Throughout his long career as Kansas State football coach, Bill Snyder has witnessed the job description of an athletic director change a great deal.
Universities used to look to former athletes and coaches to run their athletic departments. Some still do, but lately it seems like a background in business can trump a background in sports.
“College athletics, particularly football, has become such a high-dollar part of our educational system that the need for a CEO, a business-oriented individual, is so much greater now,” Snyder said this week at a news conference. “We find fewer and fewer and fewer athletic directors who have actually gone through the process of athletics and who played.”
Snyder is not a fan of the new trend.
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“A lot gets lost,” Snyder said.
“Relationships and everybody being on the same page and wanting to move in the right direction and wanting to do it together hand-in-hand. All that stuff, to me, makes a difference.”
Snyder is optimistic new K-State athletic director Gene Taylor will be able to balance both sides of the job, combining business acumen with athletic knowledge.
K-State hired Taylor last week from Iowa, where he served as deputy director of athletics for the Hawkeyes. Before that, he was AD at North Dakota State, where he helped the Bison become the nation’s top FCS football power. He has also worked as an athletic administrator at Navy and as a student manager at Arizona State.
“He is going to do very well,” Snyder said. “I like Gene … He is a good person. I like him because he can establish relationships. I like him because he wants to do what is right for the program. He wants to work hand-in-hand with, not just me, but with every coach in the athletic program. I think he is just a people person. I have said so many times, that is what this university is all about.”
Wyoming football coach Craig Bohl also thinks Taylor will succeed at K-State.
Bohl won three consecutive FCS championships under Taylor at North Dakota State and beat K-State on a memorable fourth-quarter drive in 2013 at Snyder Family Stadium. That kind of winning propelled Bohl to his current job at Wyoming, but he hasn’t forgotten about his former athletic director.
“He is a top-shelf guy and I think he is really qualified,” Bohl said. “There is not going to be anything that comes across his desk that he doesn’t have experience dealing with. He has a great understanding of what building a football program is all about. And he relates really well with coaches.”
What makes him so relatable? Start with this: His father was a high school basketball coach.
Taylor says his favorite part of the job is not watching games or winning championships, but being around student-athletes while they work behind the scenes. He likes watching practice and was regularly in the stands while Bohl directed scrimmages and drills at North Dakota State.
He rarely had pointers for his football coach, but he always had time to chat. Taylor went out of his way to speak with assistants, managers and players on the sidelines. Bohl imagines Taylor behaved the same way when he worked for former Arizona State football coach Frank Kush as a student manager.
“He has been around a lot of really great coaches,” Bohl said. “He saw not every day in practice is going to be a chamber-of-commerce day. There are going to be ups and downs.
“He was at our practices all the time, never micromanaging but always observing. He just tried to stay in touch with everyone. There was never a feeling of, well, the boss is here so we have to be on our best behavior. Because he understood the ins and outs of college football, there was some real comfort there.”
Taylor also has a good record when it comes to finance. North Dakota State’s budget tripled from $5 million when he started to $15 million when he left for Iowa in 2014.
He replaces John Currie, who is now at Tennessee following an unprecedented eight years of fundraising and construction with the Wildcats. By all accounts, Currie did an exemplary job on the business side of the job, but he was criticized as a micromanager with coaches.
Perhaps Taylor can bridge the gap.
“He is able to intertwine friendship and professionalism,” Bohl said. “The thing I always appreciated about him as a boss was when we had tough decisions to make, he listened. You felt comfortable telling him your opinion. He might not always agree with you, but he was receptive. That is a sign of a great leader.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett