Before that, though, he was a head coach at Wyoming and Houston and the associate head coach at Arizona. He is a K-State grad and got his coaching start with the Wildcats, originally serving as a graduate assistant and becoming offensive coordinator in 1995. He was with Bill Snyder at the start of his first successful run at K-State and came back for his second.
He has coached a Heisman Trophy finalist (Collin Klein), he has helped K-State reach two Cotton Bowls (1997 and 2012), he is about to coach in the Fiesta Bowl and he recruited Rob Gronkowski. He went 22-13 in three years at Wyoming. He went 0-11 in his second year at Houston and only lasted three seasons with the Cougars.
As I mentioned in the first paragraph, interesting.
On Sunday, at a Fiesta Bowl news conference, he talked about his background, his dream of following Snyder as K-State’s head coach, the Wildcats’ 11-win season and the upcoming game against Oregon.
What does it mean to you, personally, to be part of K-State’s recent success?
It’s been very nice. Nice personally to be back with my family, back at Kansas State, where I went to school. To be around the community, where I know so many people, to see them as they raise their families, it’s home for me. I’ve spent 16 years of my life in Manhattan, Kansas. More than any place else.
Do you want to be a head coach again?
Sure, yeah, absolutely. That is always important for people to want to do that. I have been there and done it a couple times. I enjoyed it and want the challenge again. I always learned to be a good head coach you have to be good at what you are doing right now. So I don’t think about that. I just try to be the best running backs, tight end, fullback coach and offensive coordinator that I can be.
Do people around campus ever talk to you about the possibility of being the head coach at Kansas State?
Sure, absolutely. But it’s just something you don’t talk about that much. Obviously that would be a goal of mine. That is something I would want to happen, and hopefully someday it does happen. But right now let’s just do the best at what we are doing right now. To answer your question very candidly, though, yes — of course.
So that’s a dream of yours?
You want to take over the program when Snyder steps down?
Sure. Absolutely. I think it would be a challenge, but obviously I understand the inner workings of this program. I saw coach come in when we weren’t very successful. So I’ve seen what can make K-State not successful. I’ve been around for the losing years. I’ve also been around here during the transition and around for the positive years. I have seen the whole gambit of what K-State football is about. I have a great understanding of what it takes to win here, but also what not to do here.
How much longer do you expect Snyder to continue coaching?
You get asked that question all the time. That is coach’s decision. He has plenty of diligence and plenty of energy. He just takes it day by day and works harder than everybody in the office each and every day. That’s what I appreciate about him. He works his tail off.
What lessons did you learn from being a head coach?
I learned what the most important things are in a program. I learned what it took to turn a program around. That’s what I learned the most at Houston, how to come in when something is really broke and how to bring it back to be a successful place. Then I learned at Wyoming how to step in and take a place that was kind of wavering back and forth, never really having any successful winning and how to get it to be a consistent situation. There was a lot of diversity in the two systems I walked into. But what I learned most was how to manage people and what the most important things are about being in a successful program – what personnel things you have to do and have in place to be successful. That’s a key thing. I think some coaches don’t understand what the important elements are in developing a successful program. Those are things I learned from doing, starting off as a really young coach at 34 and then going on and looking at where I am now, I can say these are things that are most important to being successful.
Looking back on this season, you only lost one game. Can you put your finger on what went wrong that night against Baylor?
The thing that happened that game was, the score got away from us. It wasn’t like the season before, where we were used to being behind and coming back. This year we weren’t behind very much. If we were, it was very close and manageable. Once it became a larger lead we lost our identity and started doing some things and probably just throwing the ball way too much.
Is that a concern against Oregon?
Yes, that’s a concern. That’s the gameplan. Baylor was the one game this year where we didn’t control the tempo of the game and stay within ourself and control the ballgame the way we need to control it. We learned from that and now we are going to do what we do, play Kansas State football. We have been a very explosive offense and a very productive offense, but we have to do what we do. That’s not look at the scoreboard and just play. That was the mistake we made. We put Baylor in a position where they could take some chances. Normally, we are going to do very well against people that do that, but in that game the momentum got away from us and a lot of things happened there that don’t’ traditionally happen to us. It is hard to be on edge each week. Our conference proved that.
As an offensive coordinator, what’s the hardest thing about falling behind like that in a game?
What tends to happen to you as an offensive coordinator is, you tend to get too anxious. You get the ball back and you say, ‘I want to score right now.’ You try to score fast and then that is where you make your mistakes.
You have to replace Collin Klein next year. How big of a challenge will that be?
We feel really good about the future of our offense. We have all of our offensive line coming back, we have John Hubert coming back along with some young running backs who are really going to be good. We feel comfortable at tight end and we have virtually all of our receievers coming back expect for Chris (Harper) so I lead into that by saying we think about quarterback every day when we aren’t focusing on this ballgame. That position is where our thoughts are all the time. We are hoping that Jake (Waters) will be a lot like Collin as far as balanced, run the ball well, throw the ball well and provide leadership. We see a lot of similarities between Jake and Collin.
Daniel Sams will compete with Waters for the job. What kind of progress has he made this season?
Daniel is progressing, every day Daniel is getting better. He is learning the offense and getting a ton of bowl reps. That’s why it is so nice to go to a bowl game. You get so many more reps for your young guys. Collin is getting all the reps with the ones, Daniel is getting all the reps with the twos, but he is here and seeing all the reps he is getting with the ones. He is taking mental reps and getting a lot of physical reps as well. His progression is coming along just like we like to see. It is going to be a battle between him and Jake, just like we expect. We want to get a great player out of that position, because, if we can, we can go on and be another great offensive unit.