Kansas State football is dealing with one of the tougher conundrums in sports.
How do you deal with the end of a coaching dynasty?
How do you balance the respect and reverence earned by a legendary head coach with the overall good of the program?
While this may not exactly be new ground to cover for K-State after Snyder’s first retirement, a little historical perspective on how other teams handled difficult coaching transitions might be of some use.
Bobby Bowden - Florida State
Tenure : 1976-2009
Age of Retirement: 80
2 National Championships (‘93, ‘99)
12 ACC Championships (‘92-’00, ‘02,’03, ‘05)
21-10-1 in Bowl Games
1 losing season (his first) in 34 years at FSU
How It Ended
The beginning of the Bowden decline started in ‘06, when the Seminoles, coming off a disappointing 8-5 season (FSU still won the ACC in ‘05), went 7-6. It wasn’t just that FSU went 7-6, which was unthinkable in Tallahassee, but other than knocking off arch rival Miami in their season opener, FSU’s 7 wins were comprised of bottom tier teams.
What made things worse (and this might sound familiar to K-State fans) is that his son, Jeff Bowden was the offensive coordinator, and the FSU offense was terrible. You didn’t bring up Jeff Bowden’s name in front of Nole fans unless you were fully prepared to fight. Fans also felt that Mickey Andrews, FSU’s legendary D.C. for 26 years, was past his prime. They were ready for Bowden to bring some fresh blood into an elite program that appeared to be getting stale. It looked like Bobby was going to dig in and roll with the same staff for the ‘07 season, but Jeff gave him an easy out by stepping down as O.C. and accepting a job in the Florida State Athletic Department. FSU brought in LSU O.C. Jimbo Fisher outside the purview of Bobby Bowden, and the post Bowden era began to take shape.
‘07 saw FSU go 7-6 yet again. Despite bringing in Fisher, the FSU offense continued to flounder, finishing 91st nationally in points per game. The defense, while decent, struggled in big games, giving up 37 points to Miami, 40 to Virginia Tech, 45 to Florida, and a stunning 35 to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl. The call for Andrews to retire or be fired became much louder. It looked like the FSU program was on the brink of a melt down.
To ease fan unrest and give the Nole fans a glimpse into the future, FSU officially named Jimbo Fisher head coach in waiting, and agreed to pay Fisher 5 million dollars if he wasn’t named head coach by 2011. FSU was going to try and let Bobby Bowden go out on his own terms, as long as those terms didn’t extend past 2010. They knew the Bowden wasn’t going to leave on his own volition, but they also knew that having him stay indefinitely was not a workable situation.
The ‘08 season saw a resurgent Seminole team finish the season 9-4, including a decisive bowl win over Wisconsin. The offense improved, finishing a respectable 23rd in the nation. The defense also took a step in the right direction, finishing 26th. It wasn’t a vintage FSU season, and issues with the program were still obvious, but it looked to Bowden and Andrews were primed to step away from FSU on a high note. Maybe not the walk off into the sunset with a National Championship trophy in their hands high note, but a high note none the less. Bowden, however, like most coaches with his legacy, refused to walk away, and decided to return for the ‘09 season.
The ‘09 saw FSU crater, again finishing 7-6. The defense that looked rejuvenated in ‘08 was an unmitigated disaster in ‘09. Mickey Andrews and crew finished 94th in the nation, giving up 30 points a game. The offense under Jimbo fared better, but still finished a disappointing 33rd at 30.1 points per game. Any hope Bobby had of putting together a miracle run and keeping the head job at FSU was dashed. On December 1st, Bobby Bowden announced that he would be stepping down after coaching FSU in the Gator Bowl and Jimbo Fisher would take full control of the program.
Bobby and FSU won the Gator Bowl giving him the send off he deserved. He was carried off the field by his team to a standing ovation from the Florida State crowd packing the Gator Bowl. Winning the Gator Bowl to secure a winning record probably wasn’t the way Bowden imagine his tenure at FSU ending, but at least it was a moment. Seeing him triumphantly carried off the field provided some closure for Seminole fans. They were ready for Bowden to leave, but at the same point, they hated that he needed to leave. Having a final chance to pay their respects on the field to the man that built their program from nothing helped end the bitterness that had surrounded the program over his final years in charge.
Jimbo Fisher immediately took over the program after the Gator Bowl, clearing out long standing assistant coaches including Mickey Andrews. Jimbo hit the ground running at at FSU. He was already immersed in FSU recruiting, had the trust of the FSU players, and already knew exactly what he wanted to change in the program. He was in a perfect position to win early in his tenure at FSU.
Fisher won 10 games in ‘10, played in the ACC Championship game, and won the Peach Bowl. FSU’s momentum would continue to build, peaking in ‘13 with a National Championship. Florida State managed to transition from one National Championship winning coach to another National Championship winning coach. A rare feat in college football history.
The Take Away
Florida State forced Bowden’s hand by bringing in Jimbo Fisher from outside the program and setting 2011 as a hard retirement date. They found a way to let Bowden go out on his own terms, while at the same time, not letting him hold the program hostage.
According to multiple reports, Bobby Bowden was not a fan of bringing Jimbo into the fold. There was friction between the Bowden family faction and the Jimbo Fisher faction during Jimbo’s tenure as O.C. In fact, Bowden didn’t attend one FSU practice durning Jimbo’s tenure as head coach, but quickly returned to the FSU practice field under new FSU coach Willie Taggart.
Bowden may not have liked Jimbo, but he didn’t have the power to do anything about it. He was going to have to coach with Jimbo as his O.C. or he was going to have to force Florida State’s hand and dare them to fire him. He chose to stick it out with Jimbo.
According to multiple reports, K-State tried to follow this model by attempting to bring from K-State assistant and South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt onto the staff as an eventual successor, only to have Snyder use his power to nix the deal.
In hindsight, the Leavitt plan was probably the best case for Kansas State. It gave Snyder some time to try and end things the way he wanted, while at the same time keeping continuity in the staff and having that continuity help with recruiting. That ship, however, has obviously sailed, and any similar plan K-State could potentially put in place now is too late.
Frank Beamer - Virginia Tech
Tenure : 1987 - 2015
Age of Retirement: 70
Big East Champion (‘95, ‘96’, ‘99)
ACC Champion (‘04, ‘07, ‘08, ‘10)
Played for National Championship in ‘99
Only 2 losing season (1st 2 season, Va Tech was dealing with crippling sanctions)
23 season Bowl streak
How It Ended
The beginning of the end for Beamer was the ‘12 season. In ‘11 they won the ACC Coastal Division but lost to Clemson in the ACC Title game and lost to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. They started the season ranked 15th, but were blown out by Pitt in the 3rd game of the season. They went on to lose five more games, and didn’t record a win against a Power5 team with a winning record until they knocked off Rutgers in the Citrus Bowl to salvage a 7-6 record.
Even more troubling was the continued downward trend of the offense. Virginia Tech was always a team built on a strong defense and special teams, but they usually at least fielded a competent offense. The ‘12 team finished 85th in offense, averaging 25 points a game. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech’s legendary defensive coordinator, also saw his defense take a step back, moving from 7th in ‘11 to 32nd in ‘12.
The ‘13 season saw a slight uptick in wins, as the Hokies finished with an 8-5 record. They were ranked as high as 16th mid season, but head scratching back to back losses against Duke and Boston College knocked them out of the rankings. They ended the season by getting embarrassed by UCLA 12 - 42 in the Sun Bowl. If you were in ACC territory, you started hearing rumbles of discontent from the Hokie faithful.
The Hokie fan frustration was mainly focused on the Virginia Tech offense. They finished 100th in points per game, and had several games salvaged by Bud Fosters stout 11th ranked defense. The offense looked stale and out of ideas even though Beamer brought in new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler at the start of the year to reinvigorate the offense. Beamer needed a home run hire offensive coordinator hire, and instead, he struck out.
2014 was another frustrating year for the Hokies. Once again they were terrible on offense (95th overall) and excellent on defense. Beamer and the Hokies took a top 20 defense and turned it into another 7-6 season. They brought in Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer at quarterback to spark the offense, but he was average at best, throwing 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. In a game of unspeakable offensive futility, Virginia Tech lost to Wake Forest 6-3 in a game that finished 0-0 and ended in double overtime. Frank Beamer was out of ideas on offense and Scott Loeffler was doing nothing to help as offensive coordinator. The Virginia Tech fan base was ready for a change, but Beamer wanted to give it one more shot.
Beamer announced his retirement midway through the 2015. Virginia Tech lost 3 out of their first 4 ACC Conference games, that culminated in a 43-45 loss to Duke. Rumors began to swirl that Beamer was out at the end of the year, and that had the option to retire or be fired. Beamer announced his retirement the next week after a win over Boston College.
He said, “I have always said that I want what is best for Virginia Tech. Because of my love and passion for this great university, this program and our tremendous fans, I have decided after 29 years that it’s time.”
The Hokies finished the season by winning 4 of their last 5, including a bowl win over Tulsa. Beamer was able to get get the send off he deserved in his final home game against North Carolina. I watched the game, and Lane Stadium was electric that night. Virginia Tech ended up losing in overtime to the 12th ranked UNC, but despite the loss, the Virginia Tech players carried Beamer off the field on their shoulders to a standing ovation. It was a truly special college football moment.
Since Frank Beamer announced his retirement mid-season, Virginia Tech was able to get a head start on their coaching search. They hired Memphis coach Justin Fuente, who was one of the hottest coaching prospects available at the time. In 2016, Fuente led Virginia Teach to a 10-4 record, which included an ACC Division Championship and a hard fought loss to eventual National Champion Clemson in the ACC Championship game.
The Take Away
In reality, Frank Beamer probably hung around a season too long in Blacksburg, but that was a well earned luxury. When he saw that his hopes of turning the program around were futile, he decided to bow out gracefully (with a little nudge from the Athletic Director if you believe the gossip). He was able to walk off the field at Lane Stadium to the ovation he deserved, and left the program in a solid position to go after their next head coach.
Honestly, this is how I wish Bill Snyder ended his storied career at K-State this year. Once he saw that the momentum from last season was completely gone, stepping away gracefully and allowing the Wildcat faithful to give him the send off he so richly deserves seemed best for everyone. I guarantee Bill Snyder Family Stadium would have been packed against Texas Tech despite the miserable weather. Bill Snyder deserved to be carried off the field and the Kansas State fans deserved the opportunity to voice their appreciation for his legendary career.
Unfortunately, unlike Virginia Tech, there was no one in the athletic department with enough power to give Snyder the nudge towards the right decision that Frank Beamer received from Virginia Tech. If Snyder does retire in the next few days, I personally will feel cheated, because even though I haven’t been in Manhattan long, I appreciate the historic legacy of Bill Snyder and everything he’s meant to Kansas State University both inside and outside of football. He deserved a proper send off and the fans deserved an opportunity to give him one.
There is no easy way to end legendary coaching careers. Coaches like Bobby Bowden, Frank Beamer, and Bill Snyder transcend the job title of “Head Football Coach” and in many tangible ways, become the face of the universities they represent.
Bill Snyder will always be the face of Kansas State football. His “Goals for Success” will remain the standard for Wildcat players and students as long as Kansas State remains a university. Having a man like Bill Snyder as the head football coach at Kansas State University has been an absolute blessing for Kansas State Football, Kansas State University, Manhattan Kansas, the state of Kansas, the Big12, and college football as a whole.
All good things, however, must come to and end. I haven’t been here long, but it hurts me to have to write this, because the world needs more men like Bill Snyder. It is an absolute shame that things have been allowed to come this far with no coherent and agreeable plan from Kansas State or Bill Snyder.
I have no idea how this is going to end, and by the time this is published, we might have a definitive answer, one way or the other.
If Bill decides to leave, I hope it’s a clean break with no legacy coaching stipulations. The Snyder legacy at Kansas State needs to stay under Bill’s name. Bobby Bowden and Frank Beamer both had a son on their coaching staff, but neither required they be given the head coaching job once they retired. It’s hard enough to be the guy following a legend, it would be impossible to be the son following a legendary father.
If Bill decides to stay, there has to be a mutual plan in place with Kansas State. The plan doesn’t have to be all Kansas State, but it can’t be all Bill Snyder. I think it’s time for Bill to call it a career, but the idea of giving him a proper send off next season is certainly tantalizing. I think it would be great moment for Bill Snyder and Kansas State.
What I do know is this thing can’t remain perpetually in limbo. That does a disservice to Kansas State football and Bill Snyder. This has become too contentious all ready, and will only become more contentious the longer it festers without a clear resolution.