Sam Mellinger

Replacing Bill Snyder at K-State was always going to be delicate. Now it’s potentially disastrous.

K-State coach Bill Snyder, center, has pretty much earned the right to call his shot in Manhattan. Sam Mellinger says it’s a shame the school’s administration doesn’t seem to be granting him that.
K-State coach Bill Snyder, center, has pretty much earned the right to call his shot in Manhattan. Sam Mellinger says it’s a shame the school’s administration doesn’t seem to be granting him that. The Wichita Eagle

A report that Bill Snyder broke Kansas State’s plans to make Jim Leavitt the next football coach is a bombshell around K-State, for many reasons, but the most important might be this:

Dagnabbit, what in tarnation was the school’s leadership thinking?

According to the report by Brett McMurphy, a former college football writer for ESPN, school leaders including president Richard Myers wanted to hire Jim Leavitt as an assistant with a $3 million payment if he wasn’t named head coach by Jan. 1. Snyder, according to the report, wouldn’t go for it because he wants his son Sean to replace him.

Look, some of this we knew already. Bill has been vocal, clear and consistent that he wants Sean — now KSU’s associate head coach and special teams coordinator — to replace him when he retires. Leavitt, a former K-State assistant and now the defensive coordinator at Oregon, has a clause in his contract that he can leave the Ducks for K-State without owing a buyout.

But the idea that school leadership tried to not only force Leavitt onto the staff, but put into writing that he would be KSU’s next head coach, is stunning.

This has nothing to do with what you think of Sean. That issue has divided many in and around K-State, and if we’re honest, both sides have good points. On the negative, Sean has never worked outside K-State, never called an offensive or defensive play, and would not be considered a head-coaching candidate for any other Power 5 program.

On Bill’s side, it’s absolutely true that no candidate knows the program better than Sean, that K-State’s build has been about values and fit more than anything else, and that the last time they tried to replace him without his input he had to come out of retirement for Miracle 2.0.

K-State's Bill Snyder speaks at the Hall Of Fame event in New York.

I happen to believe the next coach should come from outside Snyder’s blood family, if not the K-State family, but let’s set all of that aside for a moment.

Because, goodness, this is surprising enough to say it again: What could the school’s leaders have possibly been thinking in not only trying to force a coach onto Snyder’s staff, but to influence Snyder’s retirement and so blatantly go against his wishes in the succession plan?

John Currie was the K-State athletic director when this happened, and he’s now at Tennessee. He could not be reached for comment Thursday. But it’s well known that Currie and Snyder had a bad relationship, and Snyder seems to genuinely like new AD Gene Taylor.

That matters in all of this, but so does the fact that so many others who were in on the decision are still around. That includes people more powerful and influential than the AD, including the school president and its biggest boosters.

Everyone in on the decision and who is still around must answer to how this could have possibly been a good idea.

Snyder, 78, asked for full control in naming his successor, but that was negotiated down in his current contract to giving “appropriate input.”

The administration clearly did not want Sean to be the Wildcats’ next head coach, so “appropriate input” was plenty of cover to hire whoever they wanted. Trying to force an important assistant onto Snyder’s staff, with what amounts to a contractual agreement to make him the next coach by a certain date when the retirement conversation hasn’t yet been had with Snyder, is both disrespectful and empty-brained.

It might even open up the school to litigation, depending on how this plays out and how angry Snyder feels.

K-State’s leaders had this set up exactly the way they wanted. They just got greedy.

All they had to do was wait this out. Let Snyder coach the program he saved, twice, and barring anything drastic let him make the decision about when to retire. It doesn’t help anyone to force out the guy they named the stadium and highway after, and it doesn’t help anyone if Snyder holds on longer than he should and otherwise would’ve because he knows the administration has no intention of giving him “appropriate input.”

K-State football was closer to the MIAA than Big 8 relevance when Snyder took over, and replacing him was always going to be messy and sensitive. That was amplified once he made his feelings about Sean so public, and the breakup is potentially disastrous now that the administration has essentially stomped on him.

It shouldn’t have gone this way. It didn’t have to go this way. K-State’s leadership had it set up the way they wanted. All they had to do was listen to the man who did so much for their school.

Bill now has every reason to manipulate the timing of his retirement to give his son a better chance to at least be named interim coach and, if that doesn’t happen, every reason to believe he has been disrespected and shoved aside without being listened to.

This man has done so much for K-State, and not just the football program. That doesn’t earn him the right to coach forever, or to name his son as the next coach no matter what anyone else thinks.

But it should earn him the right to be listened to, and respected.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger

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