Kansas State University

How Chris Klieman won over K-State football players with his introductory speech

Let it be known that Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson was ready to play for his new football coach from the very beginning.

Chris Klieman won over Thompson, and the vast majority of his K-State teammates, with his introductory speech late Tuesday night. He spoke to them about winning and playing for each other. Klieman pointed out that his most famous former player, Carson Wentz, was an unknown recruit before starring at North Dakota State and then moving onto the NFL.

Most importantly, Klieman shared his coaching mantra: Win the dang day.

“I am so excited to step on the field for Coach Klieman,” Thompson said Wednesday after Klieman was introduced. “After the way he talked to us last night, I guarantee every single player on this football team would have went downstairs and put our pads on and went out and practiced. We would have been ready to go.”

K-State quickly circulated a video clip of the speech and it went viral on social media. But it didn’t capture the energy in the room, Thompson said.

“Everybody was on their toes and wanting to jump out of their seats, it felt like,” he said. “He provided a really good spark for our football team right off the bat. I will tell you our entire team is already on board. We are ready to get back here in January and get back to work.”

Klieman won’t coach his first football game until August, but he has already landed his first victory. It has been fascinating to watch how quickly K-State fans and players have accepted their new coach.

Following a legend like Bill Snyder, a man who transformed K-State football from a moribund team into a consistent winner, isn’t easy. It seemed like fans wanted someone else to take on the challenge when word leaked out that Klieman was a primary candidate for the position last week.

Athletic director Gene Taylor said the initial feedback was so negative that he stopped and wondered if Klieman was truly the right person for the job. Could he sell him to K-State fans? He almost offered the job to one of the other seven candidates he interviewed. But he ultimately stuck with his gut feeling that Klieman was the best fit.

When Klieman heard about Taylor’s concerns, he offered to call season-ticket holders and personally win them over.

That, it seems, will not be needed. As the days passed and K-State fans learned more about Klieman and his coaching resume, which features a 67-6 record and three FCS national championships at North Dakota State, more and more of them climbed on board.

“The world of social media could learn a lesson from this,” Taylor said. “I kind of sensed that once they got to know him and see him in action that would happen. I was a little surprised at how quickly it went. But that is the kind of guy that he is. That is one of the reasons I hired him. He is a passionate guy, he is a character guy, he is a really, really good coach. And the players love him.

“When he announced to his team that he was leaving to go to Kansas State, they gave him a standing ovation. I can promise you that doesn’t happen very often. I knew once people got to see him they would buy in.”

K-State fans offered mixed reactions when he was hired on Monday, but they seemed genuinely enthused about him on Wednesday. Promising alternate uniforms and a fun atmosphere — two things that were never seen under Snyder — helped.

But his “win the dang day” mantra put him over the top.

“You are only guaranteed today,” Klieman said. “Give everything you can today for yourself and the guy next to you. If you do that in every aspect of your life, you are going to have a heck of a day. If you do that in all aspects of your life, you are going to be able to be successful and get to the next day and win tomorrow.

“I’m a one-and-oh-for-the-day guy. If you go 1-0 every day and you stack those up Monday through Friday then you have a chance to win on Saturday. That is what we do.”

Klieman spoke for nearly an hour on Wednesday, and he covered a lot of ground.

He thanked Snyder and his family for their work building up K-State football and said he will use the retired coach as an advisor. He explained that the gap between a FCS school like North Dakota State and a power-five school like K-State is not as big as some think. He thinks he is ready to make the jump.

Also: he hopes to boost recruiting, hire a topnotch staff and build the Wildcats back into a Big 12 contender.

As the nation’s premier FCS coach, Klieman could have left for a bigger job in previous years. But few other schools appealed to him like K-State.

“It’s a dream job of mine to coach at a Power Five school and I found the right fit at Kansas State,” Klieman said. “For me it’s all about fit.”

His speech was certainly a fit with K-State players.

You could say he won the dang day.

“It was amazing,” linebacker Justin Hughes said. “The first thing he said was that he is a players’ coach. Everyone was excited about that, because you can get a coach that comes in and just tries to dictate everything. Guys are going to buy into a coach like that. Guys are going to buy into a coach that is willing to understand us. We are all excited to play for Coach Klieman.”

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.