MANHATTAN — Tom Hayes is a coaching nomad.
Since he started teaching football in 1977, he has worked for 11 teams and held 13 job titles. His college employers include UCLA, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. His NFL experience came with the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints. He was briefly the interim coach at Kansas, and he has served on Bill Snyder’s Kansas State staff for more than a year.
Simply put, the 63-year old can handle a new challenge.
“I’ve been at it for 40-plus (years),” Hayes said Friday during K-State’s media day. “You’ve got to hope all those experiences guide you through the current job that you are in. I’ve been lucky to be at a lot of different Division I institutions and a couple NFL teams. I’ve had the chance to be around great players and coaches. I’ve learned a lot.”
That long journey has led him to where he is today, preparing to coach his first game as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator.
Hayes has been on the job for quite some time. When former defensive coordinator Chris Cosh left K-State for South Florida in the offseason, he was the coach defensive players turned to for guidance before Snyder offered him a promotion from secondary coach.
While many defenses would face some type of transition with a new coordinator, Hayes offers progression.
“This gives him an opportunity to continue to do what he’s been doing with our defense,” Snyder said. “I have known Tom for a long time and I know what his capabilities are. He was just an ideal fit to do what we needed to and make that transition.”
Not only is he a familiar face to K-State players, his experience commands so much respect that he can implement new ideas without complaint.
“Coach Hayes has been good to us,” junior linebacker Tre Walker said. “He was here last year, so we are used to him. Everyone thinks because he’s the new D-coordinator (that) everything has changed. It has a little bit, but really everything is the same. No big philosophy changes. We have changed some schemes, but that’s football. We do that every week. How we are playing ball and how we call plays, none of that changes.”
Of course, Hayes will have to introduce a few changes in order for K-State’s defense to improve. A year ago, it was often the team’s downfall. Though K-State was big up front and allowed 131.1 rushing yards, it was susceptible against high-powered passing attacks. The Wildcats surrendered 263.3 passing yards. Forcing 27 turnovers helped, but they ranked 103rd nationally against the pass.
They gave up an average of nearly 412 passing yards three losses.
“The biggest thing for us is proving to people we can play against that five-spread, open-spread offense and stop the pass,” Walker said. “That would be good.”
Hayes thinks it’s possible and is quick to defend last year’s ugly numbers.
“Our stats are skewed somewhat in the way that we played against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State two weeks in a row,” Hayes said. “We didn’t play very well and they played very well and they were very talented on offense, both of them. We gave up a ton of yards to them and we lost both those games, but they kind of skew what happened in the whole scheme of things … They do that to everybody.”
Still, it’s not a good sign that any opponent could thrash K-State’s defense considering Hayes coached that secondary at the time and is now forced to replace Tysyn Hartman, a four-year starter, at safety and David Garrett, a strong all-around defensive back, at corner.
He points to senior Nigel Malone as a bona fide playmaker at cornerback and junior safety Ty Zimmerman as a dependable safety. And he likes what he has seen from unproven safety Thomas Ferguson and senior cornerback Allen Chapman.
But now that he has more responsibilities, he also has to worry about replacing Ray Kibble at defensive tackle and Emmanuel Lamur at linebacker.
When he looks at the defense as a whole, he thinks one unit can help the other. That’s why he wants to develop stronger depth and aggressively pressure the quarterback.
“The other thing we need to do is develop a quality pass rush,” Hayes said. “Part of coverage is getting that quarterback to speed up and get that quarterback to throw that ball when he isn’t ready to throw it. Hopefully that will increase our opportunities in the takeaway area, which is critical.”
Hayes has preached the same strategies at different stops. He’s not going to change now that he has found a home at K-State.
“We are definitely keeping the same defensive philosophy,” Malone said. “We’re going to play smart, fast and tough.”