Now is the moment for Gene Taylor to earn the big bucks. It’s a moment of extremely difficult choices. The choice comes down to this: Bet on Bruce Weber? Or bet against him?
In the next month, Mr. Taylor, K-State’s athletics director, is contractually obligated to evaluate the job performance of Mr. Weber, the men’s basketball coach, the second-highest-paid public employee in town. Taylor already has said Weber will remain the coach, so that leaves him with two choices: Extend his contract, or do nothing. Either choice has major risks.
Let’s walk through it. First, Weber has two years left on a five-year contract. That’s an awkward situation to begin with. If he’s out on the recruiting trail, trying to convince the parents of a 17-year-old high school star to commit to him, I’ll guarantee you coaches from opposing schools are whispering: “Sure, you can go to K-State, but who knows who you’ll even be playing for in a year or so?”
This is why coaches often get extensions year after year. Kids are generally committing for five years. They want to know they’ll be playing for the same guy.
But second, the flip side is that Weber had a second bad year in a row. The team went 9-20, after an 11-21 season a year ago. The team obviously improved as the year went on, won a round at the conference tournament, and so things appeared on an upward track. That, combined with the free pass due to the pandemic, means that he wasn’t fired despite some horrendous results.
The thing is, if Taylor does give Weber an extension, that just means more money that he’ll have to eat if he fires Weber a year from now. That’s usually the way it works: The university has to buy out the remainder of the contract, if the firing occurs just because the team is bad. (If the coach gets caught violating NCAA rules or breaks the law, the university has an out. If there’s a dispute over that, then the buyout gets negotiated in exchange for an agreement that both sides will keep their mouths shut. See: KU football.)
By the way, this is precisely the situation Tim Weiser found himself in as the AD here in 2008. Ron Prince had pressed for a new contract after a good first season and a mediocre second one. Weiser didn’t want to do it, and eventually left because of that. Weiser’s successor, Bob Krause, extended Prince — including the infamous secret extra buyout — which of course K-State had to eat a year later when Prince was canned.
That’s not to say that the only right decision is to leave Weber dangling out there. He’s clearly a good coach, and has had success here, and there’s never been a whiff of scandal. Extending his contract would be defensible. Unlikely, but possible.
Here’s the thing, though: If there’s going to be an extension, my guess is that it will be announced really soon. Because the whole point would be to give Weber credibility in recruiting, which he needs even more now, given the transfer of Dajuan Gordon.
If you don’t hear anything pretty soon, what that means is that Taylor made the opposite decision: Better to leave him dangling than have to buy out millions more a year from now.
High stakes. Tough call.