MANHATTAN — Forget winning the press conference.
By the time Chris Klieman stepped to the podium Wednesday afternoon for his formal introduction as Kansas State’s new football coach, he had already won the dang day. Well, at least he’d inspired a couple of Twitter hashtags.
It turns out that in order to be all in with the Wildcats, it helps to be a #KliGuy, and you had better be ready to #WinTheDangDay.
That was Klieman’s message to his returning K-State players the night before and again to the media gathered for his introductory media conference at the Vanier Family Football Complex during a whirlwind trip to Manhattan.
“I mentioned to the guys last night, this program’s in really good shape,” he said. “It’s in really good shape and it’s a credit to coach (Bill) Snyder and the staff and the current players.
“And my goal is this: challenge every one of those guys to win every day, compete and win each day. Whether that’s in the academic world, classroom, whether it’s on the football field, socially (or) whether it’s strength and conditioning, you win every dang day.”
And that’s just for starters.
“You challenge each other to be great,” Klieman added. “You challenge each other to leave their comfort zone.
“Challenge each other to see how great we can be and hold each other to the high standard that is Kansas State football.”
Klieman was only in Manhattan for a little over 16 hours, arriving at 9 p.m. Tuesday and heading back to Fargo, N.D., on Wednesday afternoon for a practice with his other team — North Dakota State. The Bison are just a day away from a FCS national semifinal game against South Dakota State and he is committed to stay with them through their playoff run.
“It’s been a fun road,” Klieman said of the process, which began with Snyder’s retirement on Dec. 2, included a 35-0 quarterfinal playoff victory over Colgate last Saturday and wrapped up Monday night, when he was officially named K-State’s 35th head coach. “It’s been a stressful road a little bit in the fact — everybody knows this — I’m kind of head coach at two programs right now.
“We still have some work to do at North Dakota State, and part of the reason that I’m here is because of the support I have from the players and administration at North Dakota State.”
Klieman will continue to do double duty, based out of Fargo, as he coaches the Bison while working on some K-State recruiting and assembling a Wildcat staff.
Klieman made believers of his North Dakota State constituency a long time ago. That’s in large part because in five years as the Bison’s head coach he has a 67-6 record with three FCS national championships and is two victories away from a fourth.
The quick trip to Manhattan was all about winning over a skeptical fan base, concerned whether a successful FCS coach can make the leap to an FBS Power Five conference.
Judging by the reaction on social media (see the hashtags above), he’s definitely trending in the right direction.
And the K-State players, at least initially, appear to be all in.
“I’m super excited about this opportunity with coach Klieman,” said starting quarterback Skylar Thompson, adding that he will be back for his junior year. “He’s a great guy, great coach, and obviously what he’s done with his quarterbacks is what really sticks out with me and what I’m most excited for.”
With Alex Delton announcing earlier this month that he will leave K-State as a graduate transfer, Thompson is the Wildcats’ only returning quarterback with playing experience. Also, Klieman recruited Thompson out of Fort Osage High School in Independence, Mo.
“I offered the kid,” Klieman said with a smile. “He was an athletic quarterback that had a great arm, from a really good program in Fort Osage, and I remember the conversation.
“I was out on the road, called him and offered him a scholarship and he was all excited. Two days later he got an offer from Kansas State and that was the end of that.”
Junior safety Denzel Goolsby was immediately drawn to Klieman during the Tuesday night meeting.
“He came in fired up and it probably gave a lot of chills,” Goolsby said. “I know it gave me chills, and the guys are just excited to have a coach like that, and I think he is a great fit, and the athletic staff thinks he’s a great fit.
“So we’re definitely very excited about it.”
In addition to getting the current players on board, Klieman said he would be busy working the phones to retain commitments from players recruited by Snyder’s staff and also adding more to round out the 2019 recruiting class.
While in Manhattan, Klieman also met with Snyder’s assistant coaches to gauge whether there was mutual interest in keeping them on his staff. He said that recruiting director Taylor Braet will stay on.
Klieman was confident he can hold his own on the recruiting trail in the Big 12.
“We have recruited at North Dakota State against Power Fives and Group of Fives all the time,” he said. “If you do your due diligence in recruiting and attack recruiting — and I think our staff at North Dakota State did a great job of that — what we have to do here at Kansas State is pound the pavement.
“Get out there, get around recruits, be in our footprint and continue to contact those guys. You have to build relationships. That is all recruiting is — building relationships and building trust.”
Though he has no ties to Texas or Oklahoma, typical K-State recruiting strongholds, he said he hoped to address that issue through his staff.