Nevada Wolf Pack football is in Chris Klenakis’ coaching blood.
“Having been born there, I know the pulse of northern Nevada,” the former Wolf Pack assistant coach said Tuesday. “I know the lay of the land. I appreciate the culture of the area. Every program has challenges and I know what the challenges are for Nevada football and how to make them work.”
Klenakis, who has spent the last three seasons coaching the Arkansas Razorbacks’ offensive line in the Southeastern Conference, wants to be considered for the Wolf Pack’s head coaching vacancy.
“It’s extremely important that the tradition of Wolf Pack football that coach Chris Ault built be continued,” Klenakis said. “I grew up with that tradition. I was part of it for 16 years (1990-99 and 2004-09). You don’t replace tradition. And you can’t buy tradition. You have to earn it. And I know how Coach Ault built that tradition.”
The 48-year-old Klenakis is one of the original architects of the Wolf Pack’s pistol offense. He was part of Ault’s staff when the offense was created after the 2004 season. He then took the offense to Arkansas and helped blend it with Bobby Petrino’s passing game.
“We had the best of both worlds,” said Klenakis, who says he gets requests from coaches all over the country to come and teach them the finer points of the pistol. “We had the great downhill running stuff that we did at Nevada and then we were able to combine it with Bobby Petrino’s passing game, which is the best passing schemes in the nation. After I got here in 2010, by the next year every school in the SEC started running some form of the pistol the next year.”
The pistol would definitely remain a staple of Wolf Pack football if Klenakis took over the program.
“It’s amazing how this offense has taken off around the country,” he said. “No matter what game you watch on Saturday, you see it., And now you are seeing it on Sundays (in the NFL).”
Arkansas, competing against some of the best defenses in the nation in the SEC, was eighth in the country in total offense in 2010 (489.3 yards a game) and 25th in 2011 (445.8). They fell to 51st last year but still averaged 420.2 yards a game.
The entire staff at Arkansas was replaced after the 2012 seasons because of the scandal involving Petrino last spring. John L. Smith, another former Wolf Pack defensive coordinator (like Petrino), was the interim coach this year as the Razorbacks went 4-8.
“Coach Smith did an outstanding job of keeping the team together,” Klenakis said. “I was so proud of our kids in our last game. We had LSU, one of the best teams in the nation, on the rope. (LSU would win 20-13). That was a testament to our kids and our coaching staff. That showed tremendous character. Nobody was happy with the wins and losses but it was an amazing year because of all the things we had to fight through.
“The thing I learned from this year is how important it is for everyone, the players and the coaches, to stick together and remain focused. We were already a very close knit group and we grew even closer. You know, if you stick around in this profession long enough, you are going to hit adversity. It’s how you deal with adversity that counts. Last year made me a better coach.”
Klenakis has also coached at Central Missouri (2003) and Southern Mississippi (2000-02) as an offensive coordinator. In Klenakis’ final season at Nevada in 2009 the Wolf Pack led the nation in rushing (344.9 yards a game) and was second in total offense (505.6) and sixth in scoring (38.2).
The Fallon native has always been known for his tireless enthusiasm and never-ending work ethic. He has sent 15 offensive linemen to professional football, including the Wolf Pack’s Deron Thorp, Mike Rockwood, Shahriar Pourdanesh, Tony Moll and Harvey Dahl.
In an interview with Razor Vision Productions just after he arrived at Arkansas, Klenakis talked about his coaching philosophy and influences.
“Each day you have to have a plan,” Klenakis said. “There’s always something to do everyday, something you have to accomplish. Even if you’re on vacation, you can do something simple like write a letter to a recruit. Somehow, some way, your thoughts and your mind has to be always (on coaching).”
When asked what is the one word that best describes him as a coach, he answered quickly, “Focused.”
“I always have a play for every single day,” Klenakis continued. “I think that you have to get better each and everyday. When you wake up in the morning you have to have a structured plan. What are you going to get done that day and how are you going to get it done? I always tell my players, ‘How are you going to hit a target if you don’t know what you are aiming at?’ I always tell them, ‘There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Don’t waste any of them.’”
He said he learned that philosophy from Chris Ault.
“The thing I learned from Coach Ault most of all is his organizational skills,” Klenakis said. “He was phenomenal how detail oriented and focused he was every single day. Even little things like making phone calls. He’d start by calling the East Coast in the morning and then move to the West coast. Every little detail was accounted for. The way he held everyone accountable and demanded everything be done the right way, that’s what he reinforced with me that I will never forget.”
Klenakis played college football at Carroll College in Helena, Mont., under legendary coach Bob Petrino Sr.
“He was the one who influenced me to go into coaching,” Klenakis said. “That’s the one who gave me a lot of inspiration to do this.”
Petrino Sr., who is in the NAIA Hall of Fame, also coached his sons Bobby Jr., and Paul. Bobby Jr., now the head coach at Western Kentucky, was the Wolf Pack’s defensive coordinator under Ault in 1994. Paul Petrino and Klenakis were both on Petrino Jr.’s staff at Arkansas before Petrino left the program last April.
Paul Petrino is now the head coach at Idaho. Also on that Idaho staff is former Las Vegas High, UNLV and Arkansas coach Kris Cinkovich. Cinkovich, like the Petrinos and Klenakis, is a former Carroll College player.
The last three years at Arkansas, Klenakis said, transformed him as a coach.
“I remember when I was a young coach at Nevada, I’d watch the Alabamas on TV and think about what it would be like to coach in the highest level of college football like that. It’s as close to the NFL as you can get.
“You know, when I went out recruiting for Arkansas, I’d always tell the kids, ‘The three toughest conference’s in America are the AFC, the NFL and the SEC.’ You just don’t have any margin of error in the SEC. One or two plays can cost you the game. And it’s like that no matter who you play. You have to come to work everyday and you grind and grind each and everyday.”
Klenakis also offered his recruiting philosophy on Razor Vision Productions.
“In addition to their size, the strength, their athleticism and their flexibility, I also look at the intangible,” Klenakis said. “How tough are they, not only physically but mentally? Can they think on the run? You don’t have to be book smart but you have to be reactionary smart. I look for that mental toughness and work ethic and that desire to be great.
“I’ve had a lot of guys who were below average athletes and below. But some of them still went on to the highest level (NFL) because they were so mentally tough. Their desire and work ethic was unbelievable.”
Nobody has ever questioned Klenakis’ work ethic and desire.
“Nevada is my home,” Klenakis said. “I spent 16 years coaching there. I have a lot of pride in the school, in the football program and the community and the whole region. That’s where I grew up as a coach. I was 4-years-old when Chris Ault was a member of my father’s staff (Tony Klenakis, who coached the Greenwave from 1966-81) at Fallon High. I can still remember watching Coach Ault as a young man coaching that season on the sideline. So I grew up around the game of football.
“I embrace the challenge of Wolf Pack football. I have the foundation of that program with me and now I have the advantage of coaching in other places, too. So I would come back to Nevada a much better coach than when I left.”