Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Jerry Kill solves K-State's Bill Snyder problem

To be clear, Bill Snyder is not the problem at Kansas State. If anything, Bill Snyder IS Kansas State. While meaning no disrespect to the countless EMAW alumni and players over the years, without Snyder's leadership and strategies that program had absolutely nothing going for it.

Now that he's 76 years old and due to retire whenever he feels his juice is gone, the Wildcat program is in a difficult predicament. There should be no hurry to push him out as he's the only person who's demonstrated the ability to make a Manhattan-based program into a legitimate major conference contender. It seems remarkably unlikely that K-State could ever replace him with someone as capable as maximizing this program.

On the other hand, he does have to be replaced at some point and the program is losing out in recruiting and in positioning for conference realignment every year that his Wildcats slip and fail to have a strong succession plan.

Before today I would have said that the most likely outcome of all of this is that Snyder's program slowly slipped, he gave up and retired, there was a nasty battle over his succession, and K-State never recovered their peak-Snyder glory.

Then they hired Jerry Kill as Associate Athletic Director.

This sets up two potential options for K-State down the line, the latter of which I think is actually more important than many pundits realize.

Option 1: Jerry Kill's health improves and allows him to take the sideline for K-State and replace Bill Snyder.

Option 2: Jerry Kill brings authority, know-how, and mentorship to Bill Snyder's replacement.

Most people are whispering about option 1 right now, although Kill says his days as a coach are over. You never know, and I wouldn't rule it out personally, but I don't think it really matters. Barry Alvarez has a profound influence on Wisconsin (for better or worse, usually for better) and he is able to do that without coaching. I think Kill can do the same.

The importance of this hire is that Jerry Kill knows how to build a strong program that leverages the strengths of a non-elite program.

What's more, Kill knows how to leverage the kinds of strengths that Kansas State has a program thanks to his successes in the past at Minnesota and both Southern and Northern Illinois.

Kill-ing it at Minnesota

The state of Minnesota has a population of about six million people, which makes it roughly the size of DFW and a somewhat underrated state for producing football talent. More importantly, of those six million people about 70% are of either German or Nordic descent. So there are about 4.2 million people in the state who have primarily Northern European genetics.

The reason that's important is that those gene pools tend to produce big, late-blooming young men of the sort that can be developed into brawny, powerful football players in between the years of 18 and 23.

Sure enough, Jerry Kill brought two major changes from Tim Brewster when he took over the job of guiding Gopher football. First, he emphasized defense, special teams, and power football on offense. Guess who wasn't excited when Kill took over at Minnesota? That's right, the North Dakota football staff who'd been building a dynasty with under-regarded Minnesota kids that Brewster had overlooked while trying to recruit Floridian athletes to Minneapolis.

When you've got local talent that has a higher ceiling than national programs might suppose and has a knack for executing physical, smashmouth football you've got to milk that for all it's worth. Jerry Kill was doing that at Minnesota and doing it well before his illness forced him to retire.

The formula at K-State

Despite the protestations of many of their fans, Kansas State does not have many recruiting advantages going up against other programs. Manhattan doesn't have much going on and there aren't a ton of loaded, metro areas around to pluck players from. Kansas City, MO is the top option there at two hours away but both Kansas University and the University of Missouri are equally close.

No one is regularly bringing top ranked classes to Manhattan.

The state itself has a population of three million people, around 40% or so (1.2 million people) of which have the valuable northern European bloodlines that can produce big players. Like with Minnesota, there aren't a high number of fast-twitch African-Americans around to stock the program with athleticism. Less even than in Minnesota.

There are two advantages K-State does have that Snyder has leveraged for all their worth. The first is the presence of a very strong JUCO system which draws in talent from around the country. The Wildcats have had less success recently plucking the top in-state JUCO players for their own program but their connections to the local staff has undoubtedly been valuable and could remain valuable in the future for getting access to that talent.

The second is a walk-on program that actually tends to draw a ton of players from said JUCO system. Lots of Kansas or other local kids that are not developed or clearly talented enough to draw D1 scholarships end up at those JUCO programs (or K-State itself) and getting some nice development before graduating or leaving and then walking on at K-State. Since the Wildcats are known for giving walk-ons opportunities, they regularly get a ton of self-motivated kids that bring a fantastic culture and often some real talent.

For instance, K-State has featured good DL play for virtually the entirety of the Bill Snyder era and it's because they regularly get walk-on kids or overlooked locals like Ryan Mueller, Will Geary, or Travis Britz (note that two of those are German names) who end up having some real upside after getting developed in Snyder's culture.

For the last several years Snyder has combined a few great athletes here and there with a culture and squad full of over-achievers and hard-workers who rely on fundamentals, precision, and diverse offensive tactics to scheme advantages and win games.

Winning without Snyder is necessarily going to require hiring a coach who knows how to get the most out of those kinds of demographics and foster a culture that will draw over-achievers to sign or walk-on. That's more or less exactly what Jerry Kill did at Minnesota.

So where is this going?

The cynic would suppose that K-State is lining up Jerry Kill to replace Bill Snyder pending improvement in his health. Again, I think that's possible but that doesn't have to be the story here for there to be upside for the Wildcats.

What K-State really needs is a way to facilitate a transition from Snyder to another coach that knows how to win with the Wildcats' resources. Yes Jerry Kill could be that coach, but more importantly Jerry Kill knows what that takes and could help guide that transition whether he's directly in charge of the football team himself or exercising authority and providing guidance from the AD office.

His track record and local roots provide Kill with immediate credibility and authority to speak and wield influence that can protect the program from Bill Snyder trying to put his own son Sean Snyder on the throne or the program otherwise having no idea how to replace a legend.

Bill Snyder is going to retire eventually and when he wants to put Sean in his place K-State will now have someone above him with enough communal authority to say no or enough expertise to help him.

Big win for Wildcat athletics.

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