Joe Bob Clements used to play football at Kansas State. He used to be an assistant coach for the Wildcats, too.
Up until he abruptly left K-State for Oklahoma State last January to take over as the Cowboys’ defensive line coach, he was considered a staple of the program. He came to Manhattan as a walk-on, became a two-year starter at defensive end and evolved into one of Bill Snyder’s top recruiters as a member of the coaching staff.
So it will definitely be strange to see Clements on the opposing sideline when K-State takes on Oklahoma State on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium.
“He was the defensive ends coach. He was my coach. I am a little more excited about playing in this game,” K-State defensive end Marquel Bryant said. “I feel like even though he is on another team I feel like I want to prove something to him. I wasn’t on the field yet when he was here. I got a little time on the field, but I wasn’t starting. Now I feel like I want to put more on the plate. I want him to feel me on the field.”
The reunion will also pose a unique challenge.
Clements knows quite a bit about the Wildcats. He has spent years coaching their defensive ends and going against their offense in practice. He is able to identify tendencies, formations and strategies more quickly than most opposing assistant coaches.
For those reasons, K-State has gone out of its way to disguise certain things this week.
“There are just some things that you have to change,” Snyder said at his weekly news conference. “We have tried to identify what we need to change.”
Added Tyler Lockett: “Joe Bob has been here for a while. He knows how we operate. He knows what we do. We had to change some things so he won’t be able to recognize it.”
When asked about his immense knowledge of K-State’s program by reporters this week, Clements said it wouldn’t create much of an issue.
“If I tried to do too much like that, it would probably cause more of an issue than it will a benefit,” Clements told The Oklahoman. “Obviously, I’ve spent a lot of time practicing against Kansas State’s offense, but that’s kind of a different perception, because you never had to play them.
“There’s a lot of things that they would do that would cause us problems in practice, but you’d kind of shrug it off and go ‘Well, we don’t have to see that on Saturday.’”
Clements didn’t speak with local media when he accepted his current job with Oklahoma State. When asked about his departure this week, he spoke well of his alma mater.
“In this profession, sometimes you have to make a move that’s going to better yourself in the long haul,” Clements told the OSU student newspaper. “I’m still fairly young when it comes to (coaching). I thought the opportunity to come here and work for Coach Gundy and Oklahoma State was just too good to pass up.”
Still, leaving Manhattan was difficult.
“Outside of family, I think (Snyder) has had more influence on my life than any other person,” Clements said. “It was difficult to tell him that I thought it was best for me to come to Oklahoma State. I thought it was best for me and my family, but it was still tough to do. (K-State) is my alma mater. It’s where I met my wife and where three of our children were born. At this point in my life, when you talk about home, that’s still home.”
Those connections will likely lead to some emotional pregame conversations and handshakes.
Once the game begins, though, Bryant doesn’t think any of that will change the defensive line’s overall mission.
“Some things we did have to change up,” Bryant said, “but we are just going to go out there and play smashmouth football.”