N. Dakota State’s coach tops new can­di­dates after Lit­trell drops out

The Kansas City Star - - Sports - BY KELLIS ROBINETT krobi­[email protected]­chi­taea­gle.com

The search for Bill Sny­der’s re­place­ment is at a cross­roads.

One of the big­gest names thought to be in­volved with Kansas State’s search for a new foot­ball coach has dropped out of the race, and a fresh crop of can­di­dates has emerged to take his place.

Seth Lit­trell de­cided to re­main at North Texas on Fri­day, which opens the door for North Dakota State coach Chris Klie­man as the new po­ten­tial fron­trun­ner. It also gives other can­di­dates like Mem­phis coach Mike Norvell and Troy’s Neal Brown a shot at the job.

It’s un­clear what prompted Lit­trell to stay put after show­ing se­ri­ous in­ter­est in the K-State open­ing. A source fa­mil­iar with the search process said ath­letic director Gene Tay­lor in­ter­viewed Lit­trell, along with sev­eral other coaches ear­lier this week, but the two sides never got all that close to a deal. K-State didn’t of­fer him the job.

As the days went by, Tay­lor con­tin­ued to show in­ter­est in other can­di­dates and Lit­trell de­cided to with­draw his name from con­sid­er­a­tion. Lit­trell ex­pects to have his best team re­turn­ing next sea­son at North Texas and he might be in line for a big­ger job down the road. He can be picky.

“I’m not go­ing any­where,” Lit­trell told 247sports. “We still have un­fin­ished busi­ness here and we still haven’t ac­com­plished our mis­sion of win­ning our bowl, so we are still grow­ing as a pro­gram and we have a lot to ac­com­plish in the fu­ture. There are al­ways a lot of ru­mors out there, and (I want to) make sure the play­ers know what this pro­gram means to me and what they mean to me. It would be ex­tremely hard for me to go into a room and tell those guys that I’m leav­ing.”

Of course, K-State can be picky too, as it is now the lone power-con­fer­ence school search­ing for a coach.

What comes next? For now, all eyes shift north. In­dus­try sources say Klie­man’s name has gained sig­nif­i­cant trac­tion over the past few days. He might have even emerged as the top can­di­date be­fore Lit­trell dropped out.

Foot­bal­lS­coop.com, a web­site that cov­ers the coach­ing carousel, re­ported Fri­day that K-State was “ze­ro­ing in on” Klie­man.

The longer this search goes on, the more it would cer­tainly seem to ben­e­fit Klie­man. Tay­lor and Klie­man have shared his­tory at North Dakota State. If none of the ini­tial can­di­dates wowed Tay­lor, it makes sense that he would at least then con­sider a coach he knows and re­spects.

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 a 66-6 record that in­cludes three na­tional cham­pi­onships. 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 Col­gate in the quar­ter­fi­nal round of the tour­na­ment Satur­day in Fargo, N.D.

The big­gest ques­tion with Klie­man: Can he make the jump to the next level? It’s rare for FCS coaches to land a pow­er­con­fer­ence job with­out first prov­ing him­self with a lower-tier FBS school.

K-State fans seemed uni­fied be­hind the idea of Lit­trell or Clem­son de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Brent Ven­ables, an­other coach not in­volved in this process, but few oth­ers. Could they rally be­hind a name like Klie­man?

If Klie­man isn’t the next coach at K-State, Norvell is an­other name to mon­i­tor. Late Thurs­day night, USA To­day re­porter Dan Wolken tweeted that KS­tate has also shown in­ter­est in Norvell.

At Mem­phis, he has gone 26-12 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 con­fer­ences with a salary of $2.6 mil­lion. His buy­out is $500,000.

Brown, the coach at Troy, is also thought to be a po­ten­tial can­di­date. A source said K-State has ex­pressed in­ter­est him after he led Troy to a 9-3 sea­son. He ap­pears to be one of the ris­ing coaches in the Sun Belt. Throw in re­cent vic­to­ries over LSU and Ne­braska, and he has a strong re­sume.

BRUCE CRUMMY AP

North Dakota State coach Chris Klie­man leads a team that has gone 66-6 with three FCS cham­pi­onships

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