Full Interview with Coach Chris Klieman and Ben Newman
Coach Klieman: North Dakota State, and you win seven national championships in eight years, and you pinch yourself, and four or five as a head coach, but you know you’re not in the position without all the assistant coaches, without all the players, without the strength staff, the training staff. I’m a big us guy, and I know I’m in the position I’m in now because of impacts guys like you have had on me. And I listen, and I learn, and I’m digging as well, because I want to find out what more I can do to give to the guys, so that they perform at a high level.
Ben Newman: Welcome back to another episode of The Burn. Now, I am super fired up. We’ve been waiting a long time to get this in, and the fact that we’re able to get this in during training camp, small little break, is certainly exciting, and so many exciting things going on in Manhattan, Kansas. And I’m gonna introduce my friend, Coach Klieman Klieman, here in a very cool way for all of you, because I think often times what many people see in a head football coach like Coach Klieman Klieman here at Kansas State University, is seven out of eight championships at North Dakota State, four as the head coach at North Dakota State, three as a defensive coordinator. People, in their minds, the bling, and the diamond rings, and all these championships — and I’m gonna tell you right now, you’re gonna glimpse into what makes this man special.
And the reason why I say a friend is because the relationship we’ve established over the last five years. I would do anything for this man. And many people always ask me, what’s your favorite moment that you guys had together, and what’s your favorite moment, you know, in working together? And what’s interesting is in the four years at North Dakota State, there was one football game where I was present that we lost, and that is my absolute favorite moment in our relationship, in terms of our work that goes on at the football field. And I’ll never forget, we lose to James Madison live on ESPN. We’re coming to the locker room, and I’m thinking to myself, what in the world is about to happen? Like, I know the normal routine when we win, but like what is coach gonna say? Like, do we do the same things? And sure enough, we went into the locker room, and everybody takes a knee, then we stand up, and Coach Klieman stands up as one of the greatest acts of leadership I’ve ever seen. He looks at 110 men, about half on each side of the locker room, and he says, “Men, you are never defined by a moment; you are always defined by your entire body or work, and this is one of the greatest bodies of work in the history of college football.” And I remember walking out of there that night, and I said, I have never been so proud to be part of this program and to know that I have the opportunity to be in your corner in our relationship, that you’re in my corner.
And people think it’s like some story of, you know, something else, right, or celebrating with a trophy, and it’s not. And what I think makes you so unique and so special, and I’ve already seen here at Kansas State, and that’s why I’m so excited for what’s getting ready to happen here soon, when it kicks off, the tradition stacked on top of the tradition that was already built here is that you’ve been doing this for a long time. And it goes back to being a player. I’ve talked to old high school friends of yours. You used to be able to knock people’s block off on the field, and incredibly fast, which a lot of people don’t know, so we’ve got to get that credit for you. But conversations we’ve had going back to 2010, and the career climb, and the path, and from what I’ve seen at North Dakota State, what I’ve already seen here, is that there’s this burn that lies inside of you, a passion for the game, a passion for relationships. And I’d love to know where does that come from and how you stay connected.
Coach Klieman: I’m a competitor by nature. I’ve always had a burning desire to compete, and I absolutely hate to lose. And I love, you know, making a different in young people’s lives. And I want to get to know them. I want to get them invested. I want them to let them take ownership in a program, and I challenge them in those ways. And I think if you do that, you’re gonna get the most out of guys, and that’s — I stay up at night, and I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking, okay, what else can we do? Because I do, I hate to lose. And everybody that’s a competitor hates to lose, but I’m always digging to find different things to help motivate these guys, and you’re a great example, by bringing you in at North Dakota State and bringing you here at Kansas State, because I don’t have all the answers. I’m looking for more ways to do things and innovative ways to impact these kids, and I know that for me to be successful, it’s a daily burn and it’s a daily grind for me to be competitive and continue to see how I can impact guys lives.
Ben Newman: How have you approached — because you talk about impact through relationships, and it is that way. I mean, the Carson Wentz’s, the Easton Stick’s, the Nick DeLuca’s, the Coach Klieman Board’s, all these individuals that have gone on to play in the league that you’ve coached and there’s so many others, every time I hear you tell stories of those individuals or former players who didn’t apply in the league or who are now running businesses, it’s always their families. It’s things that are going on, it’s weddings that you’ve been invited to. So, what is it, if you could share? Because so many people who watch every week, they’re building relationships in their businesses. What is it that you focus on, ‘cause it really is unique? There’s so many coaches that sit in your chair as the head ball coach who they just want to win, and you always seen to start with relationship first.
Coach Klieman: Well, and I think if you build relationships, you’re gonna have success. And that’s what we’re trying to do here is — and it’s happening fast. I mean, we all arrived here in January, and we hit the fast forward button in trying to get around as many players as you can, whether it’s in the locker room, the fueling station, the weight room, wherever it may be, and just dig into them a little bit and let them know you care, let them know you love them. And that’s sometimes hard to do, but you just, hey, guys, I’m here for you, and I want to love you, but I’m gonna challenge the heck out of you. Tell me what drives you. What are some things that are your burns? And then, I try to remember some of those things, and then just ask those guys about those things, ‘cause I think having an impact on like that on those guys is what I’m put on this planet to do. And all the relationships, it’s so fun to see those guys, because I can’t tell you how many guys — first thing we say, “Hey, great to see, man. Love you. What have you been up to?” You know, you look at a guy like Chase Morlock, I hadn’t seen in three years; I see him at Carson Wentz’s event in the summer, and we give each other a hug, and, “Hey, I love you, Chase. How is everything going?” And, you know, he lights up, ‘cause he can tell me about something that’s going on in his life. And those are the things that are special moments for me.
Ben Newman: And I’ve always admired how you’ve gone about building those relationships, and I’ve admired how you treat me. You know, I think that’s one of the things that makes you so unique is always looking for that — I remember thinking that I got the call that you guys were bringing me in, I’m like, what the hell are they bringing me in for? They’ve won four straight championships in a row, I’m not sure they need me. And you welcomed me in, and we learned so much from each other. And I think it’s that open dialogue, where a lot of people it’s — there’s so much ego involved, and I think that’s what makes our relationship unique, and me watching you, a lot of times, I sit back — you don’t know this; I watch how you interact with a player, I watch how you interact with another coach. And it’s always like, okay, we’ve got to stay in the details, and we have to find the way that we can just be the best that we can be. How important has that been for you, because getting to this seat, you’ve gone through some rides where you’ve been at a lot of schools, and it’s not easy to get in the chair that you’re in, so how have you kept that energy and passion to get inside those details without the frustration of, gosh, am I ever gonna get that big job?
Coach Klieman: Well, I’m a guy where I’m big into be where your feet are, you know, and I was a division III coach at Loras College, and I loved every moment of it, because it was kids; it was the big time for them. And then I worked my way up the ladder and was fortunate enough to get the head job at North Dakota State, and you win seven national championships in eight years, and you pinch yourself, and four or five as a head coach, but, you know, you’re not in the position without all the assistant coaches, without all the players, without the strength staff, the training staff. I’m a big us guy, and I know I’m in the position I’m in now because of impacts like guys like you have had on me. And I listen, and I learn, and I’m digging as well, because I want to find out what more I can do to give to the guys, so that they perform at a high level. And so, I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit’s due, and that’s to the players, to all the administrative people, to the support staffs, to people like yourself that come and speak to the team, because that’s the lasting impact, and I want to make sure that I keep that on the forefront.
Ben Newman: So, how do you keep your energy? If you could leave everybody with this, how do you keep your energy up in a career that is so demanding? I don’t think people realize from recruiting, to the relationships, time away from family, I mean, that burn has to be pretty significant to keep the energy up.
Coach Klieman: Yeah, I love what I do, and I love the impact that I’m trying to make on young people, and our coaches as well. And it starts with my family. I’ve got a wonderful wife that is a unbelievable coaches wife that is with me every step of the way, and I’ve got three wonderful kids, one that’s helping us on the staff here and two other high schools that I just see them in everything in do of — you know, it’s all about family for me, and I’m a big believer in family’s first, and that’s Kansas State too, family’s first, but they know that I’ve been put on this earth to do what I do, and that’s to, you know, obviously win games and be a great football coach, but more importantly where are these guys at 5, 10 years, 15, 20 years down the line. It’s so cool for me to receive texts and calls from people like coach — players I coached at Western Illinois in the early 90s, or Northern Iowa in the mid-2000s. It’s just fun to have those relationships, because that’s what it’s all about.
Ben Newman: Well, I hope everybody just paid attention to that last answer, and we’re gonna leave it there, because what you just said was the people who played for you at Western Illinois in the 90s. And, you know, there’s a lot of people who say, oh, I’m a relationship guy, and I just want to say on behalf of every single player, every single coach, as you get ready to start this next chapter, and from me, that we all love you, and don’t ever change being that Coach Klieman Klieman that we know. And I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be a corner man for you and to step out on that field here soon and to go write these next chapters. So, I love you, coach, and I can’t wait to keep going to war with you.
Coach Klieman: Appreciate it. Love you, man.