defensive coordinator (at NDSU).
“I’m so excited for the opportunity to follow in his footsteps. His legacy will continue to live on.”
Snyder’s legacy, raising K-State from the college football rubble in 1989 to national power in his first 17-year run, then coming out of retirement in 2009 to do it again for another 10 years, sets a high bar.
“We’re going to work our tails off,” Klieman said. “We will have great discipline, just like a Coach Snyder-coached team.
“We’ll have great fundamentals. We’ll do all the little things to the best of our ability, so that we can make everybody in Wildcat Nation proud and that when they come out and see our football team play, we’ll be a great representation of the institution.”