Vahe Gregorian

When Bill Snyder decides to step aside, here’s a name worth considering

Updated: 2013-11-16T06:43:28Z

By VAHE GREGORIAN

The Kansas City Star

Ageless marvel that he may be at 74 years old, one day before too very long Kansas State coach Bill Snyder will retire again.

And this time, it would seem less likely he’d be inclined to return to “still the waters” in the event they are churning in his wake like they were during Ron Prince’s three-year tenure.

So K-State will need to get this right, whenever it happens, to properly honor Snyder’s legacy of saving the Wildcats’ football program.

If there is a specific succession plan, it’s not exactly evident publicly, though there is a compelling argument for staff continuity considering Snyder’s second revival act has gone 39-21 overall and 5-4 this season, entering Saturday’s game with Texas Christian.

It’s apparent Snyder would like the job to go to his son, Sean, 44, whom Snyder has named associate head coach.

And the Wildcats would have at least one other strong internal candidate in offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, 51, another K-State graduate, who has head coaching experience at Wyoming, with a 22-13 record, and Houston, where he was 8-26.

If athletic director John Currie is of the mind to go outside, he’d have an infinite range of ways he may go in making his first football head coaching hire, and he may or may not feel it’s significant to bring in a K-State man.

But if he does think it matters, perhaps he’d take a run at the man on the opposing sideline on Saturday: TCU coach Gary Patterson, 53, another K-State product who in the past was widely speculated to have been wooed by K-State.

Or if Currie were to entertain the idea of a rising younger candidate with deep K-State roots, here’s one surging a little below the radar.

Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford, 41, was among Snyder’s first recruits on campus in 1989. Wolford’s Penguins are 8-2 and ranked 15th in the Football Championship Subdivision, a level down from K-State, in his fourth year of annual improvement.

His team beat Pittsburgh of the FBS last season on the way to a 7-4 season, and two years ago the Penguins won at top-ranked North Dakota State, which again is No. 1 in the FCS as it travels to Youngstown this weekend.

I had a chance meeting with Wolford when I was in Youngstown for a story on Mark Mangino, the former Kansas coach. I was struck by Wolford’s energy, charisma, clarity of thought, old-school football values and sense of humor, a package that makes me think he’ll become a much more recognizable name in the years to come.

Even after stops at Arizona, Illinois and South Carolina, under Steve Spurrier, Wolford seems to remain primarily a disciple of Snyder, who inherited a program with a 27-game winless streak.

Wolford noted how he grew into a man under Snyder and Mangino, who coached Wolford on the offensive line then and now is his associate head coach at Youngstown.

“A lot of men fall by the wayside from 18 to 21,” said Wolford, adding that what Snyder most instilled was the notion of becoming an overachiever. “That’s what I want in my program here.

“If I can teach you how to work hard and be an overachiever, guess what, you’re going to be successful (in life). … Why wouldn’t you want to take that with you in life?”

Wolford was recruited to K-State by another Youngstown native, Bob Stoops, now the Oklahoma coach, with whom he shares a distinctive and clipped speech cadence.

Incidentally, just as Wolford helped figuratively create a new baseline in Manhattan by being part of the first K-State team ever to win a bowl game, Wolford and his wife, Melinda, also literally have established a foundation there, No Stone Unturned, in honor of their son, Stone.

Stone suffers from Cardio-Facio-Cutaneous Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that includes developmental, cognitive and neurological delays.

“Most kids that have it die between 4 and 14; he’ll be 8 (this month). My goal for him is to be the oldest kid ever to have CFC,” Wolford said. “He drinks out of a bottle, a concoction of a shake that my wife makes. It keeps him off a feeding tube, which is huge. He’s very smart, just limited, you know?

“I love him, and I wouldn’t have him any other way. Really, my whole reason for wanting to be a head coach is so I can have Stone in my equipment room. … So I can be the boss, and I can hire my son as the assistant equipment guy so he can be with me. Kind of cool.”

The foundation, and now a therapeutic learning center in its name, is in Manhattan because the site was an anchor in Wolford’s life as he was moving from job to job in the nomadic world of coaching.

It could be that he’s home at home in Youngstown, but he’s someone Currie might want to keep an eye on as he considers what to do next.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to vgregorian@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/vgregorian. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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