Kansas State Wildcats football coach Chris Klieman made a swing through Kansas City metro Wednesday evening, meeting with the KC Catbackers at Shawnee Mission Park.
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Chris Klieman was hired as Kansas State’s football coach largely on his ability to win championships. At North Dakota State, his teams captured four NCAA Football Championship Subdivision titles in five seasons.
That means Klieman also has experienced success in coaching teams that are coming off trophy seasons. That’s where the reigning Big 12 champion Wildcats find themselves in 2023.
“You better stay humble and you better stay hungry or you can get knocked off,” Klieman said Wednesday evening, during a KC Catbackers appearance at Shawnee Mission Park. “What you did last year can pale in comparison to what you can do this year.”
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In winning the fourth league title in program history, Kansas State of 2022 became a forever team in the hearts of fans. And the Wildcats pulled it off with a dramatic flourish.
They finished behind undefeated TCU in the final Big 12 standings, setting up a rematch with the Horned Frogs in the conference championship game. K-State won it with a goal-line stand and walk-off field goal in overtime.
“What we did was magical last year.” Klieman said. “But come June 1, when all of our kids report back and we start our first workout for the summer of 2023, it’s a new wave. It’s a new cycle, it’s a new time.”
The Wildcats’ Big 12 championship rings will be presented to the players after the team’s opening workout.
“We’ll make a big spectacle about it,” Klieman said.
Klieman made a big offseason splash himself, agreeing to a new eight-year contract worth $44 million. But it’s what happened before his deal was announced that especially pleased him.
“Before we did my contract we elevated assistants’ salaries,” Klieman said. “I wanted to make sure those guys got an increase because they’re why we’re successful.”
Athletic director Gene Taylor brought Klieman to Kansas State after they worked together at North Dakota State. It was Taylor who elevated Klieman to the head coaching job there before Taylor became associate athletic director at Iowa.
“Grateful for Gene Taylor,” Klieman said. “He’s my boss; he’s a good friend of mine. He may not say this, but he took a chance on me coming from FCS. We had some validation last fall that what we’re doing, it’s the right way.”
Prospects for continued success look bright. Quarterback Will Howard returns, and so do all the Wildcats’ starters across the offensive line. Left guard Cooper Beebe, last year’s Big 12 offensive lineman of the year and a graduate of Piper High, was a projected NFL Draft pick when he decided to return.
The Wildcats had four players selected in this year’s NFL Draft, led by edge Felix Anudike-Uzomah of Lee’s Summit, who was taken in the first round by his hometown Chiefs. Also in Kansas City is former Wildcats cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe, who signed a free agent contract.
But the sense is that Kansas State’s roster remains good enough to make another run this season. It will be an odd one in the Big 12, which swells to 14 teams with the addition four newcomer schools. The Wildcats will meet half of them this fall, playing Central Florida and Houston but missing Oklahoma and West Virginia.
They’ll do so as the Big 12 champions, and the idea is to build on that title.
“I don’t want to have a great team,” Klieman said. “I want to have a great program.”