The search is over.
This afternoon, Kansas State officially announced the hiring of Gene Taylor as its new Director of Athletics, with an introductory press conference scheduled for 10:30am Monday morning. Taylor replaces John Currie, who departed to take the same position at the University of Tennessee, and interim Director of Athletics Laird Veatch.
Taylor’s most recent position was as Deputy Director of Athletics at the University of Iowa, a job he accepted in the summer of 2014. Before then, however, the 58-year-old Taylor had spent 13 years as the man in charge of the North Dakota State University athletic program, where his record of success was phenomenal.
Taylor took over in Fargo in 2001. He immediately began steering the athletic department toward a transition to Division I, and helped form the short-lived Great West Football Conference so that the Bison would have a firm footing as they transitioned. Once that transition was complete, Taylor then set out to improve North Dakota State’s circumstances and quickly guided the program into the Summit League and the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Since leading North Dakota State into the Summit League, the Bison have claimed a stunning 53 team championships in only eight years, in addition to six Missouri Valley Football Conference titles. He tripled North Dakota State’s athletic operating budget despite the absence of any meaningful media rights deals, and nearly quadrupled the annual support raised from the Bison’s booster club apparatus.
Prior to North Dakota State, Taylor spent 15 years in various athletic department positions at the United States Naval Academy, culminating in his appointment as Navy’s Associate Athletic Director.
So what’s this all mean going forward?
There are some who view this as a “safe” hire, and that isn’t an inaccurate stance. Taylor is a well-respected administrator with a strong résumé. That résumé, however, is littered with powerful accomplishments and sharp hires.
As the Bison football team regressed in the late 1990s, Taylor took action and replaced Bob Babich, who’d compiled a 46-22 record over six seasons, with Nebraska defensive coordinator Craig Bohl. After Bohl won three straight FCS Championships and decamped for the head coaching job at Wyoming, Taylor promoted Chris Klieman, who has accumulated a 40-5 record in three years.
But while those are the marquee moves, they don’t tell the whole story. One of Taylor’s first needs on taking the job was to replace Greg McDermott as head coach of the men’s basketball team when he left after one season to move to Northern Iowa. Taylor hired a little-known Division II coach named Tim Miles, who is now the head coach at Nebraska. When Miles left, Taylor promoted Saul Phillips, who managed the feat of taking the Bison to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of eligibility and won two Summit League titles in seven years. Phillips is now the head coach at Ohio.
Taylor also made an early hire for the softball program, bringing in Darren Mueller in 2002. Mueller has since led the Bison to nine conference titles (including the last five Summit League championships) and an NCAA Super Regional berth in 2009. Volleyball and soccer also reached the NCAA Tournament under Taylor’s auspices.
It’s hard to suggest K-State went wrong with this hire, especially if Laird Veatch remains on board for a significant period of time to assist in the transition. Taylor checks every box but one which Wildcat fans could have hoped, and that’s Power 5 athletic director experience. That’s a valid concern, considering Taylor is going to face two very critical situations in the very short term given Bill Snyder’s health and Bruce Weber’s thin ice.
Perhaps most telling, however, is the reaction from Iowa and North Dakota State quarters. There is universal appreciation there for Taylor and a sense that K-State made a good hire, which we should contrast with our own statements to Tennessee fans wanting to know if they did the same.