Gene Taylor is not, as the phrase goes, a K-Stater. He does not hail from Kansas, nor did he have any Kansas ties before taking the job as the new Kansas State athletic director last week.
The closest he came to a K-State connection was in 2013, when as the North Dakota State athletic director he watched the Bison football team upset Kansas State in Manhattan.
“The energy in the stadium was phenomenal,” Taylor said.
So without any considerable link to K-State, university president Richard Myers said Monday afternoon at Taylor’s introductory press conference that two of Taylor’s assets swayed him to make the hire: Taylor’s impressive resume — which includes a stint at the United States Naval Academy — and Taylor’s personality.
At this stage in the process, his personality may be most important. Taylor, the Iowa deputy athletics director, doesn’t officially begin work in Manhattan until May 1, so establishing both his goals and character came up a litany of times Monday afternoon.
Ask Taylor, and you’ll hear about a kind, personable athletic director.
“Coaches will know they can trust me,” he said. “They know I’m going to have their back. I’m fine with a coach coming in and shutting the door. If he’s frustrated, let’s have a conversation.”
This is the kind of person Myers was looking for in the hiring process. Taylor’s success at NDSU was vital, of course — the Bison won three straight FCS championships under his watch, and he moved the program up a division — but Myers saw through the statistics.
Perhaps in keeping with a K-State culture best embodied by football coach Bill Snyder, Myers hired the guy whose character traits held true to the university.
“More than the resume,” Myers said, “it was his humility, and the seriousness with which he takes relationships. Those were the things that stood out.
(He is) a good fit for me. I’m the one who has to decide, and we’ve got to work very well together. If I don’t look forward to seeing him come in the door, to meetings and so forth, and say, ‘Good. Here comes Gene; we’re going to get some real work done now,’ even if we disagree on issues or we trying to work around a thorny issue, he wouldn’t be the right person.”
But he is, at least to Myers, who said he wants to contribute to and foster the types of relationships he hopes Taylor will form.
“I just want to be helpful, and I don’t want to get in the way,” Myers said. “If I can be helpful to the athletic director, if I can be helpful to the coaches — most of them have asked me to come in and talk to their student-athletes from time to time — I’m happy to do that. I like to show up at events and be supportive.”
Myers and Taylor share this quality, the accommodating, amiable feel the K-State community has adopted and taken pride in. But beyond both the resume and kind character traits, Myers wanted adaptability — after all, North Dakota State, Kansas State and Iowa are different in their own rights.
No university is the same, so Myers sought someone who he could trust to acclimate to K-State. In this sense, and several more, Taylor was the right fit.
“I was looking for somebody that was not so locked in to a method that they couldn’t be flexible,” Myers said. “Intellectual agility when it comes to that is really important.”
Taylor knows his role, too. He has just been hired. To walk in the door and begin delivering orders immediately would be, in his words, “unfair.”
“For me to say we’re going to do this, this and this would be a little unfair,” Taylor said. “I have my own ideas, but I guarantee the people in this room have a lot better ideas that I need to sit down and listen to and find out their goals.”
Such is the person Taylor described himself as. He said he feels he has a solid grip on what K-State is all about — “I’ve got a good feel for the culture,” he said — but these things take time. Taylor recognized the situation as such.
When he arrives in what he will surely soon learn locals call the Little Apple in the first week of May, he plans to use much the same attitude when he sits down with coaches and discusses each sport’s future.
“When I say ‘evaluations,’ I’m literally going to listen,” Taylor said. “‘What do you need, coach? What are your goals?’ Whether it’s a graduate assistant, I’m going to talk to everybody in the department — everybody from department heads, to head coaches, to assistants, to graduate assistants. Because I think I know the culture here, but when you talk to a lot of people, you can learn some different things.”
So when Taylor attends the K-State football spring game on Saturday — he said he does plan to come for the scrimmage — he will have checked off a box he imagined checking four years ago.
“The reaction we had from the fanbase after we won — the positive comments, the energy throughout the entire game — was phenomenal,” Taylor said of the 2013 NDSU-K-State game. “That’s when I said, boy, I can hopefully, some day, would love to get a chance to work at a place like Kansas State.”
Whether or not he considered it one at the time, mission accomplished.