Gene Taylor is starting to get some new questions as he approaches the two-year mark as Kansas State’s athletic director.
For most of his first 24 months on the job, K-State fans asked Taylor about football coach Bill Snyder and basketball coach Bruce Weber. But they aren’t major talking points anymore. Snyder retired after 27 legendary seasons as football coach last December, and Chris Klieman is now running the team. Weber was once on the hot seat, but he fought his way off it by guiding the Wildcats to an Elite Eight and a Big 12 championship in consecutive seasons.
Now that the two highest profile sports on campus are trending in the right direction, things feel a bit calmer for Taylor when he mingles with K-State fans. He still gets lots of questions, they’re just different.
“The biggest one I get now is about our facility plan,” Taylor said in an exclusive interview. “Not so much about what the plan is, but what project are we going to announce first. Everyone wants to know, what is coming out of the gate?”
Taylor hopes to have an answer soon. Since announcing a $230 million plan to upgrade K-State athletic facilities last September, he has focused most of his fundraising efforts on four projects — a new indoor football practice facility (estimated cost $24.45 million), a new volleyball arena ($17.5 million), a new Olympic performance training facility ($13 million), and renovations behind the south end zone of the football stadium ($29 million).
He is currently meeting with high-level donors to decide which facility enhancement will take priority.
“We have asked for some gifts, got some interest and got some commitments,” Taylor said. “We are getting to a point where we can probably announce a capital campaign for any one of the projects, or even a couple of the projects.”
This is a good time K-State to begin building. Not just facilities, but momentum that will help the athletic department for years to come.
There’s a reason K-State fans peppered Taylor with questions about Snyder. Replacing the man who won 215 games, coached in 19 bowls and claimed two conference championships won’t be easy to replace.
But Taylor thinks he found the right person in Chris Klieman.
“I think the coaching change from Bill to Chris went about as smoothly as it could have,” Taylor said. “That whole process went about as well as it could. I am pretty proud of that.”
Taylor settled on Klieman after interviewing seven candidates for the job. His history with Klieman at North Dakota State played a big factor. So did Klieman’s four FCS championships there.
K-State fans didn’t respond well to the hire at first, and Taylor’s phone lit up with hateful emails calling him names too nasty to repeat. But Klieman’s perception changed as fans got to know him and learn about his “win the dang day” mentality. K-State organized a meet-and-greet tour with Klieman that included stops in Dallas, Wichita and Kansas City, and fans poured into every venue to shake his hand.
Witnessing that took some weight off Taylor’s back.
“There were sleepless, high-stress nights, but we got the process done,” Taylor said. “The weight will all come back pretty quickly if it doesn’t work out, but I believe in Coach Klieman and think he is going to very successful.”
On men’s basketball
In some ways, Taylor hopes Klieman can mirror what the Wildcats have done on the basketball court. Though he was disappointed to see K-State lose to UC Irvine in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Taylor is proud of what Weber’s team accomplished over the past two seasons.
Last season, they won 25 games and reached the Elite Eight. This season, they won 25 games and shared a Big 12 championship with Texas Tech. Watching seniors Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade play together has been one of the highlights of Taylor’s tenure.
They raised his expectations.
“It tells me we have the facilities and we have the coaching,” Taylor said. “We should be a pretty good basketball program year in, year out. I say that knowing that we will lose three seniors next year and it may not start out where everybody wants. But I think we should always be in the hunt for a NCAA Tournament selection and hopefully making a run occasionally.”
Contract extension for Weber?
A conference championship is the type of accomplishment that is typically worthy of a contract extension, but Taylor isn’t sure if one will be needed for Weber this offseason. Taylor has already twice extended Weber since taking over as athletic director.
Weber earned $2.5 million this season on a contract that runs through 2023.
“He hasn’t asked for one and he probably won’t, to be honest with you,” Taylor said. “Whether I will do anything just because, I don’t know. We will go over that. But he has not come to me and asked for anything. I will be shocked if he does.”
Area to improve
K-State baseball and volleyball players can expect to see more of Taylor over the next few months.
Spending more time with student-athletes outside the revenue sports is something he has circled as a priority in his third year with the Wildcats. He regrets to say he still hasn’t hopped on a bus and traveled with the baseball or volleyball teams to a road game. That ranks among his biggest regrets since arriving in Manhattan.
“One thing I need to get better at is learning about our student athletes,” Taylor said. “I need to do more of that.”