Kansas State’s football team is made up of 120 players, 10 coaches and a support staff of dozens, but that can be difficult to remember when the Wildcats lose.
After defeat, especially when it comes time to assign blame, the entire operation can feel like a one-man show. Critics direct their displeasure accordingly.
Last year, no one felt the brunt of fan disapproval worse than offensive coordinator Dana Dimel. As the team’s primary play caller, he was vilified throughout a tumultuous 6-7 season. Fans griped when he insisted on a balanced pass/run approach with an offense better suited for a ground focus.
The Wildcats featured an experienced offensive line and several capable runners, but they lacked playmakers at quarterback and receiver. Many clamored for a run-heavy attack, then groaned when K-State quarterbacks attempted 345 passes, connecting on a Big 12-low 47 percent. Not a loss went by without someone blaming the outcome on Dimel. At one point, an Oklahoma defender even got in on the act.
“I am not a game planner, but if you saw the game last week I would have run the ball,” Sooners defensive end Matt Dimon said after a 55-0 victory over K-State in which the Wildcats unsuccessfully passed on their first six plays. “That is what we thought they were going to do, but they came out slinging it … It was surprising, but I’ll take what they give us.”
It is fair to wonder how Dimel handled that criticism.
K-State’s offense was anything but sharp last season, averaging 4.7 yards per play, a number that ranked 112th nationally out of 128 teams. But it’s not like the unit was loaded with talent. Starting quarterback Jesse Ertz was lost for the season after one play, and seemingly every receiver battled injuries. Kody Cook, essentially the fifth-string quarterback, started in the Liberty Bowl.
Still, K-State topped 30 points in eight games and went punch for punch with Oklahoma State (36-34) and TCU (52-45) in a pair of narrow losses.
Was Dimel to blame? Or did he make the most of a difficult situation?
Answers vary. Offensive coordinator is one of those jobs everyone thinks they can do. That’s why Dimel ignores outside opinions, positive and negative.
“You can’t get into that stuff, because it will tear your soul up,” Dimel said earlier this month at K-State media day.
Dimel began to ignore media and fan opinions when he was a head coach. At Wyoming, where he went 22-13, everyone loved him. At Houston, where he went 8-26, that changed.
“You go from being the hero, this super well-respected coach, to a guy who no one is saying good things about,” Dimel said. “I learned to focus on what is best for your players on a day-to-day basis. Everyone has opinions in our business and that is great, but a coach can’t ever be influenced by those opinions.”
Instead, Dimel relies on feedback from other K-State coaches and his self-assessment.
Previously, he has appeared ahead of the game with the wildcat formation and the pop pass. Fans have praised him. Last year was a struggle, but he has some ideas for the upcoming season. Just don’t expect any major changes.
Dimel will always strive for balance.
“No one is going to sit there and let K-State run the football on them,” Dimel said. “I’m not being conceited, but if you ask who is the best run-scheming offense in the country we would be top five with anyone. So they are going to come up with all kinds of extravagant schemes to stop our run game. They aren’t going to sit back and say, ‘OK, run the ball, K-State.’
“We would rip them apart, because we have got so many quarterback angles and ways that we attack people. So if you don’t have speed at receiver, they are going to take away the run. They are going to make our receivers beat them one on one. That is what they did to us last year.”
The Wildcats tried to take advantage of openings in the passing game, but they seldom capitalized, even when big plays were there for the taking.
For example, Dimel called for a deep pass from Joe Hubener to Deante Burton early on against Oklahoma. It had the makings of a touchdown when Burton slipped past coverage, but Hubener’s throw was long. With better execution, the score would have been tied 7-7. Instead, the Sooners were on their way to a blowout victory.
Some blamed Dimel.
A week earlier, after carving up TCU on the ground for a 35-17 halftime lead, Dimel saw the Horned Frogs adjust their defense. So K-State opened the third quarter with a pass to Cody Small. The tight end was open, and a big gain appeared imminent, but he dropped the pass. Moments later, TCU returned an interception for a game-altering touchdown.
Again, some blamed Dimel.
“That,” Dimel said, “is why I don’t listen to anybody.”
K-State’s offense faces an interesting transition with the healthy return of Ertz at quarterback and the addition of dynamic receiver Byron Pringle. The Wildcats also return Charles Jones, Dalvin Warmack and Justin Silmon at running back. They are a more explosive unit on paper, but they lost four starters on the offensive line.
Dimel is eager to develop a strategy that utilizes those strengths.
He remains confident as a play caller, even in the face of criticism.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett