It felt like Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor hit the pause button on his search for Bill Snyder’s coaching replacement on Saturday.
As he traveled to Philadelphia and attended the Army-Navy football game, North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman, who many believe may be the leading candidate for the opening, guided the Bison to a 35-0 victory over Colgate in the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. And the other coaches thought to be in the mix prepared their teams for upcoming bowl games.
But that doesn’t mean it was a dull day for everyone involved.
Klieman told reporters following North Dakota State’s playoff victory that he met with K-State about the opening along with “six or seven others.” He said he has not been offered the job. When asked if he would take the job if offered, he said he couldn’t provide an answer.
This is where the search has led after it took an odd turn on Friday with North Texas coach Seth Littrell withdrawing his name from consideration. With one of the perceived front-runners suddenly out of the race, all eyes turned north to Klieman because of his shared history with Taylor.
But that isn’t sitting well with some K-State fans. Many of them turned to social media and message boards to voice their displeasure over the prospect of hiring a FCS coach to replace Snyder. Though Klieman has been incredibly successful at North Dakota State, going 67-6 with three national championships since taking over as head coach in 2014, it is rare for a FCS coach to make the jump to a power conference without first proving himself at a lower-tier FBS university.
As the only power-conference team currently with a coaching vacancy, some believe K-State should set its sights higher, potentially to Troy’s Neal Brown or Memphis’ Mike Norvell.
The fan unrest was brought to Taylor’s attention, according to sources with knowledge of the search process, and he must now decide whether he can sell Klieman to K-State fans.
If Taylor decides to look elsewhere, expect Brown to get a long look. A source said Taylor interviewed Brown earlier this week and walked away from the meeting impressed. His name gained momentum on Saturday, perhaps to the point where Brown has passed Norvell on the list of contenders.
Brown led Troy to a 9-3 record this season and appears to be one of the rising coaches in the Sun Belt Conference. He has gone 34-16 with Troy, and he can lead the team to its third consecutive season of 10-plus victories with a win in the Dollar General Bowl later this month.
Throw in recent high-profile wins over LSU and Nebraska, and he has a strong resume that has made him a candidate for several openings.
Brown makes a salary of $810,000 at Troy. His buyout is nearly $3 million, according to USA Today.
Norvell has gone 26-13 at Memphis over three seasons. That’s the most wins of any coach over a three-year span at the school. Norvell, 37, guided Memphis to an 8-5 record this year. He is the highest-paid coach outside of the Power Five conferences with a salary of $2.6 million. His buyout is $500,000.
Taylor doesn’t have much of a connection with Brown or Norvell, but he does share some history with Klieman.
When Taylor was the athletic director at North Dakota State, he promoted Klieman to head coach after Craig Bohl left for Wyoming. Klieman took over a FCS juggernaut and has since guided the Bison to sustained success. NFL quarterback Carson Wentz is one of his former players.
North Dakota State is the top seed in the FCS playoffs. It is scheduled to play in the FCS semifinals next weekend.