K-State’s Gene Taylor needs to lead Aggieville out of Averageville

His predecessor raised buildings and got a little lucky in winning while doing so, but new K-State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor needs to figure out how to get KSU to consistently and legitimately compete.

New Kansas State Director of Athletics Gene Taylor (right) is welcomed by K-State President Richard Myers.

It was only four years ago that Kansas State University planted its flag atop the Big 12 mountain. “Titletown USA is right here in Manhattan, Kansas, isn’t it?” John Currie rhetorically asked during a celebration in March 2013.

Since then, however, K-State has had more new athletic directors than Big 12 championships in football, men’s basketball, and baseball – the three sports that formed the foundation of Currie’s statement. The three winning percentages in that time: .615 (football); .549 (men’s basketball); .473 (baseball).

Sort of quietly — outside of the constant roar surrounding Bruce Weber anyways — Aggieville has rebranded from Titletown to Averageville.

Despite that, the football machine, for now, is untouchable of course and should be until Bill Snyder is no longer the head coach. That said, Taylor was asked on a Kansas City-area sports radio show whether Snyder worked for him, or he worked for Snyder. To paraphrase, Taylor’s response was that the two would work “together.”

What will be interesting to watch unfold is what “together” means for both parties. With Currie, Snyder publicly was as rigid as he was civil — whether in his long-standing disdain for made-for-TV schedules (as Currie pushed for greater fan experiences) or in his weird public campaign for Sean Snyder to become the next K-State head coach.*

*I’ve not felt this was a 100-percent honest campaign from Snyder – not when coaches like Jim Leavitt randomly have contract clauses paving for an easy return to K-State. I mean, life is sometimes stranger than fiction but to think a calculated someone like Leavitt put a clause like that in just because he has feelings for KSU? You can buy it and I won’t blame you, but I’m going to pass.

And while this season appears to have some national/Top 25 potential, it doesn’t mask the fact that K-State has appeared in the national rankings in only one of the past four seasons. Taylor has some time to work together with Snyder, make sure he listens to the legend, and get his plan in place. Nowhere in there should it be about maintaining the status quo because the past several years haven’t actually been all that amazing.

Meanwhile, over in Bramlage Coliseum, Taylor has a much more immediate concern. In the same sports radio interview, Taylor avoided committing for or against an extension for Bruce Weber. He’s wise in doing so. While fans and some sites are hot on firing Weber, Taylor appeared to show he will not be pressured into quick decisions without fully surveying the landscape. That landscape includes K-State President Richard Myers, who alluded to an extension with Weber in his opening comments welcoming Taylor.

Barring an unforeseen miracle, KSU will not win a Big 12 Championship in the next two years or longer, and every year that streak extends will be an increasingly uncomfortable feeling not just for whomever the coach is, but their boss as well. K-State fans have made it clear they do not appreciate basketball mediocrity. There’s no reason to believe that attitude will change, and Taylor needs to answer that call if he wants to successfully cultivate and maintain a good relationship with that sector of the fanbase.

And finally, in the shadows is the K-State baseball program, which has taken perhaps the biggest fall among the three programs. Since winning the Big 12 in 2013, Brad Hill’s program has meandered along a downhill path; its best conference winning percentage the past four seasons is .417 (2015). Its overall record is 99-110 in that time.

This year, an early-season victory against Top 25 South Carolina gave great reason for hope, but not much came of it before the Bat Cats took two out of three against No. 25 West Virginia this past weekend.

Hill did wonders in rebuilding what Mike Clark handed him, but history has shown a rebuild, a peak, and a regression. It is on Taylor, probably sooner than later, to determine if Hill is the one to rebuild things a second time.

The great news is Taylor can focus on these things and be the people person he’s been billed as. And, he can do so with an amenities ace in his sleeve. Like never before, K-State has the facilities to compete … right now. Pay attention to them throughout the “Day in the Life” video. K-State has never looked better.

It all means it boils down to one thing for Taylor: He doesn’t have many, if any, excuses at this point. He has new, shiny walls. He needs to develop his department’s culture so that it brings new banners to hang on them.

 

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Kansas State names Gene Taylor as new Director of Athletics

A sect of Kansas State fans have toyed with the thought for years that one of their next hires could/should/would come out of the North Dakota State University pipeline.

Instead of Craig Bohl coming to coach football, however, K-State found its next director of athletics as it announced Friday afternoon that Gene Taylor, who will leave the University of Iowa as Deputy Athletics Director, will assume the position.

Taylor joined the Iowa athletic department after 13 years at North Dakota St., where he helped guide the program through a jump from Division II to Division I.

“Throughout the process, Gene’s experience as an athletics director and his national reputation as a respected leader and someone who has built and maintained tremendous relationships with his staff, coaches, student-athletes and donors stood out in what was an extremely talented pool of candidates,” K-State President Richard Myers said.

While Taylor’s name wasn’t at the front of any speculative lists – at least not those floated or discussed publicly – the hire feels grounded in that it was well-researched, thought out, and executed with a person who appears capable and willing to understand Wildcats culture, both from an administration and fan perspective.

Taylor is someone familiar with running an athletic department built with football as its anchor revenue driver, and he has a resume that seems to indicate he knows how to convince donors to write checks. The NDSU athletics budget tripled from $5 million in Taylor’s first year to $15 million, while the scholarship endowment grew to $11.2 million, and Team Makers booster club support tripled from $750,000 to $2.8 million, all according to the K-State press release issued Friday.

Taylor’s K-State predecessor knew how to raise money as well. The question will be whether the new AD knows how to manage relationships with his coaches and supervise them much better than John Currie did. And, of course, how he’ll handle the current unrest a sizable portion of fans has with men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber.

“Gene Taylor is one of the most respected athletic administrators in the country,” said Gary Barta, University of Iowa Director of Athletics. “He has such a great combination of passion, experience, and the ability to lead by bringing people together toward a common goal.”

Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz also was quoted as saying K-State made a good choice.

“Kansas State has hired a very talented administrator, and a professional who works well with others on all levels to achieve the desired results,” Ferentz said.

It’s hard to believe Taylor, though qualified, was K-State’s first choice. And in fact, one source said Texas Tech AD Kirby Hocutt turned down the position and will remain at the department he’s run in Lubbock since 2011.

Still, if Taylor proves to be what his resume indicates, K-State may have a winner on its hands.

K-State will officially introduce Taylor on Monday at 10:30 a.m.

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Royals have concerns; K-State, KU football finding different ways to be exciting in 2017

I’ve written this before, but for those who may be new …

I grew up in Northeast Kansas and read the Topeka Capital-Journal sports page as my daily devotional. It was the front page of that section where I was introduced to Pete Goering. Years before I would come to recognize his influence in my future work, Pete taught me how long-lasting brevity’s impact can be. 

Personally, I regret not making more of an opportunity to seek out his in-person guidance when I worked at the TCJ. I let intimidation get the best of me. But, in the years since, I’ve always felt my way to honor Pete was by penning occasional Musings columns in the style I grew to love so much from him.  -ck

Of course, former Royals prospect and current San Diego Padres slugger Wil Myers hits for the cycle on the same day the Kansas City Royals have one of their worst offensive days so far in 2017. 

– I don’t think any Royals fan would trade the success that followed Myers getting traded, but still … of course he did.

– It’s hard to think the Royals starting rotation will continue on its 2.88 ERA clip. Just like it’s hard to think the offense will continue its 27th-ranked .610 OPS effort.

– But, if the pitching comes back while the hitting goes up, where does that leave a team already inducing more doubt than inspiration while starting 2-4?

– Especially if the bullpen doesn’t get things figured out, like, soon?

– My feeling is it puts us back with those Royals teams from the early 2000s.

– In other words, exciting teams that lost more than they won.

– It’s exciting to wonder what Kansas State football will look like in 2017.

– A healthy Jesse Ertz at quarterback running, and throwing to talented receivers, and running …

– Along with a defense that will at least be solid and stands the chance of being really good …

– Along with experienced, talented special teams units …

– All led by a legendary coach in Bill Snyder who, thanks to season-long narratives, won’t ever have to remind his team he beat cancer during the offseason.

– Now, go back and read those last few thoughts with the Wabash Cannonball playing in your mind.

– Pretty exciting, no?

– There is some building excitement in Lawrence, too.

– David Beaty and his Kansas Jayhawks football staff are making some waves by securing early commitments from talent-rich Louisiana.

– For a program willing to find hope and momentum in any form, a word of caution to fans on pinning hopes on football recruiting.

– Yes, KU’s 2018 class is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation.

– That’s pretty sweet, but it is a long way and a lot of games to signing day.

– The question will be whether KU fans and admins will be able to stomach another year or two of three wins or less per season before that talent arrives and begins the development process (assuming the class stays intact).

– Even if KU wins 4 games per year the next two, Beaty’s record would be 10-38 and no bowl appearances in four seasons.

– Would something like that be good enough to keep waiting and hoping?

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Why can’t the national media just let K-State’s Bill Snyder be Bill Snyder?

Earlier this week, CBSSports.com decided to check in on Bill Snyder.

The story was warranted as the Kansas State Wildcats football coach was back in front of the media for the first time since it was announced this past winter that the 77-year-old coach was undergoing treatment for throat cancer.

However, veteran reporter Dennis Dodd took a bizarre angle on the story.

With some random praise attempts sprinkled throughout, Dodd’s piece mostly had the voice of someone who pities a coach too old to understand the weight of his situation and in need of someone to gently remind him he needs to eat his beets before a recliner nap; let alone prepare for a college football season.

‘The truth is, most folks can now see an end to Snyder’s career. It has been glorious and great and long-lasting, but it is coming to a close soon. Isn’t it?” the piece said. “The 2017 Wildcats have a returning quarterback (Jesse Ertz), should be picked no lower than third in the Big 12 and are a borderline top-25 team.

“The question is, can Snyder see the end? On one hand, he is eight years away from Joe Paterno’s age (85) when the Penn State coach was forced to retire in 2011. On the other, what he is going through is cancer.”

First, the Paterno reference/comparison is gross. Both coaches are/were old, and that’s where the comparison ends. Period. Flippantly painting Paterno’s Penn State situation as a “forced to retire” example is awful enough on its own. But to then use it as some sort of illustration of how Snyder perhaps doesn’t know when it is time to step away because he’s coaching after cancer treatment? Pepsi’s recent diversity ad with Kylie Jenner was closer to hitting the intended mark. (Spoiler: It also badly missed.)

And second, why is it that Dodd this time, or *insert national media person* now or ever, can’t or won’t simply allow Bill Snyder to just be Bill Snyder? And let that be enough?*

*Thinking too hard about or reading too much into Snyder’s approach and demeanor has always plagued those in the media who have tried to unlock the “magic whatever” Snyder used to build his program. They think it has to be magic because the straightforward, hard-work, no-frills, no-thrills, saw-wood, 16-goals, anti-Jim Harbaugh approach is just too damn boring to be as effective as it has proven to be.

Also as evidence of things having changed drastically for Snyder, Dodd threw in the coach’s having a bottle of water instead of coffee. I mean, if there’s a sign a coach is headed straight into the ground, as Dodd seemed eager to portray, drinking water surely signals the end, doesn’t it? (I guess when you’re trying very hard to frame your point that a 77-year-old cancer survivor might be thinking retirement sooner than later as edgy and groundbreaking, you’ll use whatever you can get.)

Sigh …

Isn’t it time, finally, that Bill Snyder just be left to do what he does? Let him tackle the rest of his cancer recovery like he has done his coaching tenure. Let him be unyielding in his approach; tough in his execution; and honest in his brief statements about things. Let him then again pass those traits to his team and see what happens.

But most of all, stop questioning Snyder’s ability to fight, whether in his recovery or in his ability to lead the K-State program.

Anyone who knows him or his teams knows there is no question about that at all.

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Surprised by Frank Martin and South Carolina? You shouldn’t be

When a team makes a Final Four for the first time ever – heck, when it wins an NCAA Tournament game for the first time ever – surprise is part of the expected reaction.

So it has been for the South Carolina Gamecocks and their head coach, Frank Martin, who have become a Tournament darling, especially after dismantling love-to-hate Duke and beating up Baylor along the way. (The darling label also was helped when Martin honored a Sports Illustrated for Kids child reporter’s perfect question and another time commented about today’s adults being the problem in society instead of kids.)

The extended run has even provided enough time for national reporter Bill Reiter to dive (again) into why Frank Martin isn’t at Kansas State anymore and opine (again) that the University of Tennessee is riding John Currie’s ego into administrative hell, probably.

Indeed, from wins to the podium to media good feels, Martin has had a perfect tournament. He has basked in its stature-building spotlight and only kind of had to share it with Gonzaga and Oregon. (Nobody has really even mentioned Final Four old-hat North Carolina, which might be scary.) Nope, this week has deservedly mostly belonged to Martin, who has appeared more ready than ever to, as he has said in the past he tells his players, “live in the moment.”

Having covered Martin’s tenure up close at Kansas State from start to finish, it’s intriguing to watch the man now and think he was this close to this year perhaps being his second Final Four.

In the 2009-10 season, Martin coached the fastest point guard in America in Denis Clemente and had him paired with K-State’s future all-time leading scorer, Jacob Pullen. Curtis Kelly was silky smooth and sneakily tough on the glass, while Dominique Sutton was the kind of guy a 15-year-old Sindarius Thornwell should have been dreaming to play like some day. Luis Colon provided some anchor toughness in the post, while Jamar Samuels was a pogo stick around the rim on both ends of the floor. The third senior in the three-man class with Clemente and Colon, Chris Merriewether averaged less than 1 point per game and 1.4 rebounds, but he appeared in 33 games because he poured his life into his eight minutes per game.

In that vein, every one of them (and several others) played exactly the kind of intensity and defense people are now losing their minds over with the Gamecocks. And, just like South Carolina now, it served K-State well. After handling North Texas, the Wildcats saw Pullen outduel Jimmer Fredette and No. 7 seed BYU. Then, in one of the greatest Tournament games ever played, K-State outlasted Jordan Crawford and No. 6 Xavier, 101-96, in double overtime. Just two days later, No. 5 Butler upended K-State’s run in a game where it was impossible not to wonder about fatigue.

“I’m sure we would of had a better chance [of making the Final Four]. We played a lot of basketball against Xavier,” Curtis Kelly told me this week. “As the [Butler] game went on, though, I can tell the overtime took a toll more then I gave it credit for.

“Butler was a great team, with a really good pro player in Gordon Hayward. So I’m glad we lost that year to a team that made it all the way.”

It’s impossible to say, of course, whether the double OT really was the ultimate factor that kept Martin and K-State out of the Final Four. But, considering K-State had beaten Xavier earlier by 15 that season in Manhattan, it’s hard not to seriously consider.

Back to the present, though, and Martin’s core fire is just as hot now as it was then. The love for his players also is there just the same. However, the same coach who once said in postgame about that 2010 KSU squad (following a Big 12 Conference win over Texas), “If they don’t come in ready to work tomorrow, I will destroy them,” now appears to have settled into understanding the fire doesn’t have to be an earth-scorching inferno all the time.

Tiredness aside, it makes you wonder if that added maturity is the last little something that might have been missing seven years ago in Manhattan but will be enough to propel Martin and his current group all the way. After all, the overall approach has gotten this team, a No. 7 seed that hasn’t been ranked in the AP Poll since Feb. 13, this far.

South Carolina is talented. It is tough. It is battle-tested. It offensive rebounds you into submission, and it can shoot the 3. And the defense, of course, is ferocious. Most of that is the result of its head coach believing in his guys and refusing to allow them to believe less. (Even if people like me believe far less – as recently as earlier this year.)

That’s a really scary, proven-winner combination if you’re the on the other side, and if it so happens that the Gamecocks make the National Final, nobody should be all that surprised. Not if they have been paying attention.

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K-State fans gave Dana Altman same support they now give Bruce Weber

News broke Monday that Kansas State would retain Bruce Weber for the 2017-18 season.

Unless you’re an unlucky soul in need of a cranial extraction from a certain cavity, you can guess the resigned but loud reaction that followed for the growing number of fans who swear they are finished with the men’s basketball program — attendance, donations, etc. — until Weber is gone.

K-State fans once withdrew massive support for Final Four Oregon coach Dana Altman … in only his second season leading the Wildcats.

What I wonder is how many of those fans were the same ones, or perhaps brought up in the homes of fans back in the day, who begged for Dana Altman to be replaced less than two years into his tenure almost 30 years ago.

Wait … what happened? Surely, you jest.

I don’t jest, and don’t call me Shirley.

It’s true. A fresh-faced Dana Altman was hired to replace Lon Kruger, who unceremoniously dumped the Wildcats for Florida and left a depleted roster. K-State fans, who were much more used to high levels of success 25 years ago, gave Kruger permanent God status while giving Altman one year and a short deck to deal a winning hand, which of course didn’t happen.

K-State finished last in the Big 8 Conference for the first time ever, and fans let their standalone-mustachioed leader have it by withdrawing their support by refusing to attend games. According to an Associated Press story dated Feb. 5, 1992:

“… already twice this season, fewer than 6,000 fans have showed up at Bramlage, which opened in 1989. Bramlage seats 13,500, and attendance is averaging about 7,800.” 

History is written only by those who remain, and the popular, hands-washed, K-State revisionist edition is that Altman simply wasn’t ready to be a coach at the Big 8 level. Maybe or even probably a good part of that is true, but if he wasn’t getting any real support from nearly the start? It’s convenient to build a home without nails and then blame its collapse on the person who happened to live in it at the time.

And so, that’s when things really began to turn from a bit messy to completely gross.

Feeling pressured (but no so much that it was willing or could afford to overcome serious athletic department debt and pay for quality leadership), K-State was turned down by Tubby Smith before whistling The Offspring’s “No Self Esteem” and hiring Tom Asbury, who waited to see if Iowa State would come open before accepting the K-State gig.

“I didn’t want to make any snap decisions,” he said at the time.

(Now I know I’m being used. That’s okay, man, ’cause I like the abuse…)

Eventually, the California tan paled and support shrank over the next six years, and Asbury was let go after going 85-88. At the time, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Asbury was the lowest paid coach in the Big 8. That trend didn’t change as K-State again went on the cheap, offering Jim Wooldridge approximately $400,000 to be a program savior. That figure ranked near the bottom of the league as well, but it didn’t stop then athletic director Max Urick from saying Wooldridge was “a fantastic recruiter and had a history of being a turnaround artist…”*

*The really fun part about that salary figure is that it was about $50,000 less than what future Wildcats assistant Dalonte Hill would make annually simply because he pulled the Michael Beasley puppet strings. That comparison does a fantastic job at painting just how out of touch K-State admins prior to 2006-07 were with regard to the cost of recapturing the success they and the fan base felt they were entitled to. 

We know how that ended before Bob Huggins, Frank Martin, Brad Underwood and the rest of the cavalry arrived.

Back to the present, and K-State fans are gnashing their teeth over this week’s Final Four, which includes a coach they had but didn’t want, and another they had and finally wanted but lost because of an overzealous, short-timing NCAA compliance officer who masquerades as an athletic director.

Life, you and your ironies just suck sometimes.

Anyways, here’s hoping that fans realize not supporting the program never works, though the present day seems to show the “Altman withdrawal” has resurfaced. And also, here’s hoping the yet-to-be-named director of athletics uses the now-full coffers, when the time is right, to get K-State back in the real arms race again.

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Former K-State guard Nigel Johnson transferring … again; Jevon Thomas, Tre Harris also need new homes

Quick late-day news out of New Jersey as former Kansas State Wildcats guard Nigel Johnson is transferring, again, this time from Rutgers.

According to a school-issued release Friday afternoon, Johnson informed the coaching staff that he intends to earn his undergraduate degree and transfer. He has been granted his release.

“We appreciate Nigel’s contributions to our program,” said head coach Steve Pikiell. “We support his decision and wish him the best in his future endeavors.”

The redshirt junior guard joined Rutgers two seasons ago as part of a massive roster depletion at K-State. Announcing his decision on Twitter, Johnson was the fourth player to leave Bruce Weber’s program at the time after Marcus Foster and Tre Harris were dismissed and Jevon Thomas also decided to transfer.

Johnson isn’t the only one in that controversial group that didn’t settle at his next stop. 

Harris, citing personal reasons, split with SIU-Edwardsville in December despite leading the team in scoring. Thomas quit Seton Hall in February after being suspended the first semester. The suspension came after Thomas reportedly grabbed a graduate assistant around the neck in a fight during an intramural game.

Malek Harris also was dismissed in the roster purge and spent the past year playing for NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan. 

(Thanks to DP for the tip on the updates!)

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