As a Texas grad, I’ve been here before. Your program is replacing a legend who was losing his touch. It wasn’t easy to convince him to hang things up and now he’s probably going to stick around and be a helpful or hurtful force depending on the circumstances.
You hated to see him go but you were also curious and eager to turn the page to the next chapter. Instead a drawn out coaching search has resulted and the first choice turned you down in a public way.
Mack Brown didn’t invent and build the Texas program from the ground up like Bill Snyder did with Kansas State but he did bring about:
-Junior day and the early recruiting model. That was about as influential as Snyder’s JUCO recruiting tactics.
-“Come early, be loud, wear burnt orange.” The motto and branding of Texas football as we know it today largely occurred under Mack Brown.
-A level of winning that included a national championship, a near miss on another one, and “down” years that the AD was boasting were better than Missouri’s “best years.”
With Mack gone and Saban staying put, there was a lot of external doubt about whether Texas was really as big time a program as commonly assumed and there was some internal doubt as well. I can see that the same thing is happening with the K-State coaching search but to an even greater degree because Texas has the majority of their program’s wins and accolades under coaches that aren’t Mack Brown and Kansas State does not.
This is a raw and uncertain time in Manhattan, so I’m going to try and shoot straight with y’all on how things stand as I see it. You may not like it all but that’s okay, I don’t mind you processing your complaints or disagreements in the comments section or my Twitter mentions.
No. 1: This job opening isn’t THAT great of an opportunity
Kansas State certainly isn’t a bad job, primarily because EMAW really cares about football and is invested in producing strong teams. It’s a P5 school with real resources in a fun but somewhat shaky conference. The talent pool of said conference happens to be located far away from the school but there’s also a relatively overlooked metro area nearby (KC), some overlooked talent within the state and neighboring states (particularly OK), and an in-state JUCO program that draws in and develops players from around the country and culls from talented but risky players that can’t get into a four-year school out of HS.
The problem is that you’re replacing one of the greatest college football coaches of all time when he’s still alive, not that happy about leaving, and sticking around to provide some oversight and opinion on how things go with a program that is virtually akin to being his actual son. Btw, there are rumors that he wants his actual son to remain involved and will expect you to make that happen.
A common refrain in circumstances like this is that you don’t want to be the guy that replaces THE guy. You want to be the guy after that. This was exactly Texas’ experience. Btw, on that…
No. 2: Be aware of the oversteer
This is so insanely common. A program moves on from a guy that’s been successful (or not) over time and they’re so ready to write a new chapter that they decide to jump the shark with the plot lines.
In the instance of Texas that meant replacing the gregarious “CEO coach” who was barely involved in actually coaching his players on playing football with Charlie Strong. If you weren’t following, Strong was intensely involved with coaching his own players. He had an open door policy to his office and spent a good deal more time with his own players than overseeing his staff or trying to manage the greater program and it’s resources. His staffing was terrible and immensely costly, particularly on offense, and Strong struggled mightily to wield the bloated resources of the university. He was also a defensive-minded guy who struggled to adapt to trying to build a Texas offensive brand or winning by a means other than defense.
Next came Tom Herman, who’s much more intense about coaching up his coaches, has a lot of vision and strategy for deploying the greater resources of the program, and was an offensive-minded head coach but also won that constantly preached the importance of defense. It’s going much better, but Texas struggled to get there until they’d satiated the absurd but natural taste for life with a totally different style.
The temptation at K-State would be to do something akin to what Kansas did after Charlie Weis. To go hire an Air Raid coach (I mean, they already tried to do this) who’d recruit out of state and employ more or less the exact opposite style and team identity of the Bill Snyder Wildcats.
Moving away from winning with physical teams culled from local players is a really freaking risky strategy. There’s a proven model for winning at K-State, the smart play would be to bring tweaks and updates, not to try and reinvent the wheel.
No. 3: Kansas State is not a national brand
This particularly matters for recruiting. There’s this sense that the next head coach needs to do things differently primarily from the perspective of recruiting Texas and wherever else for talent. That is certainly one way to go about things but it is NOT a clear or easy path to building a Big 12 title contender or matching the success of the Bill Snyder era.
Currently the K-State football brand is one of local and scrappy overachievers who beat up teams with toughness, running QBs, and highly disciplined football. To turn Kansas State into a popular destination for high caliber athletes from around the country would require a rebranding mission on the level of Snyder’s original “powercat” logo transformation. We’re talking about a really big vision that would be necessary and the hiring of a truly talented coach.
No coach with that level of vision and talent is going to be readily available for K-State to hire unless they’re currently at a pretty low level. Otherwise they’d be getting snatched up by another job.
What’s more, there are actually good players within the state and the program already has a S&C coach who’s shown a knack for turning them into players that can compete in this conference.
Let me tell you another story. Once there was a program up further north, let’s call them the Rodents. Well the Rodents wanted to hire a coach with a knack for big time recruiting to try and bring some talent up from the south and rebrand the program. While he was making that attempt, a smaller program a level down that we’ll call the Ungulates saw what was happening. They decided to pounce on the opportunity to recruit the somewhat remote but still well populated state the Rodents occupied and ended up building a dynasty that produced six national championships in seven years with two different coaches at the helm.
Point is, not only would recruiting more nationally be immensely difficult for K-State but perhaps simply doing a better job of recruiting regionally would actually allow for much stronger teams than expected. After all, it’s not like Snyder or Mark Mangino’s best teams lacked Kansas kids.
No. 4: Hang tight, this story will take a while to unfold
There’s a good chance that the coach who replaces Bill Snyder will struggle and he may not even make it. After all, if Alex Barnes heads to the NFL and you get transfers from a roster that just went 5-7, that’s not the makings of a strong start. Particularly if your AD embraces the oversteer and you end up trying to run the Air Raid or some such system and move away from the strengths of the team.
There are some pretty solid coaches getting mentioned for the vacancy, all of them will need a chance to fail and figure things out, especially if there’s roster turnover. And if you end up with a new coach in three more years or so, that doesn’t mean that K-State football is dead.
Alright, we’ll revisit this once there’s a new coach in Snyder’s throne. Good luck!