To say that today is one of the most surprising days of my life as a sports fan is probably a gigantic understatement. Twenty-four hours ago, I was shouting #Gottlieb4KSU from the rooftop of every metaphorical building in hopes that the ESPN Analyst would be the next coach at Kansas State. Today, before I go to bed, I will do so knowing that recently fired Illinois head coach Bruce Weber is now leading the Wildcat program.
Regardless of how I feel about this, and I've been pretty vocal about my opinion in the open threads, we have to focus on moving forward because this is the new reality. When I wake up in a few hours, I will still be a Kansas State fan and alumni, and Bruce Weber will still be our basketball coach. I can't wish it away. It is what it is.
I realize in saying that I wish that this situation could be magically reversed is an insult to Bruce Weber. I also realize that my initial comments in the post this morning were not very "professional" of me. However, from my perspective, hiring a coach that was just fired from a lateral position (and, yes, Illinois is a lateral job) is disheartening. When that same school is willing to part with a shade under $4 million dollars for someone to not coach their team, well, it furthers whatever reservations that I have about the hire.
But just because things went sideways for Weber at Illinois, does that mean they will here as well? Has it been proven that he's just a really good mid-major coach that benefited greatly from a stockpile of talent left behind by Bill Self? Can he continue the level of recent success that Kansas State saw under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin?
During his press conference Saturday, when notified that fan sentiment wasn't necessarily in his favor, he asked K-State fans to give him a chance.
Well, Bruce, I'll give you your chance, but I'm not going to give you a lot of rope. Here's what I believe you'll need to do to win over Kansas State fans (such as myself) and establish yourself as a viable replacement for the most successful coach at Kansas State in half a century.
If you can't do these things, well, things are going to get rough in a hurry.
I'm going to map out a series of events that I think need to happen, in order, for Weber to have immediate success and potentially erase the negative stigma surrounding him after his debacle at Illinois. Missouri's Frank Haith was able to polish up a tarnished reputation and negative fan sentiment in a year's time, so it's not impossible for Weber. But to get to that point, he needs to:
1) Hire Brad Underwood as his chief assistant - This is a no brainer. Underwood is a popular assistant and was considered by some to be the candidate of choice in this coaching search. By all accounts, he's tight with the current roster, and there have always been rumblings that he was the guy-behind-the-guy in terms of Frank Martin's success. He's popular with casual fans and donors. He is a native Kansan and former K-State player. Retaining Underwood would go a long way towards cementing Weber's stated commitment to hiring someone with K-State ties and speeding up the Big 12 learning curve.
Priority: Extremely High - If Weber can't keep Underwood, things could get ugly in a hurry with fans and donors.
2) Keep the existing roster intact - Most of the informed pundits recognize the potential of the Kansas State job, not only because of the facilities improvements, the fan support, and the exposure of playing in the Big 12, but because the team only loses one scholarship Senior in 2012-2013 (Jamar Samuels). K-State returns four of their five starters and every single player off of the bench, including what will most likely be Preseason All-Big 12 picks Rodney McGruder and Jordan Henriquez. K-State also returns the entire backcourt, including promising freshman, Angel Rodriguez.
This team started to come together at the end of the season, and if Weber can keep this team together, they have a chance to have a very strong regular season and go deep into the NCAA tournament (if the draw is right), very similar to his first couple of years at Illinois.
Priority: Very High - We can stand some attrition from some of the less active members of the roster, but the core rotation must stay intact for us to have short term success.
3) Re-recruit Robert Upshaw - I realize that Upshaw has already told people he has eliminated Kansas State from consideration, but he's a Top 50 big man that could help us right away, and you don't let these kinds of players get away without a fight. If Weber were able to re-recruit Upshaw, it would be a strong statement that Kansas State didn't take a step back from a recruiting standpoint with his hire as head coach.
Priority: High - We can win in the short-term without Upshaw, but the long-term future is much brighter with him in it.
4) Secure the commitment of Semi Ojeleye - Most of you are probably thinking, "Why do you care so much about one recruit?" Well, when that one recruit is a four-star, consensus Top 50 recruit and is the younger brother of a former player, it's kind of a given that we should be in the running if we want to have a top-flight program. Semi had been lukewarm on Kansas State for a while, and rumor has it that a lot of it had to do with Frank Martin. If Bruce Weber can't secure the commitment of four-star Kansas players, that aren't recruited by KU, and just happen to be the younger brother of a player on our roster, well, we're screwed.
Priority: High - You can always win without one guy, but Semi is a statement recruit due to his local ties and the fact that Martin could not secure his commitment for whatever reason.
5) Attain a Top 25 recruiting class - We have a Taj Mahal of a practice facility scheduled to be completed this summer, a roster full of players that can win now, a sweetheart deal with Nike that gives us the best gear out there, and direct flights to Dallas and Chicago, where Weber supposedly has a number of connections.
If he can't get a Top 25 class with all of our momentum and facility improvements, we're in trouble. The 2013 class is key due to the number of key contributors we're losing.
Priority: Very High - Weber doesn't have to get them from one particular place, but he needs to get the players here. Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks punched their ticket to the National Title game the day Weber was hired. Fred Hoiberg is up in Ames turning ISU into a competitive basketball program a year or two ahead of schedule. Both Oklahoma schools are down. If Kansas State is going to secure the long-term future of this roster, they need to do it now.
6) Finish in the Top 25, Top 3 in Conference, and go into the Second Weekend of the NCAA tournament - The expectation, had Frank stayed, was going to be all of these things. This is a Top 25 roster, it has the potential to finish in the upper part of the conference, and it can make noise in the NCAA tournament.
Priority: Extremely High - During his initial press conference, Weber pointed to the KSU roster as one with significant talent that can win right away. Doing so, and meeting or surpassing expectations, would alert fans that Kansas State hired an equal replacement to Martin, and we're in good hands going forward.
These may seem like difficult tasks, but really, they are all within the realm of possibility. Should Weber do all of these things, as of April 1, 2013, we may all wonder why we were freaking out a year before.