The time is near friends. This is the last day of July (or possibly the first day of August depending on when this is published) and I’ve been thinking about the upcoming Kansas State football season for the last few days. I like to come up with a theme for football seasons. It helps me keep things in perspective during the inevitable struggles that arise during the season.
I was having trouble nailing down a theme for K-State until Google decided to throw “Changes” by David Bowie into one of my playlists. Granted, most of the song has no relevance to the upcoming football season, but the chorus, the chorus stuck in my brain. For Wildcat fans, for better or worse, this season is about change.
The thing is, change is what made Bill Snyder one of the best coaches in the history of college football. He changed Kansas State from a perennial doormat into a legitimate Big 12 and National Champion (in a few years) contender. The “culture” (the buzzword de jour of every coach in America right now) of the program was built and Coach Snyder’s 16 Goals for Success was a constant. However, Snyder’s ability to continually reinvent the program, his ability to zig when other programs were zagging, set him apart.
Now that I think about it, his inability to change one final time is what cost him the head job at K-State. The culture was still intact, but he just wasn’t flexible enough at the end to make the changes necessary to keep the program moving forward. Stagnation is death in college football, and the Wildcats were stuck in the mud.
Enter Chris Klieman. Regardless of your opinion of his hire, or the hiring process in general, you must admit that plucking a wildly successful coach from an FCS program is a change from the norm. The program needed a change, and Klieman provides just that. If nothing else, things will be different in Manhattan this year, and unlike last time, there is no turning back. Coach Snyder won’t be coming back to “calm the waters” this time. Wildcat fans will be left to hold on tight and ride out the choppy surf.
Klieman has already instituted several major and rather obvious changes. The assistant coaches have been turned loose on the recruiting trail. That was a necessary change. The new staff is out building relationships with high school freshmen and sophomores, instead of waiting until the summer of a player’s senior year to make contact. You’re seeing some of the dividends of this change in the 2020 class, but look for it to really start paying off with the 2022 class.
Coach Snyder’s iron curtain of media access has been torn down. I’m not sure how much that matters, but I know journalists on the K-State beat are having a much easier time. Coaches always need to be selling the program, and increased access for local media could, in theory, help sell the program for the coach. Of course, if things go poorly this is a double edged sword, but you’ve got to hope for the best. Right now the media is fat, happy, and pumping out positive articles.
What makes this change unique is that the Wildcats never actually bottomed out under Snyder. The “culture” (there’s that word again), the bedrock of the program, never cracked. Coach Klieman isn’t walking into a poisoned locker room like Willie Taggart did at Florida State last season or like Scott Satterfield is walking into at Louisville this year. K-State may have been outmanned and out talented in a few games last year, but they never quit on the field. That is a testament to Coach Snyder, his staff, and his players, and should make Klieman’s transition easier. He has to improve the product on the field, but the program isn’t in need of an off field rebuild.
Don’t get me wrong, change like Kansas State is about to experience is never easy. To quote Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, “Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.” While maybe not all that sudden, Kansas State football without Bill Snyder is a great change. It’s often said that you want to be the guy who replaces the guy that replaces the legend. There are going to be struggles this year. Things are going to look different. Coach Klieman is coming from a program where he often had a significant talent advantage and will now be a coaching a program where he will initially be at a significant talent disadvantage in most games. This isn’t going to be easy.
British philosopher Alan Watts said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” That’s what it’s going to take to make this thing work. Wildcat fans are going to have to plunge head first into the Klieman era. Fans are going to have to weather some rough seas with no guarantee of smooth sailing ahead. I can’t tell you if Klieman is the guy. I like what he says and think he’s got an above average shot to make things work in Manhattan, but you won’t be able make a real assessment on Klieman for at least 3 (and ideally 4) seasons. Patience is going to be required. You’re going to have to stick with an unproven coach (at this level) through some bad and potentially big losses. Hopefully, you’ll also get a few big wins to help you through the bad parts.
From a somewhat disinterested 3rd party point of view, this will be an interesting study in college football coaching transitions. Klieman has done a good job of winning over a skeptical fan base this offseason, and he’ll need every ounce of the good will he’s accumulated when things inevitably get tough this year. I anticipate the fans who were less than enthralled with his hire to jump ship at the first sign of trouble. The thing is, it’s possible those fans are right. I thought Darrell Hazell was a great hire for Purdue and he ended up being terrible. I thought Dabo Swinney was a terrible hire for Clemson and I’ve got a National Championship flag planted firmly in my front yard.
I have no idea what is going to happen, but I can assure you, it will be a change.