McFeely: In odd situation, Klieman sure Bison will be prepared for SDSU

NDSU coach, leaving for Kansas State, is coaching two programs at once as long as Bison alive

Chris Klieman, left, poses for cameras with Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor after being introduced as the 35th head football coach of Kansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kan., on Wednesday, Dec. 12. Matt Lansford / Manhattan Mercury

Manhattan, Kan.

It might seem odd to the rest of the college football world, but Chris Klieman has lived this before. The North Dakota State coach is helping prep a team for the Division I FCS playoffs while getting started in his new job as the coach at Kansas State.

Even as Klieman was introduced to the Kansas State fans and media Wednesday at a press conference at the football complex attached to Bill Snyder Family Stadium, his Bison staff and team were in Fargo preparing for a semifinal matchup Friday against rival South Dakota State at the Fargodome.

Klieman flew into Manhattan on a private plane Tuesday night and flew back to Fargo Wednesday afternoon in time to run NDSU's afternoon practice.

" Everything is getting taken care of and (Tuesday) I had a great meeting with the team, great meeting with the coaches," Klieman said. "They knew today was happening and I'm excited to get back on continue our prep."


One man, two jobs.

It's been a wild scenario the last several days. Klieman interviewed for the Wildcats job last week and over the weekend as the Bison prepared for and played Colgate in the playoff quarterfinals. Now he is shuttling between two jobs as NDSU gets ready for what promises to be a difficult semifinal game against the Jackrabbits.

It is going to be the Bison's toughest semifinal test since the 27-17 loss to James Madison in 2016. That ended NDSU's streak of five straight FCS national titles.

Klieman literally wore the school colors of both Kansas State (purple) and NDSU (green and yellow) at different points of the day Wednesday.

" Because I care about both places, I'm going to give every bit of attention I can to both programs," Klieman said. "When I leave here and head back, we have practice. Make some phone calls late in the night for Kansas State. Get up in the morning, turn my attention back to North Dakota State. And on Friday from 7 to 10:30, nobody call. I have a lot of things going on. We're playing a football game."

College football's early signing day is Dec. 19, so Klieman has to solidify K-State's recruiting commitments and perhaps brings some new recruits into the fold in the next several days while he's still coaching the Bison. He'll also have to begin to assemble a staff in Manhattan and lay the groundwork for his new program.

It's quite a juggling act. Of course, if the Bison lose to the Jackrabbits Klieman can focus solely on his new job. If they win, he'll be doing two jobs until early January. That's when the FCS championship game is played.

It's a similar situation that confronted NDSU in 2013 when coach Craig Bohl accepted the job to lead Wyoming's program in the midst of a Bison playoff run. Bohl and the Bison staff, including Klieman, stayed in Fargo and coached that loaded team as long as NDSU kept winning, which turned out to be into early January 2014. The Bison advanced to the FCS national title game in Frisco, Texas, where they beat Towson for Bohl's third straight national championship. He, and a number of assistant coaches, left immediately afterward for Laramie.


This is the same situation, only it's being handled much more smoothly. Klieman acknowledged he learned a few lessons from what turned out to be a messy transition in 2013. There were tensions on the staff and team that year, in part because Bohl was upset with some coaches for not following him to Laramie. That led to awkward situations at practices and in the coaching offices.

That isn't happening this time. Klieman has been much more transparent during Kansas State's job search, answering questions from Fargo media about it during press conferences. Bohl was secretive and defensive in 2013. Klieman has been anything but. He hasn't exactly embraced the scrutiny, and didn't offer much in terms of detail, but he understood it was coming and dealt with it professionally and amiably.

Klieman said his new bosses at Kansas State insisted he stay with the Bison through the playoffs. Some of his staff will certainly move with him to Manhattan when the time comes. Bison director of football operations Hank Jacobs has already made public via Twitter he's going with Klieman. But the odd tensions and behind-the-scenes drama that played out in 2013 with Bohl appear to be absent this time around.

The weirdness didn't stop the 2013 Bison from rolling. That was possibly the best FCS team in history, finishing 15-0 with a handful of players who would eventually play in the NFL and Canadian Football League. This year's team has a chance to be in that conversation, but has to beat SDSU first.

"We still have some work to do at North Dakota State," Klieman told those gathered in Manhattan.

Bison players, by all accounts, are thrilled Klieman is getting an opportunity to move up the coaching ranks. NDSU has 24 seniors, which helps. But concerns about the chaos of the past week derailing NDSU's chances don't seem to be based in reality.

Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor, the same guy who hired Klieman to replace Bohl at NDSU, shared a story that had been unreported before Wednesday. It speaks to what the Bison players think of Klieman.

" He's a passionate guy. He's a character guy. He is a really, really good coach. The players love him. When he told his team that he was going to Kansas State, they stood up and gave him a standing ovation. I can promise you that doesn't happen very often," Taylor said.

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