In a story which is somehow both surprising and expected at the same time, Tim Fitzgerald at GoPowercat.com (confirmed by Matt Hall of K-State’s Rivals site kstateonline.com) reports that Tom Hayes, the defensive coordinator for the Wildcats, is retiring after a 40-year career in coaching.
Hayes has often been maligned, especially here. It would be disingenuous to pretend we don’t think this move is ultimately for the best for K-State football. However, a look at the actual achievements of the K-State defense over the last six years under his leadership is probably instructive. K-State’s defense actually got better when he took over in 2012, and three times in his six seasons the Wildcats were either first or second in the Big 12 in scoring defense. K-State was consistently among the league leaders at stopping the run, and often at pressuring the quarterback as well.
The criticism of Hayes was less about end results than the optics resulting from the bend-don’t-break defense. That scheme led to K-State routinely finishing at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in passing defense by yards, but often more toward the middle of the pack on pass defense efficiency. Still, the team’s maddening tendency to get a couple of positive plays on first and second down then giving up a big gain on third was a source of constant frustration.
That said, two things are undeniable: K-State’s defense generally showed marked improvement as the season wore on each year, and Hayes (and his staff) were able to get 10 Wildcats some form of paycheck from NFL teams in six years, and that doesn’t even include whatever may happen with this year’s seniors.
On his departure, it’s important to remember that Hayes had a tough task, and his replacement may not fare any better. The Big 12 is a difficult league in which to play defense, and the tribulations of even the SEC in the last couple of years may signal that playing defense is just a lot harder than we’re all used to anyway.
The question now turns to the issue of filling the vacancy. A promotion of either Mo Latimore or Jon Fabris seems unlikely, for various reasons, so an in-house play is doubtful Snyder goes with youth and promotes assistant DC and linebackers Blake Seiler. Seiler may indeed have earned the job in 2017; after a successful run mentoring K-State’s best edge rushers in the Snyder II era, Seiler moved to the backfield and turned what at the beginning of the year was a massive weakness into the defense’s greatest strength by season’s end. The improvement in the both the play of Trent Tanking and Jayd Kirby and their implementation in the scheme over the course of the year is indisputable.
Externally, there aren’t many obvious options. Luring Joe Bob Clements back from Oklahoma State is on the radar; also intriguing is the availability of former K-State defensive coordinator Bret Bielema. Two names you can stop talking about before you even start: Brent Venables and Jim Leavitt. Neither of them are coming home for anything less than the head coaching position, so don’t even go there.