If it wasn’t clear enough already, the turnover in the men’s basketball program has emphasized a decade-long trend in Kansas State athletics.
Put simply, it’s this: The athletic director is really in charge.
Frank Martin, who left K-State for what most would consider a worse job, pretty obviously quit because he conflicted with his boss, athletic director John Currie.
Guess what? The boss won.
Contrast this with what happened, in, say, 2004. Tim Weiser was the athletic director, Jon Wefald was the university president, and Jim Wooldridge was the basketball coach. Weiser wanted to fire Wooldridge after another weak season, but Wefald overruled that. Weiser went along but got Wefald to put in writing that he would let Weiser make all personnel decisions going forward.
If you recall, that didn’t really last long. Weiser wanted no part of giving a new contract to Ron Prince as football coach after a 5-7 season in 2007. But Wefald wanted to get that deal done; Weiser stomped off with a lucrative settlement, taking a job with the Big 12, and Prince got his new contract.
You might recall that one — it was the one with the secret extra buyout deal concocted by Bob Krause, Wefald’s chief fixer.
The point is: Weiser had no real say in any of this.
Let’s think back a bit further: Under his previous arrangement, football coach Bill Snyder controlled everything under the sun: Scheduling opponents; the hiring, pay and (theoretically, anyway) firing of assistant coaches; cleaning the carpets; counting the pads of butter, whatever.
In fact, to think back a bit further still, when Snyder started, there wasn’t even a spelled-out contract. He was just supposed to run the whole thing.
He did. And when he needed something, he got it. Wefald and Krause made sure of that. It’s not that the athletics directors just sat there producing carbon dioxide, but the real power on the big stuff lay elsewhere.
Look at any of the new coaches’ contracts — new basketball coach Bruce Weber’s, or Snyder’s current one, for instance — and the power has shifted. The athletic director has the final say over scheduling, and gets to make hiring, firing and pay decisions about assistants. The A.D. also controls the budget.
Or look at it strictly from an appearance standpoint: When K-State had to announce that Martin had left and that they were searching for a new basketball coach, President Kirk Schulz sat beside Currie and told the world that Currie was the guy running the department, expressing his “complete and total confidence” in Currie.
In saying that Currie has consolidated power, I do not mean to suggest that he is a power-hungry egomaniac. Not at all. It’s not really even about him, when you think about why this has happened.
First, it reflects the continued evolution of college sports into big business. The bigger the stakes, the more legalistic the whole thing necessarily becomes. No longer do coaches anywhere operate on a handshake deal. When you’re dealing with tens of millions of dollars, everything has to be more formalized, including the chain of command. Contracts get longer and more detailed. This is happening everywhere.
Second, it represents a shift away from the Wefald era to the Schulz era. Wefald’s basic philosophy was: Get it done. He was a historian — a person driven by the idea that history can be made by one person, almost necessarily taking risks. Schulz, by contrast, is an engineer. He lays out goals and plans and steps. He follows the book.
I don’t mean to suggest that Schulz is incapable of creative leadership, just as I don’t mean to suggest that Wefald ignored all the rules. Far from it — they are both very capable leaders and extremely intelligent men who go beyond the stereotypes.
There are pluses and minuses to both approaches — and those should be fairly obvious to anybody who can think a bit about it. But my point is not which way is better; my point is simply that the classic chain-of-command approach has helped consolidate power in the athletic director’s position.
Is that good or bad? That, of course, depends on your view of the athletic director.