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Twenty Things Chris Klieman Said at Big 12 Media Day


By D. Scott Fritchen,


MANHATTAN, Kan. – Chris Klieman was plenty busy at Big 12 Media Day last Thursday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Seems everybody wanted to speak with the Kansas State head coach as the Wildcats come off a Big 12 Championship and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl.

Klieman has been here before. Winning is nothing new. He won four FCS Championships in five years as head coach at North Dakota State. Now entering his fifth season at K-State, Klieman, 102-33 overall, and 30-20 in Manhattan, ranks fourth nationally in winning percentage among current FBS coaches that have led programs for at least 10 seasons.

K-State, 10-4, comes off a season in which it finished No. 9 in the final College Football Playoff Top 25, the Wildcats’ highest-ever ranking in the final poll.

K-State also comes off a season in which it beat three AP Top-10 opponents for the first time in history and the Wildcats have defeated five top-10 teams under Klieman. No other Big 12 team has more than three victories over Top-10 teams since 2019.

The Wildcats were picked second in the 2023 Big 12 Preseason Poll — behind Texas.

It’s a whole new season for Klieman and the Wildcats and the head coach spoke with reporters about trends and players to watch as the team prepares to report to fall camp on August 1.

Here are 20 things Klieman said at Big 12 Media Days:

On the adjustment of the defending Big 12 Champions being the hunted:

We don’t shy away from it; we talk about it. Yeah, the target is on our back, there’s expectations but that’s why you came to K-State, to have high expectations and to be the team that people want to beat. That’s how we did it in the past (at North Dakota State) and it really worked because it just kept elevating. That’s what we want to continue to do. I heard Jerome Tang talk about it and just continue to elevate what we do at K-State.

On drawing upon past successes at North Dakota State to continue success:

Just the experience as I look at Joe Klanderman on the defensive side and Conor Riley on the offensive side, they’ve been through it as well, and they know exactly what we’re talking about. I promise you one thing, the offensive line hears it all the time, because Coach Riley gets after them every day to say, “You’re supposed to be the strength of the team, let’s prove it day in and day out.”

On how he has advanced and learned from his experience at North Dakota State:

College football has continued to evolve over the last few years. If you’d told me that we were going to change the defense and go with the no-huddle offense and change all that stuff, I would’ve said, “There’s no way, I’m going to stay with what I believe in,” but you have to adapt and evolve not only to your talent but to how the conference and how the way team are playing changes. And we had to change. We had to move to a three-down and go to more up-tempo stuff and now our kids, it gives our kids something every year to look forward to — “What are we doing new this year?” I think you always have to continue to evolve.

On K-State being picked second in the Big 12 Preseason Poll:

I don’t pay attention to it, honestly. What were we picked last year? I mean, I think it’s great to have things to talk about, but it doesn’t mean anything until you put your pads on and start getting into competition. We talk about expectations. We knew expectations would be higher when we won, but now, we have to wipe it clean. It’s a brand new year with new guys and a new team.

On four teams coming into the Big 12 and two teams leaving and the future of the Big 12:

Oh, it’s bright, for sure, and you can see with our TV deal that we signed after losing Texas and Oklahoma. It’s a strange year because we’re not playing a round-robin schedule. For Oklahoma and Kansas State not to play, that’s kind of crazy. West Virginia, I think it’s a great game, and we’re not playing those guys, either. That’s the strange stuff. And now you have to go back and do a bunch of homework on teams like UCF and Houston. We’ve had to do a lot of leg work on them over the spring and summer.

We have a rolodex of things on Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU, and so on, even if coaches change. Houston and UCF are where we spent a majority of our time in the offseason as far as getting a rolodex on those two. We haven’t looked at a snap on BYU and Cincinnati. Next winter when we probably have those guys on the schedule, that’s when we’ll dive into those.

On the transfer portal:

We’ve adapted and it’s not going away. We know that for sure. We’ve benefitted from it. There’s four easy names – we benefitted from getting Adrian MartinezKade WarnerJulius Brents and Josh Hayes. All four are on NFL rosters right now. Sometimes it’s not somebody that gets kicked off or somebody who’s disgruntled. Sometimes it’s just a change of scenery that they need, and we measure that with whether they fit our system, fit our culture, and can they be a great person in that locker room with all the other guys. We’ve lost some kids to the transfer portal as well. A lot of times it’s backups or guys that maybe aren’t playing as much because there’s a Deuce Vaughn or because of a Kobe Savage or Julius Brents ahead of them. It’s OK for college football. I’m a fan of it because you only get so many years to play this great game, and I’d hate to have everybody who leaves have to sit out a year. You never know that year you sit out and the next year you might hurt your knee and miss another year. I think we have a good plan right now as far as shrinking the windows of when kids can get in, but then giving them opportunities to go look around.

On whether he’s felt any pressure to dive into the transfer portal to keep the success going at K-State:

No. We did what we always do and grabbed a handful of guys that we felt could help us, but I’m not a quick-fix guy, never have been. The most successful teams are ones that have three, four, and five-year guys in the program that can express and teach the culture to the other guys, and take player ownership when coaches aren’t around. We have nine sixth-year guys this year, and what’s so significant to me about that is you hear a lot of stories about guys being there for their fifth year and going somewhere else — “I’ve done my work here.” All nine of those guys knocked on my door or called me and said, “Coach, I want to come back and play for K-State. I love my teammates and coaches.” When you have nine six-year guys, and they vary from offensive linemen to wide receivers and everything in between, it’s pretty neat to have that much experience coming back.

On whether he sees the rate of transfers becoming a problem five or 10 years from now:

Not for Kansas State and not for us as long as we’re here. We’re going to do it the way we know how to do it. We’re going to build it through the high school ranks. I don’t care what everybody else does. We’re going to build it through the high school ranks and take a transfer here and there when we need them.

On the biggest advantages that come with having Collin Klein and Will Howard back for 2023:

The continuity is huge, especially on the offensive side, and now we’re going into year two. I’m excited because I think we’re just barely scratching the surface of what we can do offensively. I really believe that. Collin in his first year was phenomenal, but I saw some innovation and some even more things in spring ball that they were able to do. And when you have a guy like Will who’s so smart, I think we’ll be able to advance in a lot of things that we’ve done. We have to find ways to get people the football now. Last three years, it was where’s 22 and let’s get the football to him some way. Now it’s going to be a lot of guys that are going to have different touches and I think it’ll make us tougher to defend.

On how to take advantage of offensive consistency to have an even better season in 2023:

For starters, we have to be able to run the football, and if we’re able to run the football behind those offensive linemen, we’re going to continue to improve and get better. If we struggle, it’s going to be because we can’t run the football. As we’ve been successful over the last two years, and I think of 2021 when Skylar Thompson was a senior and 2022, it was because we were able to run the football and it opens everything up. That’s something that’s going to be really important for us, is to build our rapport with the running backs. We knew who’d it be last year, now this year it’s going to be different, but I’m excited.

On how good quarterback Will Howard could be this year:

The sky’s the limit. He’s going to have his best year for sure now. Our guys around him have to run and catch, too. They’ve got to be able to help him out. We don’t have Malik Knowles and Kade Warner and Deuce Vaughn. We’ve got to have production replaced. We talk about it at running back, and at wide receiver Keagan Johnson has to have a really big year for us and RJ Garcia II has to have a really big year for us, Jadon Jackson has to have a big year, and Phillip Brooks has to continue to get better and better. That’s what we’re hoping for.

On his confidence in Jake Rubley as potential backup quarterback:

Rubes is gaining more and more confidence. I thought he had a really good spring – an excellent spring – and threw the ball well, and understood what we’re doing. He’s been in the system now a little bit longer, and he took more reps this spring and took some off of Will, so I’m excited about Rubes’ development, and he knows it. You better have two or three guys at quarterback. Other than my first year in 2019, we’ve had to play two or three guys.

On how good the K-State quarterback room is for 2023:

It’s really good, and it’s led by one of the greatest men in college football in Collin Klein. I sit in that room a lot and throw my defensive perspective at them periodically. It’s just a really healthy, strong room with good competition but a bunch of guys who really care for each other.

On what he has shared with transfer running back Treshaun Ward:

Not to be Deuce Vaughn, and to be Treshaun Ward, for starters. He’s a really good player out of the backfield. He missed most of spring ball, so we’re still learning his true skill set but you can watch him on film and watch him run for 100-plus yards against Oklahoma in a bowl game, and the kid is a special talent. I think DJ Giddens will also really be a surprise.

On the potential contributions of DJ Giddens:

He’ll have a phenomenal year because of what he’s done with his body and to transform himself. He’s become more of a student of the game. That’s what I’m more impressed with. He’s always been a natural football player, but he’s learned more about the game. I think he learned that from Deuce, and Deuce taught him, “Here are the things you need to learn and know.” He missed the spring recovering from a surgery, and he’s healthy now and watching him run around he’s probably in the best shape of his life and he’s a load back there. He just needs reps behind that offensive line.

On tight end Ben Sinnott’s confidence after last season:

Those Waterloo, Iowa guys, I’m telling you. Ben, I’m really excited for him. He’s made himself into a tremendous football player. He’s a great tight end and a great fullback, and he’s one of our top wide receivers, too, so we have to keep him on the field in third-down situations. So, Ben has to get into phenomenal shape because he’s going to play a lot of plays for us.

On the potential impact of Keagan Johnson at wide receiver:

We are asking him to come in and fill the need that Malik left. He had an exceptional spring of football for us. Will didn’t get very many reps with him, so I know those two have gotten together a lot over the summer to work on their timing of things. Keagan is an explosive football player and runs extremely good routes and has great ball skills. I don’t know how it’s all going to shake out as far as how many balls he’s going to catch, but the only thing I could’ve told you last year was that Deuce was going to get the football. I don’t know how much it’s going to be between Phillip, Keagan, RJ Garcia, Sinnott, Treshaun and DJ, which makes it exciting for Collin Klein. We have so many people we can get the football to.

On who to look out for on defense in 2023:

Uso Seumalo. Uso. I’m just telling you, Uso. Uso has trimmed down as much as he can trim down and still run at 337 pounds or something. He’s athletic and strong, and he learned a lot from Eli Huggins. I’m excited for Uso and Damian Ilalio, too.

On the impact of Khalid Duke moving to full-time defensive end:

I think he can be one of the best pass rushers in college football. I think everybody saw that in 2020 during the pandemic year when he terrorized Oklahoma. They couldn’t block him. Even in 2021, I remember him coming off the edge, he hadn’t practiced the whole fall camp, and he came off the edge and sacked a guy here against Stanford. That was as good of a move as I’ve seen. We saw what he did last year moving him to linebacker, and now he’s defensive end full time, which is where he really belongs. Between him and Brendan Mott and having a Nate Matlack will help him, too. I like our bookend defensive ends.

On the potential impact of sophomore linebacker Desmond Purnell:

Des had a really good season last season. I love seeing Topeka kids have the success he’s having. He’s one of the core guys on our football team that bleeds K-State and leads our culture of what we’re doing. He split time with Khalid Duke when we moved Khalid to full-time defensive end because I think it’s more his natural position. That does amplify Des’s role tremendously, as well as on special teams. Austin Moore and Daniel Green are the leaders of the linebacker corps, but he needs to be the next guy that’s going to lead when those two guys go, as well as be one of the leaders on special teams.