Just before midnight, at the postgame news conference inside NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, was when you knew it was going to happen. Kansas State just beat LSU 42-20 in the TaxAct Texas Bowl. K-State scored its most points all year and its third most points ever in a bowl game, the offense hummed, Skylar Thompson and Deuce Vaughn were unstoppable, and then somebody asked K-State head coach Chris Klieman the question: What did you see from interim offensive coordinator Collin Klein?
Klieman elevated Klein to interim offensive coordinator on December 3. Klieman said that he loved Klein’s preparation while serving the role over the past month. After the bowl game, in the small postgame interview room, and under the lights and with cameras rolling, Klieman talked about how the guys loved Klein. He said that the guys would play their tails off for Klein.
“And they should,” Klieman said. “He’s K-State, in my mind.”
And that, folks, was when you knew it would happen. That’s when you knew that Klieman would hire Klein as the Wildcats’ next offensive coordinator — a title officially bestowed upon the 32-year-old quarterbacks coach on this past Friday, three days after the Wildcats enjoyed one of their most dominant bowl performances in history.
“Over the course of the last month, Collin displayed the type of leadership and planning to put us in a position to execute and be successful in the bowl game against LSU,” Klieman said in a statement of Klein’s promotion. “He deserves this opportunity, and the constant dialog and communication that he had with me and with our staff and players throughout the game and the entire bowl preparation period was something that really impressed me.
“Collin bleeds purple, and I am excited for him to lead our offense.”
For two years as a full-time starting quarterback, Klein literally bled for K-State to win. In 2011, he walked off the field victorious against the University of Miami, scraped elbows and all, which became his calling card — a sight symbolic of the toughest players in college football. Bandages and defenses didn’t stand a chance. In 2012, he stood in a charcoal gray suit and purple tie at the Best Buy Theater in New York City as a finalist for the 78th Heisman Trophy, and the Wildcat Victory blared, and he stood to be recognized, and afterward he said, “The biggest thing is I truly cared. I’ll always be a Wildcat. I won’t be wearing the helmet for too much longer, but I’ll always be a part of the family.” And that’s what he said, really, on one of the biggest nights of his life back in 2012, and, oh boy, has that ever come true, as he stood in a purple sun visor and sweatsuit and clapped as his quarterbacks warmed up inside the University of Houston indoor practice facility two days before the Texas Bowl.
“We want to win,” he told reporters after practice. “We want to play well, and we want to win.”
There was a noticeable sternness and directness in the way that Klein spoke that day after practice. Klein meant business — not that he ever took anything lightly. This wasn’t the 2011 or 2012 version of Klein. This wasn’t 2014, when Klein served as assistant director of recruiting operations and quality control coach. This wasn’t 2015, when he served as offensive graduate assistant. This wasn’t 2017, when he became quarterbacks coach, and this wasn’t the 2018 version of Klein, when he served as co-offensive coordinator in Bill Snyder‘s final season as head coach.
All of these years and experiences built the man we see today, and those who’ve followed Klein probably saw this day coming for a while now, because for as much as purple runs in his blood, coaching too runs through his veins.
“He’s as detail-oriented as anyone I’ve ever met,” said Travis Tannahill, a First Team All-Big 12 tight end in 2012. “His attention to detail goes a long way in this sport. He’s a great leader and hard worker. He’s as smart as they come.
“He had quite a bit of freedom in changing plays at the line of scrimmage his senior year. He had a big responsibility even as a play-caller in college. He saw the field just as well as the coaches did, and he was the one on the field. He didn’t need to look at the sideline because he retained the game plan inside his head.
“He knew it all as well as the coaches.”
In November 2012, Klein was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and the headline read, “27 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BEST PLAYER ON THE NATION’S BEST TEAM,” but the story didn’t mention that Klein actually once served as a football coordinator. That’s right. Doug Klein coached a youth flag football team in their hometown of Loveland, Colorado. Kyle Klein, Collin’s younger brother, played on the team. Doug hired Collin to serve as defensive coordinator.
Collin was 12 years old.
“Collin was one year older than the rest of the kids, but he had his clipboard and was out there working, coaching up the kids, and helping them,” Doug said. “They listened and respected him. It was fun. I coached offense and Collin coached defense and away we went.”
Some things never change.
The players still listen and respect him.
“He is a guy that is easy to follow and the whole team has fed off his energy,” Skylar Thompson said. “He’s not a big hu-rah guy, he’s very quiet and steady, but the way he approaches his coaching and meetings and everything he does he’s a natural leader that our whole offense wants to follow.”
Thompson completed 21 of 28 passes for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns against LSU, hitting 10 different pass catchers and throwing two scoring strikes to Malik Knowles and another one to Vaughn.
Thompson finished his sixth and final season as the first quarterback since at least 1990 to win 24 games as a starter, as the first player in history to record 6,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards, and he finishes ranked top 10 all-time in 15 different statistical categories. Thompson finishes second all-time in total yards (8,221), second all-time in passing yards (7,134), and second all-time in touchdown passes (42). His completion rate (69.53%) in 2021 set a single-season record.
Vaughn, a Consensus All-American all-purpose player, had 21 carries for 146 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Tigers. Vaughn’s 24 total points set a K-State bowl record, his 3 rushing touchdowns tied a school bowl record, and his 146 rushing yards ranked third by a K-State player in a bowl game.
Vaughn finished the season with 1,404 rushing yards — ninth most in the Football Bowl Subdivision and fourth most in school history. He had nine games with 100 rushing yards to tie for second in school history, which includes a current streak of six-straight games to tie for second in school history. Vaughn’s 18 rushing touchdowns tied for eighth nationally. His 1,872 all-purpose yards ranked sixth nationally.
Vaughn appreciated the Klein’s aggressive play-calling.
“Absolutely,” Vaughn said. “From the tempo as well, getting up to the line quick, checking some things, depending on what the defense was giving us. That was like the mentality. And Coach Klein told us before the game that if you see something on the field, speak up. Tell your position coach and he’ll get back to me and then that’s how we’ll dictate how we play this game. That’s when the aggressiveness came. It came from us relaying back to our coaches, them giving us the driver’s wheel in a sense and coming back to the sideline. And Coach Klein, doing what he does, he called a great game.”
Wide receiver Phillip Brooks added: “(Klein) told us day one when he got promoted to (interim) offensive coordinator that we’re going to play aggressive, we’re going to get after the defense, and play to win. He said we weren’t going to take our foot off the pedal. As you can see, he was right.”
K-State’s 42 points marked its third highest ever in a bowl game and its 442 total yards ranked second highest of the season and fifth most in a bowl game.
“As a player, as a coach, as a kid, it’s always something you dream about, being able to call a game,” Klein said that day after practice.
Little did he know that he was five days from assuming full-time play-calling duties in 2022.
“My family and I are excited to serve in this new role and impact young men through the game of football,” Klein wrote in a statement. “I absolutely love our players, staff and fans. We look forward to this challenge and are so thankful to Coach Klieman and our leadership for entrusting me with this responsibility. K-State is and has been a special part of our family, and we are so blessed the Lord has allowed us to continue to be a part of it. Go Cats!”
For as much as purple runs in his blood and coaching runs through his veins, K-State lies in his heart.
It all goes back to that night at the Best Buy Theater, when Klein stepped off stage and said, “I’ll always be a Wildcat. I’ll always be a part of the family.”
So doggone true.
And now another exciting chapter as a member of the family is about to begin.