Reports: Notre Dame interviewed Kansas State's Collin Klein for OC opening

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

SOUTH BEND — Fast starts have been a trademark of Collin Klein’s Kansas State offenses the past two years in bowl meetings with LSU and Alabama.

So perhaps it was only fitting that Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman, a vocal proponent of early-game urgency, would gravitate to Klein in this widespread search for an offensive coordinator to replace the departed Tommy Rees.

The 33-year-old Klein, according to the trade website Football Scoop, was in South Bend to interview for the opening on Wednesday and Thursday. The Wichita Eagle later reported there was “mutual interest” after multiple conversations between Notre Dame and the Colorado native who has become a beloved fixture in Manhattan, Kansas since his arrival 15 years ago.

Friday morning, however, ESPN's Heather Dinich reported via Twitter that Klein was "no longer a candidate" for Notre Dame's opening, but her sources did confirm Klein was interviewed.

OC search:Tracking Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman's offensive philosophy ... in his own words

Timeline:A look back at Tommy Rees' 10-year career at Notre Dame as a player and coach

Notre Dame also has done significant background work on Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and Colorado’s Sean Lewis, according to Football Scoop. The well-traveled Ludwig, 58, earned $1.25 million in 2022, Year 4 of his second stint with the 10th-ranked Utes.

Klein, according to the Wichita Eagle, is making $600,000 on a contract that runs through February 2024 and includes a modest $100,000 buyout if he leaves for another job.

Lewis, hired by Deion Sanders in December after five seasons running the program at Kent State, is 36 and a former Syracuse co-coordinator who spent the 2011 season as a graduate assistant at Akron. The Zips’ quarterbacks coach that year was Ron Powlus, the former Notre Dame quarterback now helping Freeman run this OC search in his role as senior associate athletic director and football administrator.

Clint Dowdle, a former Kansas State athletic department official (2013-16), represents both Freeman and Klein, according to Football Scoop. Dowdle’s client list at Creative Artists Agency also includes Notre Dame tight ends coach Gerad Parker, the only current Irish staff member with offensive coordinator experience (2020-21 at West Virginia).

Sep 3, 2022; Manhattan, Kansas, USA; Kansas State Wildcats offensive coordinator Collin Klein watches the team warm up before the start of a game against the South Dakota Coyotes at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a 10-4 season highlighted by an overtime upset of unbeaten TCU in the Big 12 Championship Game, Klein helped the 14th-ranked Wildcats maximize the talents of dual-threat quarterbacks Adrian Martinez (a Nebraska grad transfer) and Will Howard.

Kansas State averaged 32.3 points last season, which was 37th nationally. The Wildcats, according to Pro Football Focus, ranked 35th in offensive efficiency (50th in passing, 15th in rushing) while Notre Dame finished 16th in Rees’ third season as OC before leaving for Alabama.

Like Rees, Klein is a former quarterback who coached at his alma mater the past six seasons. A converted wide receiver who was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2012, finishing third behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Klein went 21-5 in his career as the Wildcats’ starter.

Jan. 3, 2013; Glendale, AZ, USA: Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein (7) against the Oregon Ducks during the 2013 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Oregon defeated Kansas State 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Known for his toughness as a 6-foot-5, 227-pound signal-caller, Klein rushed 524 times for 59 touchdowns and passed 585 times for 29 touchdowns in his final two college seasons.

Unable to stick in brief auditions with the Houston Texans (NFL) and Montreal Alouettes (CFL), Klein spent 2014-15 working as a graduate assistant at Kansas State. He was Northern Iowa’s offensive coordinator in 2016 before returning to his alma mater, where he later become co-offensive coordinator in 2018, the 27th and final season of Bill Snyder’s legendary run.

After relinquishing play-calling duties from 2019-21 under new coach Chris Klieman, who was part of seven FCS championships at North Dakota State, Klein reclaimed the OC title with a 42-20 win over LSU in his Texas Bowl audition. Last New Year’s Eve, the Wildcats raced out to a 10-0 lead over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl before falling 45-20.

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.