Kansas State University

Football coaching search will define Gene Taylor’s legacy as K-State A.D.

This is Gene Taylor’s moment.

When Kansas State hired him from Iowa as the school’s athletic director in April 2017 it did so knowing he would likely be the person tasked with finding Bill Snyder’s replacement. Everything else he has done in the past 20 months, or will do over the remainder of his tenure, is secondary compared to this.

The football coach he hires will define his legacy at K-State — good or bad.

Taylor understands the situation. Though he hasn’t said much since Snyder announced his retirement from coaching on Sunday, he knows he will have his hands full trying to replace an icon. Over the span of 27 seasons, Snyder guided the Wildcats to 215 victories, 19 bowls and two conference championships. K-State football was nothing before he arrived in 1989. What’s more, he’s the only coach who has ever won big in Manhattan.

For that reason, Taylor long ago decided on the first question he will pose to candidates as he begins his coaching search this week.

“Does the person we hire understand what they are walking into?” Taylor said during an interview earlier this year. “They are replacing a legend. They are going to drive down Bill Snyder Highway and walk past his statue. Every time they look up at the coaches in the box it is going to say Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It will be important for me to hire a person that really understands the pressure associated with that.

“That is going to be a question I will ask. Are you ready to handle the pressure of replacing a guy like Bill Snyder? It’s like replacing John Wooden. Are you up for that? If the look in their eye tells me they are, then great. If not, they are probably not the best candidate for us.”

Who will the perfect candidate be? Let the speculation begin.

The smart money appears to be on North Texas coach Seth Littrell and North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman. But Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt are fan favorites with K-State ties. Memphis coach Mike Norvell, Troy coach Neal Brown and a few others have also been mentioned as potential names to watch.

Taylor knows what he is looking for.

“Our priority will be to identify the absolute best individual to lead our football program and we will do so in a timely yet exhaustive manner,” Taylor said in a statement Monday. “This is a program with rich tradition, a passionate fan base and a facility infrastructure that is second to none, and we want to find a successful coach who best fits and understands our culture here at K-State. We will attract some of the nation’s top coaches, and I look forward to introducing the K-State nation its next coach in the near future.”

Most expect Taylor to move quickly with this hire. Though Snyder only announced his retirement on Sunday, Taylor has been preparing for a coaching search since the moment he was hired.

Much could be decided early this week while Taylor is in New York for college football’s annual Hall of Fame festivities. Head coaches from across the nation converge on the Big Apple for the event every December. It’s an ideal location for an athletic director on the hunt for a new coach.

Taylor is expected to meet with candidates while there. At minimum, a source said, he plans to discuss the job with Littrell before he returns to North Texas and begins preparing the Mean Green for its next game against Utah State in the New Mexico Bowl.

Klieman told North Dakota State media on Monday that he has not had any contact with Taylor, his former athletic director. Klieman is currently coaching the Bison in the FCS playoffs.

Whomever Taylor settles on, K-State fans hope it is a better selection than Ron Prince. That’s who the Wildcats tabbed to replace Snyder when he briefly stepped away in 2005.

Prince went 17-20 over three seasons and Snyder returned to replace him in 2009, saying he hoped to “calm the waters.” Though Taylor was not involved in any of those decisions, he has studied the failed experiment.

He hopes to find a better fit this time around. It will be important, he said, for the next coach to bring his own style without ignoring the methods that worked so well during the Snyder era.

“There is that worry that we can’t let that happen again,” Taylor said early last month. “But I would also say our program is in a little different place now.”

Indeed, Snyder leaves K-State in better condition than he found it when he returned to the sideline for his second stint as coach. The Wildcats have renovated their football stadium and played in eight bowl games over the past 10 seasons.

Now it’s up to Taylor to find the right person to build off that.

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Kellis Robinett covers Kansas State athletics for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. A winner of more than a dozen national writing awards, he lives in Manhattan with his wife and three children.