FARGO — It appears there will be a mess in Manhattan, Kan., home of Kansas State University and its fine football program. Bill Snyder is the 79-year-old coach of the Wildcats who some say has overstayed his time on the sidelines. Kansas State has fallen into mediocrity the last several seasons and there are those who want Snyder to ride off quietly into an ambassador's role.
It's unlikely this will happen, because Snyder is a proud, stubborn and powerful man. If Snyder does not want to resign to make room for new blood, he will not. And the Wildcats athletic director, former North Dakota State AD Gene Taylor, cannot fire Snyder. The stadium in which Kansas State plays is named Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and you can't fire legends who've received such honors.
The battle's flashpoint seems to be Snyder's successor. The coach, it's believed, wants his son Sean, a longtime assistant, named to succeed him. Taylor, it's been reported, has no interest in that plan. He wants to hire his own coach. The fear in Manhattan is that Snyder will make his retirement a protracted, behind-the-scenes scrum contingent on his son getting the job.
This matters in North Dakota today not because of Taylor, who left NDSU in 2014, although he's certainly part of the intrigue. No, it matters because if Snyder decides to retire and his son does not succeed him, NDSU head coach Chris Klieman will immediately become a leading candidate to be the next head coach as Kansas State.
Klieman, with three Division I FCS national championships in four years with the Bison and a better-than-average shot at another with his current team 10-0 and ranked No. 1 in the country, might become the rare FCS coach who makes the jump to a Power Five conference. Kansas State is a member of the Big 12. The Bison defeated Kansas State to start the 2013 season when Klieman was NDSU's defensive coordinator.
Klieman's name has already been connected to the job, most recently in a USA Today article last week that pointed out his relationship with Taylor.
That is a key factor: Klieman was an assistant under Craig Bohl at NDSU from 2011-13 when Taylor was athletic director, and Taylor hired Klieman to be the head coach when Bohl left for Wyoming. That was a stressful, odd stretch for Bison football because Bohl's departure during the playoffs was discordant, with coaches taking sides based on who was going to Laramie and who was staying in Fargo. Klieman kept the waters calm, securing key recruits to remain at NDSU and the Bison machine kept rolling.
Taylor was grateful and the two remain very close.
Klieman declined comment for this column. Coaches generally don't comment on job prospects anyway, but it makes particular sense for him to say nothing -- because there's nothing to say. Until Snyder retires, if he even decides to do so, there is no job opening for Klieman to fill. It's moot.
If Snyder quits, watch out. The Klieman-to-Manhattan train will begin rolling and the coach will have to address it. The story will be too big in North Dakota and Kansas for him to avoid it. More importantly to Klieman, recruits and their parents will have questions and want answers. The early signing period for recruits is Dec. 19, meaning time is of the essence for decision-making.
At 4-6 with games against Texas Tech and Iowa State remaining, it's likely Kansas State will not reach the six-win minimum to be eligible for a bowl game. That means the Wildcats' season will likely be finished Nov. 24, Thanksgiving weekend. If Snyder was to announce his retirement prior to the season finale or shortly afterward, it would leave a very small window for Taylor to hire a new coach who could wrap up recruits by the middle of December.
It would be a remarkably hectic time and, if Taylor was to hire Klieman, it could be quite disruptive to the Bison playoff run. Could Klieman even coach NDSU in the playoffs, like Bohl did in 2013?
We're a long ways from that point. Klieman would not be the only candidate, of course. Other names with serious Football Bowl Subdivision experience, of which Klieman has none, have been thrown about. Former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema is a former defensive coordinator at Kansas State. Brent Venables, defensive coordinator at Clemson and always a prospect for head coach openings, played at Kansas State. So did Gary Patterson, the super-successful coach at fellow Big 12 school Texas Christian.
There are other names. But none have the connection to Taylor that Klieman does.
So Bison fans should keep an eye toward Manhattan. If Snyder decides to return for a 28th year, there's nothing about which to worry. But if Snyder retires, buckle up. December will suddenly become even more interesting than normal.