Yesterday, our Q&A with Jon Morse from Bring on the Cats recapped the first few years of the Snyder era in Manhattan and how some of the renovations to KSU Stadium went down.
Today, we’ll finish up our interview with Jon.
Jon, boil it down for me. How did K-State go from being the absolute worst Division 1 football program to bowl eligibility in three years?
JM: It would be disingenuous not to acknowledge some other factors in play here. Oklahoma State had just been hammered by the NCAA. Oklahoma was in the start of a tailspin. A large part of all this is probably tied into the change in NCAA scholarship limits; remember, the 85-man limit didn’t go into effect until 1992. That freed up a ton of talent which had previously been hoarded by the blue-blood programs, and certainly helped Snyder attract guys who could play some football.
So we can and should give Snyder a heap of credit for being a good coach, a good recruiter, and a guy who understood that you can’t field a quality football program if nobody’s going to support it… but he had some external help as well.
KU has had pockets of success in football since the end of World War II, but has never been able to maintain it. How was K-State able to maintain that early ‘90s success?
JM: By thinking ahead of the curve, in a lot of ways. Snyder was one of the first coaches to really mine junior colleges for talent. He and his staff continually innovated, and what’s funny is that the “conservative” approach most people ascribe to him now was deemed somewhat heretical back in the 1990s. It’s also probably worth noting that KU’s stellar 1995 season may have actually helped K-State, too. Branding, as well; let’s not sell short the Powercat, which did a lot to modernize the program in people’s eyes.
But one of the biggest things, I think, was a very simple change. Older KU fans will actually sympathize with this: for years, Nebraska and Oklahoma had been stealing all the local talent. Snyder tore into that with a vengeance. You look back at the rosters in the mid- to late-90s and see studs like Mark Simoneau and the Ochs brothers and so on, and a ton of them were Kansas kids who a decade earlier would have been wearing a big red N.
Could you elaborate on what you’re thinking when you mention the 1995 season?
JM: Both schools had really great years in 1995, and that brought a lot of attention to the state of Kansas as a whole as a relevant place for college football. There were stories which focused on both schools, raising questions as to whether both were in the throes of a massive resurgence -- a lot of which also threw out the old “Kansas isn’t just for basketball anymore” sort of take.
Any idea HOW Snyder got the local kids to stick around? And speaking of local kids, you guys are mining the heck out of Lawrence these days (Ekow Boye-Doe, Keenan Garber, Scott Frantz).
JM: I think he just sold them on the fact that playing in Manhattan wasn’t going to be an embarrassing litany of beatdowns, more than anything. The real surge in local keeps didn’t start until 1991, so you can probably imagine staying home became a lot more appealing once kids started seeing wins happen.
Is there any reason why KU can’t do something similar in regards to maintaining success? FYI, you’re not allowed to use the word “basketball” or refer to the sport in any way in this response!
JM: It’s really hard to answer this. On the one hand, sure. Why not? Get the right guy in with the right message and avoid having him become unlikeable and anything’s possible. But as I reference above, as great as Bill Snyder is, he had some help. Now, maybe the recent push to give student-athletes more control over their lives will be that external force KU can use to its advantage.
But -- and this is really important to remember -- K-State wasn’t the only school which went from doormat to contender almost overnight back then. Virginia Tech, Florida, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Oregon, Colorado, Stanford, Northwestern… none of them had been as horrible as K-State, obviously, but they certainly hadn’t been good in awhile and they all also benefited from the same externalities which helped in Manhattan. (Heck, maybe asking why Wake Forest and Indiana and Vanderbilt couldn’t take advantage is a good exercise…)
I guess what I’m saying here is that if we’re going to see a huge change in Lawrence, something big may very well have to happen which upsets the entire applecart.
Much like KSU after the 1988 season, KU isn’t necessarily looking for a savior, just someone who can bring respectability and competitiveness to the football program. Give me some names that you as a K-State fan don’t want to see roaming the sidelines in Lawrence.
JM: Oddly, I don’t worry about this too much. Anyone can fail spectacularly, after all, and some guys can even fail spectacularly in Lawrence and then go on to do pretty well in central Virginia, ahem. I really don’t want to see KU throwing a busload of cash at anyone I’d really like to see replace Bill Snyder, so y’all can just keep your hands off Brent Venables or anyone who’s ever coached in Fargo.
At the same time, I guess I’d be a little nervous if KU went out and got anyone who’s actually been groomed as a potential head coach for a hot minute. David Beaty is a great guy, and he was a good assistant, but to be honest I’d never, ever heard his name come up in a coaching search before KU hired him.
Then again, who the heck had heard of Bill Snyder in 1987? Which merely furthers the point: you just never know what will work and what won’t.
Does KU have any shot at Jim Leavitt, or is he biding his time for Snyder to retire? I assume most people reading this are familiar with the out clause in his contract at Oregon.
JM: Well, that out clause is specific to K-State, so that would certainly make it a much more daunting challenge for KU to land Leavitt. And I would guess that KU has very little chance at Leavitt as long as Snyder is still at K-State, but very little is better than none. The offer would have to overcome any loyalty objections, though.
Big thanks to Jon for taking time out of his schedule to discuss KU football, of all things.
But the big question remains: HOW does KU dig out of this hole? It seems to be a simple answer: Hire the right coach. Zenger tried twice and failed; here’s hoping the next athletic director will have better luck.