Gene Taylor was sitting in his office Friday morning discussing a wide range of topics from his first year as the man in charge of Kansas State’s athletic department when the conversation came to a screeching halt.
A seemingly simple question caught him off guard.
What was your biggest challenge?
“You know,” Taylor said, pausing a moment to think it over, “there weren’t a ton.”
That sums up how well things have gone for the Wildcats since they hire hired Taylor as athletic director last April. Taylor, formerly of Iowa and North Dakota State, oversaw one of the most successful academic years in school history when it comes to revenue sports.
Bill Snyder guided the football team to an 8-5 record and a victory in the Cactus Bowl, while Bruce Weber led the men’s basketball team to 25 wins and the Elite Eight. It was the first time in school history the Wildcats won a bowl and an NCAA Tournament game in the same academic year.
This year, K-State was one of three schools to win a bowl and advance to a regional final. The other two: Duke and Florida State.
“As a new AD, when you have success and your teams have success, that is a lot of fun,” Taylor said. “The first thing that happened was the women’s track team won a Big 12 championship. I had been here a week so I don’t know if I can claim (that one). But to watch the football team go from 3-4 at one point in the season to win five of six, and the Elite Eight run, was pretty special.”
Add on a successful fundraising campaign for $15 million worth of baseball and soccer facility renovations, and it was a productive year on several fronts.
Taylor deflects most of the credit to student-athletes and coaches, but there is no doubt he supported them along the way. His predecessor, John Currie, was criticized at times for lacking deep relationships with his coaches. That has not been the case with Taylor.
That much was obvious when he eventually decided what his biggest challenge was in Year 1.
“The biggest challenge is just getting around and balancing everything between seeing donors and being around our student-athletes,” Taylor said. “I love going to practice, and I didn’t go to hardly any practices at all. Maybe one or two basketball, maybe a dozen football, no baseball or volleyball.
“Eventually I will balance all that. I’m getting better at it. I needed to get out and see our donors this year. Now, I want to do a better job getting to know our student-athletes and spending more time with them.”
Some other highlights from a 30-minute interview with Taylor:
New contract for Weber
Taylor is hopeful he can announce a new contract for Weber within the next month. Though they haven’t spoken at length about what an extension might look like, Weber has made his desires clear.
“I threw some dollars at him and he said, ‘Gene, all I really want is more years,’” Taylor said. “I said, ‘OK.’ Now I am working on something to get to him.”
Weber has three years remaining on a contract that will pay him $2.25 million next season. He currently has a buyout of $2.5 million, but that number drops to $500,000 on May 1, 2019.
K-State fans were not shy about sharing their dislike for Weber when the team suffered tough losses this season. But many were also willing to throw their support behind the basketball coach when the team hit its stride late and advanced to the Elite Eight.
“There have been a few emails since the season ended that read, Hey Gene. I was a guy that didn’t like Bruce. I am going to eat crow. You don’t have to eat crow. Just be patient and continue to support our program through thick and thin.”
Adding Wichita State to future basketball schedules
A nonconference basketball game against Wichita State is starting to feel like a realistic possibility. Taylor said K-State coaches and administrators have been in contact with their WSU counterparts, and they are close to agreeing on a game. Maybe even as soon as next season.
“We have been looking at some options and some dates back and forth, but nothing has been finalized,” Taylor said. “It could happen next year or it could be moved down the road a little bit. We are definitely talking about a home-and-home and maybe a neutral-site opportunity. All three options are being discussed right now.”
K-State and Wichita State haven’t played since 2002. The Wildcats lead the overall series 20-11.
The Wildcats are hoping to add more than just the Shockers to their schedule. Taylor said Weber’s staff is looking to play a power-five conference team at home and a collection of mid-major schools with solid RPI numbers. Games against Tulsa (road) and Vanderbilt (Sprint Center) are already on the schedule, along with a road trip in the Big 12/SEC Challenge and the Paradise Jam, a three-game tournament that will also feature Missouri.
How much longer will Bill Snyder continue to coach?
Taylor doesn’t know how much longer Bill Snyder, 78, will continue to coach, but he has urged him to stay on the job for as long as he feels comfortable doing so.
This is how he remembers their conversation on the topic following the Cactus Bowl.
Snyder: “I want to keep coaching.”
Taylor: “Good, coach as long as you are willing to coach.”
Snyder: “Well, I don’t know how long that is going to be.”
Taylor: “Let’s just say you are going to coach as long as you can physically coach.”
Snyder: “As long as you want me.”
Life after Snyder
Who will Taylor eventually hire to replace Snyder? K-State fans are obsessed with the topic. Taylor figured that out quickly. It’s a question he occasionally ponders, but not as much as he used to.
“I don’t lose sleep on it, but he is an icon,” Taylor said. “He is a legend. He has done so many great things for this program and this community that go beyond football.”
Whenever Snyder decides to retire, Taylor thinks K-State will make a smooth transition to another coach.
“I feel pretty confident,” Taylor said, “that what has been built by Coach, what has been built by facilities and what has been built by tradition, that the pool of candidates will be strong enough that I’m not worried I am going to have to go dig in the bushes to find really good candidates.”
“They are going to be lined up. It’s just a matter of making sure we find the right one that fits here.”
Life in the Big 12
The Big 12 seemed like a chaotic conference to Taylor when he looked on from afar as the deputy AD at Iowa, but now that he is an athletic director within the league, he realizes that is not the case.
“All I heard was the Big 12 was falling apart,” Taylor said. “I will tell you, that is not the case. Every decision we make boils down to what is best for the conference, not what is best for Texas or Oklahoma or Oklahoma State. That’s the only priority.”
Taylor's biggest goals for year two include finishing a facility master plan, which will enable K-State to target new projects that haven’t been previously considered, and an operational strategic plan for the athletic department. And, of course, continuing to win on the football field and the basketball court.