Even before Gene Taylor became Kansas State’s athletics director, he knew there was a major decision looming on the horizon.
He knew when he took over in April 2017 that eventually he’d have to address Bill Snyder’s future as K-State’s head football coach.
And Taylor said he knew that decision would come “sooner rather than later” given Snyder’s age. Add on to that Snyder’s fight with cancer — which he beat last year — and Taylor said the discussion couldn’t be put on the backburner.
Now, the pair were to sit down Wednesday to review the season.
“We all know he’s not going to coach forever,” Taylor said of Snyder, who just completed his 27th season as head coach on Saturday. “So yeah, it’s something where I’ve been literally preparing for all scenarios from the minute I probably stepped on to campus.”
Taylor said he had not met with Snyder as of press time Wednesday afternoon. But one thing is certain: There will be far more dialogue this year than last.
“Last year we were celebrating the bowl win,” said Taylor, referring to the 35-17 Cactus Bowl victory over UCLA in Phoenix. “I was not in a rush because we obviously won the game, we were past the recruiting deadline, all that stuff. This year, because we’re not going to a bowl game, we do have the early signing date. Everybody kind of wanted the decision early, just because if there is going to be a new coach, we need to move forward. If not, we need to let our recruits know, our coaches know, etc. Both he and I agreed that we need to make a quicker process through his checklist this year than last year.”
In their previous end-of-season sitdown in January, Taylor said he didn’t “go into any kind of depth” with Snyder about the 2017 season. Not even a full year into the job, Taylor admits he was still learning the roster. He was establishing relationships with the coaching staff. Taylor juggled those things while trying to acclimate himself to the culture of K-State athletics after his time as North Dakota State’s AD (2001 to 2014) and Iowa’s deputy AD (2014 to 2017).
This time around, Taylor said he’s armed with questions.
“‘What about this? What did you think about how we did offensively? How were our coordinators? How is our recruiting?’” said Taylor, providing some examples. “I’ll ask more questions this year to help me understand a little bit and to give my opinion on some things that maybe I’m seeing.”
And Taylor sees a team with a deceiving record.
“We were a couple of dropped passes away from beating Texas. The only real blowout loss was Oklahoma,” he said. “We struggled early. We had two new coordinators, and that’s a factor. And the one thing that coaches don’t talk about, but it really affected us, is that we had a lot of injuries. There were guys at the end of the year who probably weren’t even considered to be playing at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, we got better, which is good. We were close in a lot of games this year. We could have been a seven-, eight-win team pretty easily.”
In his position, Taylor said he can’t afford to see things in black and white.
“I can’t get all wrapped up in, ‘Well, we won five and lost seven,’” he said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it that I view, and those will be questions that I talk to Coach about. ‘OK, what did you think about this? What about that?’ Those kinds of things.”
One thing Taylor said won’t sway him: Fan opinions. A recent poll on K-StateOnline.com showed more than 90 percent of respondents wanted Snyder to retire after this season. Taylor joked that he “thought about” asking how the results of a poll regarding men’s basketball coach Bruce Weber’s status prior to last season would have finished. A year later, Weber is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity, with the Wildcats fresh off an Elite Eight run, undefeated this season and No. 12 in the latest Associated Press rankings.
Weber’s success, Taylor said, is why fan polls are a fun diversion.
“We have passionate fans who care,” he said. “It’s important to them, and our fans are important to us. I say that all the time. But I have to look at a lot more things than just what the general feeling is from the public’s perception, because they typically go to the bottom line, they typically go to the 5-7 record.
“We also have some very intelligent fans who know about our injuries, who know about guys farther down the depth chart, etc. etc. But a fan poll is great for the fan base, but it’s not something I follow very closely.”
K-State president Richard Myers has Taylor’s ear, though.
If Myers has a strong opinion on Snyder’s future one way or the other, Taylor said he will take that into consideration. But Taylor doesn’t expect that.
“Fortunately, I have (a president) who understands and gets a lot of what’s going on,” Taylor said. “He’s a fan, but he cares. He hired me to be the AD, and he’ll give me his advice and insight, and we go from there.”
Taylor is thankful Myers is fairly hands off.
That’s been the case everywhere he’s worked. He has friends in the business who aren’t so fortunate. He’s heard their horror stories of meddling presidents who want to wield their power in athletics.
Taylor “thanks my lucky stars” every day for that.
“Every president I’ve had has been very supportive of athletics. They know it’s important, but they also don’t want to be the AD,” he said. “Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve had a president like the one I’ve had here. Then again, I’ve never had a president who was a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs (of Staff), either.”
Taylor said the Kansas Board of Regents operates much like Myers: It stays out of the way and lets him do his job. Since becoming the athletics director, Taylor said he’s never had to go through the board for approval of coaching contracts, whether it was for Weber’s extension or Snyder’s five-year deal announced in August.
If Snyder retires, Taylor said the only board he would need to go through to hire a new coach is the athletics department’s board of directors.
“That consists of some vice presidents, some faculty and athletics (people). They approve all that stuff, and then they approve all the hires,” Taylor said. “So I’ve never had to go to the board of regents. I think their philosophy is, they deal with the president and campus issues and they don’t get into the individual departments from my understanding.”
Unlike universities elsewhere in the country, Taylor said K-State’s most influential boosters don’t try to impose their will upon the athletics program. They sign the checks, letting Taylor and those around him do as they see fit.
“Some of our most significant donors don’t want to meddle. They want me to do the job,” Taylor said. “If I can inform them when I get down to the top two or three, I might. But it’s a timing thing, and they understand that this process moves very quickly.
“But if one of them called and said, ‘Hey Gene, you got a minute? Who’s the guy you’re thinking about?’ I’d share that with them. But it would only be less than a handful of people I’d do that for.”
The case with Snyder — and whether he’ll be back on the sideline for a 28th season in 2019 — shares some similarities with coaching situations Taylor has faced in the past. At North Dakota State, Taylor had to hire the successor for Craig Bohl, who won three-straight FCS national championships (2011-13) before taking over at Wyoming in 2014.
At the time, Taylor said the Bison’s fan base wrestled with many of the same concerns Wildcats’ supporters have when thinking about a post-Snyder landscape in Manhattan.
“People were worried about, ‘Oh my God. We can never replace Craig Bohl. Oh my goodness. We just won three national championships. What are you going to do? We’ve got to make a quick decision. Who’s out there?’” Taylor said. “So there are similar issues here, because Coach (Snyder) is a Hall of Fame coach, he’s been around a long time, he’s been ultra-successful.”
Should Snyder decide to step away, Taylor made one point clear: He hasn’t sent out feelers to any coaches or agents. And he would “never do that.” Period.
“That’s bad business,” he said. “It would be disrespectful to Coach. It would be unfair to our program. I would never do that until that decision is made.”
At the same time, he does have a list of names — one he keeps to himself.
Any candidate list floating about, he stressed, is pure speculation.
“All the conjecture of who’s going to be candidates is not coming from me or anybody I’ve ever had a conversation with,” Taylor said. “Now, do I have names, and do I do my own homework on these guys? Absolutely. I’m doing that because I have to move pretty quickly. But I’ve never spoken to anybody about a particular candidate.”