K-State head football coach Chris Klieman received a contract extension and pay raise this week. The deal runs through the 2030 season and will pay him 44 million dollars, an average of 5.5 million dollars per season. It makes Klieman the fourth highest-paid coach in the Big 12, behind Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, Oklahoma’s Brent Venables, and Texas coach Steve Sarkisian. It is a great deal for everyone involved, and it helps put my mind at ease that Klieman will be the coach of the Wildcats for the foreseeable future.
I was a freshman at K-State in 1991, and Bill Snyder had just started as K-State’s head football coach a couple of years before that. Either in 1991 or 1992, I cannot remember for sure when it was, K-State announced that Snyder was going to receive an extension and raise to make around $125,000 per season. It was big news in Manhattan, as both the Manhattan Mercury and the K-State Collegian wrote editorials about how much money Snyder was making. I vividly remember multiple college professors I had raised quite a ruckus in the lecture halls because they could not believe that the University was going to pay a football coach that much money. My how times have changed. Close to 30 years later K-State’s football coach is making 5.5 million a year.
With Klieman’s new salary and extension also comes a lot of pressure for his teams to remain competitive at the top of the Big 12 conference. If you pay your coach a top-four salary in the league, I expect the team to be in the top four most seasons and consistently compete for league titles. While K-State won the Big 12 in 2022, they finished 3rd, 7th, and 5th in Klieman’s previous seasons with only one other winning conference record, 5-4, in 2019. When you make your coach one of the highest-paid coaches in the league, you expect the team to finish a lot closer to where the 2022 team did, 7-2, than where the team finished from 2019 to 2021, two 4-5 conference records and a 5-4 record.
K-State’s over/under win total for 2023 is 8.5, according to DraftKings. That is a pretty high number, and I would not bet a nickel on it. I do not see a clear path to nine wins for the 2023 Wildcats. Losing Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Deuce Vaughn, Julius Brents, Josh Hayes, Malik Knowles, Kade Warner, Eli Huggins, and many others will be a huge blow. Replacing most of the stars of the 2022 team will be difficult and I am not sure the 2023 team has what it takes to compete for a Big 12 championship even though some key pieces return, such as quarterback Will Howard, linebacker Daniel Green, and defensive end Khalid Duke.
If the 2023 Wildcats return to mediocrity, will fans voice their displeasure? Klieman will probably get another honeymoon season or two since he won the league last year, but paying him this much money and giving him a long extension means that fans will expect even more from the product on the field.
My expectation for the Wildcats going forward is, at a minimum, a winning league record every season and a league championship game appearance every four years. With talent coming in like quarterback Avery Johnson, and the highest K-State recruiting class in a long time, it should be doable. If you make the championship game once every four years, you should be able to win it once every eight. So another Big 12 championship by the time Klieman’s contract runs out in 2030 would also be my expectation. In addition, making a bowl game every season should be a minimum expectation for this job, or any FBS head coaching job, in my opinion.
With the expanded playoff, I expect that in most years, both participants in the Big 12 championship game may make the playoff. At the very least, the winner of the game will. Making the playoffs is on the table for K-State more than it ever was before. Hopefully, Klieman can make an appearance or two and then do some damage once there. He probably does not have the horses to win it all quite yet, but if he keeps winning, recruiting will get better, and making a run in the playoffs could be a possibility before his contract runs out. If that happens, he will get another raise and extension anyway.
It was smart for K-State to sign Klieman to a long-term contract. It is my opinion that he will stick around at K-State as long as Gene Taylor is the athletic director. The only caveat is if one of the “big boys” come calling. I think there are a handful of schools that Klieman would not be able to turn down if offered a job. Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame come to mind. But who knows for sure? What is important right now is that K-State did the right thing, and the future of K-State football looks very bright.