MANHATTAN — One of the most important questions Kansas State president Kirk Schulz remembers asking John Currie before hiring him as athletic director in 2009 was how he would conduct a coaching search with the Wildcats.
His answer impressed Schulz enough that he still has confidence in Currie as K-State begins the process of replacing basketball coach Frank Martin three years later.
“John said, ‘Well, here is my list of individuals I would look at,’ ” Schulz said. “This was three and a half years ago. I didn’t really care whose name was on there as much as he had already thought about exactly what we needed to do if that was to come up. John has been prepared for this.”
Currie will need to have done his research, because replacing Martin, who guided the Wildcats to four NCAA Tournaments in five seasons before leaving for South Carolina on Tuesday, will be difficult.
Martin left K-State for what he called the thrill of “a new challenge.” Currie said Martin told him he and his family were simply ready for a change.
Others have suggested a deteriorating relationship between Currie and Martin, which culminated with a disagreement on how to handle an eligibility issue involving Jamar Samuels during the NCAA Tournament, was the reason for the coach’s departure for a new contract worth $12.3 million over six years. Though both parties publicly denied any sour feelings on Tuesday, saying that they had a “strong” relationship, the public perception remains.
Whatever the case, everyone is moving on. Martin, after making “the hardest decision I have ever made in my life,” says he is excited to be at South Carolina. Even though it will start as a rebuilding effort. Currie, who said he tried to keep Martin at K-State with offers of a more lucrative contract, insists he is looking forward to hiring his first coach since coming to K-State.
“We have everything a coach needs to win here at Kansas State,” Currie said.
He made sure to thank Martin for that. Because of Martin’s successful run with the Wildcats, and the fundraising efforts Currie made to begin construction on an $18 million basketball practice facility, K-State is a much more attractive job than it was when Martin was hired.
Only one scholarship player is set to graduate, and Currie said he was “very encouraged” by the reaction of K-State’s basketball players during a closed-door meeting on Monday to inform them Martin would no longer be his coach.
Players left the meeting laughing and in good spirits. But before that, Currie said they gave him suggestions for what they would like to see in a new coach. Currie wouldn’t classify any of their requests, and was mostly mum on what he will look for during the search, but did say he wants a coach who will represent K-State the right way and will act with integrity.
He provided no timetable for the search, but said it will be his sole priority.
Speculation has already begun , and a few names on his wish list have already been confirmed by sources close the program.
Colorado coach Tad Boyle is considered a candidate. He spent time with Currie at Tennessee in 1997, when Currie worked in the athletic department and Boyle was an assistant coach. Boyle has since served as a successful assistant coach at Wichita State and coach at Northern Colorado before joining the Buffaloes. He is a Greeley, Colo., native and has called Colorado his dream job.
Tim Jankovich is also expected to get a look. He has guided Illinois State to four 20-win seasons and is a former K-State player.
Two K-State basketball boosters said they are pushing for associate head coach Brad Underwood to be considered. Underwood didn’t respond to a message asking if he was interested in the job. Currie said Martin has invited his former staff to follow him to South Carolina.
And though he may not yet be on Currie’s radar, former standout K-State player Steve Henson is campaigning for an interview.
“I would love a shot at it,” Henson said by phone. “No question about it. K-State is certainly my dream job.”
Henson has no head coaching experience, but has been a successful assistant at UNLV and now Oklahoma for former K-State player and coach Lon Kruger.
Kruger, who said he was not interested in leaving Oklahoma, said he will recommend Henson for the job to Currie and other influential K-State administrators.
“Steve is a great candidate,” Kruger said. “He’s got the whole package. From his work ethic on the court to what he brings on the recruiting trail, he does everything you would want. He’s going to be a great head coach at some point.”
One name fans can cross off is former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl. When asked on Twitter if he would hire a coach with Pearl’s track record of NCAA recruiting violations, Schulz said no.
While at Tennessee, Currie helped hire Pearl as basketball coach and Lane Kiffin as football coach, but he has never been in charge of a coaching search.
For now, that doesn’t bother Schulz. He has no doubts in the man he hired to make prominent coaching hires.
“I have confidence that we’ve got the right guy here,” Schulz said, “and I’m going to support him and count on everybody else to do the same.”