Ooof, it’s been a rough four game stretch for the Wildcats. They’ve managed to weave the disgust of blowouts with the angst of last second losses into a tapestry of suck. At the same time, I still think it’s premature to cast any final judgements about this team or coaching staff. This season (or really, the entirety of 2020) is a tire fire fueled by dirty diapers.
Sure, every team is in the same situation, but some teams are significantly more equipped to deal with it than other teams. K-State came into this season with a paper thin roster lacking both experience and depth at key positions, and Murphy’s Law has been in full effect for the Wildcats.
I do, however, think 2020 allows us to identify some troubling trends with the coaching staff and the team that need to be addressed. Most of these problems have been discussed ad-nauseum but I want to talk about player retention today, because out of everything in 2020, it’s the most problematic for the long term success of the program.
This problem is exacerbated by the fire ant tornado known as 2020, but never-the-less, it’s something that must be addressed.
It’s hard to pin this on any coach in particular. In a normal season, position coaches spend the most time with their players, and in theory should be the first line of defense in player defections. With all the moving parts involved in 2020, that may not hold up. Ultimately, when you can’t figure out who to blame, it falls on the head coach. The buck stops at the top and at this point, stopping the hemorrhage of players, if we’re talking long term viability, should be Coach Klieman’s top priority moving forward.
I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, but I hope every player on the roster has either met with coach to discuss what’s going on with the team, or, at minimum, has a meeting scheduled. This is a developmental program, and the bottom line is that pouring recruiting and coaching resources into players that don’t stick around long enough to contribute sets the program back.
Some of this is being addressed in recruiting.
This isn’t a slight to any player who leaves the program, but the coaching staff has to find more players that want to play at K-State, and fewer players that want to play college football and see the Wildcats as their best option for the time being. Each player is different, but if you look at who tends to stay and who tends to leave, a pattern starts to take shape.
Josh Youngblood - Tampa, Florida
Matthew Pola-Mao - Chandler, Arizona
Tyrone Lewis - Hammond, Louisiana
Ronald Triplette - Pearland, Texas
DeMarrquese Hayes - Waco, Texas
Will Jones - Arlington, Texas
Jonathan Alexander - Fort Worth, Texas
Thomas Grayson - Tula, Oklahoma
If you draw a seven hour circle around Manhattan (depending on how fast you drive) in all directions, Grayson is the only player that falls in that circle. K-State will always need to recruit out of the region, because it’s impossible to fill out a roster with kids from Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma, but the staff has to be extremely selective. There is less and less holding players at a school these days, and we’re about to step into the brave new world of “no penalty” transfers. This is going to cause teams like Kansas State to revamp the way they recruit.
Players have to know coming in exactly when they should expect to play. “Come in, practices hard, and see how everything shakes out,” isn’t going to be sufficient. If a player comes in, practices hard (or what they consider hard) and doesn’t play, they’re out the door. These players know they have options, and they’ll have more people whispering in their ear with free transfers than ever before.
“Hey, the coaches at K-State are sleeping on you. Come to X school and you’ll be a star tomorrow.”
It’s something all schools will have to deal with, but it will hurt schools like K-State more than a school like Clemson (again, forgive me, Clemson is my frame of reference). When 4-star DB Kyler McMichael decided to transfer from Clemson because he didn’t play much as a freshman behind a couple of NFL corners, the Tigers replaced him with an equally talented player before the ink on transfer was dry. It still hurts a little, but an open scholarship at Clemson means the Tigers have an opportunity to sign another 4- or 5-star player who can come in and have an immediate impact.
At schools like Kansas State, losing a player who you’ve invested a year or two of development in generally means you’re starting over from scratch with another player you need to invest time into in order to develop. That’s the reality of college football for schools who primarily recruit 3-star players. There are obvious exceptions (i.e. Deuce Vaughn) but Klieman needs athletes who blossom as juniors or seniors for this thing to work, and they can’t blossom if they leave before they hit whatever peak the coaching staff foresaw when they were being recruited.
I’ve mentioned a few possible solutions above, but the coaching staff is already addressing some of the problems in the 2021 class. The incoming recruiting class has 10 players from Kansas or neighboring states. The staff has dipped into Florida, Georgia, and Arizona for specific players they covet, but the 2021 has a more regional flavor. I expect this trend to continue as the new staff soothes some sore feelings leftover from the recruiting neglect at the end of the Snyder 2.0 era.
I think these players have a higher probability of sticking around, even when things move slower than they want. If you’re going to fill the bottom half of the roster with developmental players, it’s better to fill those spots with regional guys. Knocking “homesick” off the “con” list for staying in Manhattan, in my opinion, should help with the attrition.
Other than that, it’s on the coaching staff to develop relationships with the team and make them feel like an integral part of the future. If you recruit a kid with the promise of early playing time, you better nail your evaluation, because you’ve set the expectation (not saying this is why players have left, but it is not uncommon in college football). If you’ve got a chance to get someone in the game, even if it’s one specific package, get him in the game. The more a player feels like part of the team, the more dedicated they will feel towards the cause.
I expect the roster to stabilize next season, but if it doesn’t, hard questions will need to be asked of the current staff. Now isn’t the time to break out the pitch forks and torches.