First Joe Bob Clements. Now Michael Smith.
In the span of five days, the Kansas State football team surprisingly lost two longtime assistants that once played for the Wildcats and started their coaching careers under Bill Snyder.
Clements, K-State’s former defensive ends coach and defensive run game coordinator, is off to Oklahoma State as the Cowboys’ new defensive line coach. Smith, K-State’s former receivers coach, will be in charge of the same position at Arkansas.
Their absences will be noticeable. On the field, Clements and Smith did a fine job of developing talent. Meshak Williams and Adam Davis were two of the top pass-rushers in the Big 12 last season. Chris Harper came to Manhattan hoping to play quarterback and left as a productive receiver with a future in the NFL. They helped K-State win 21 games the past two seasons.
But their biggest contributions came in recruiting.
Smith and Clements were without a doubt K-State’s top two recruiters. Smith, a New Orleans native, regularly signed prospects from Florida and Louisiana, where he faced competition from SEC schools. He spoke passionately about “not taking a backseat” to other programs and Rivals labeled him as one of the top 10 recruiters in the Big 12 last year. Clements, an Emporia native, was well-liked in the Sunflower State and helped seal the deal with many local recruits.
They were the two youngest assistants on the Wildcats’ staff (Clements is 37 and Smith is 42) and had outgoing personalities that high school seniors could easily relate to.
Whoever Snyder brings into replace them will need to be gifted in the same areas. Though K-State’s other assistants are capable recruiters, they could use some new blood, able to take the lead on the recruiting trial. That should be the focus in these coaching searches.
I’m not sure who will Snyder will target. Current defensive graduate assistant Blake Seiler, who played defensive end at K-State, would be a good fit for Clements’ old position. Joe Gordon, who served as K-State’s director of recruiting operations before leaving last offseason, could also make sense as a full-time assistant. But Snyder could also do what he did last year when he brought in Mike Cox to coach linebackers and hire someone without any direct ties to the program. We will have to wait and see.
Another interesting topic: Why did Clements and Smith leave?
Only they know all the answers. The sources I talked to this week said they were shocked when Clements left on Sunday and just as surprised when news broke Thursday that Smith was on his way out. Sources described both moves as “personal choices.”
A source told me Clements was looking forward to added responsibilities at Oklahoma State. At K-State, he only coached defensive ends. He will be in charge of the entire defensive line with the Cowboys. There was internal talk of promoting him to linebackers coach when Chris Cosh left last year. Instead, he earned the title of defensive run game coordinator. Perhaps he was simply ready to do more. Though, he likely will receive a pay bump from the $255,000 he earned last year, as well.
Smith’s reasons are less certain. He will have the same title at Arkansas he had at K-State. But the move does come with perks. He will be able to recruit in SEC country as a SEC coach now. He will be closer to his hometown. And he will likely earn more than the $210,000 he made last year.
Even with their deep connections to K-State, and the program’s recent success, you can see how Clements and Smith might be enticed by these new opportunities.
Coaching staffs all across the country experience turnover. It’s part of the game. And whenever a program is winning, other programs come calling with job opportunities for their assistants. It’s happened regularly at K-State lately, with Vic Koenning, Ricky Rahne, Chris Cosh, Keith Burns, Clements and Smith all departing for new jobs since Snyder returned to Manhattan four seasons ago.
K-State has managed to improve every year (6-6 to 7-6 to 10-3 to 11-2) despite those coaching changes.
But the Wildcats might need to think more long-term this time around. Recruiting will be key for Snyder’s next two assistants.