•Tradition. Dickey, who had a 15-year pro career with the Oilers and the Packers, says, "The thing about tradition at Kansas State is, there is none." That is crucial, because teams often win and lose by remembering what they have been.
•Location. Manhattan, which fancies itself The Little Apple, is located somewhere to the west of Topeka and north of Wichita. Wildcat quarterback Paul Watson says players from outside the state think of Kansas as "flat and nothing." Players from inside the state are mostly hoping to leave. In truth, Manhattan is a wonderful little town in which cars still angle-park on Poyntz Ave., the main thoroughfare. And, yes, they have electricity and talking movies. In fact, for charm and personality, Manhattan has it all over places like State College, Stillwater, Columbia, Tuscaloosa, and South Bend. Says former coach Gibson, "The one thing Kansas has got is great people, but it's hard to sell people."
•Recruiting. For reasons known only to the gods, Weaver, the coach from 1960 through '66, had the quaint philosophy that recruiting wasn't all that necessary. Apparently, he had enormous faith in his ability to will fine performances from his athletes, no matter who played for him. This not only earned Weaver a seven-year record of 8-60-1 but also enabled the Wildcats to go through his first six games against archrival Kansas without scoring a single point; the Jayhawks scored 188. Parrish once began a season with a recruiting class of 15 junior college players and only five high school seniors. The feeling was that the J.C. players would be able to step right in and start for two years; only one did, and an entire class was lost.
Damian Johnson, who played at K-State in the early '80s and is now a guard for the Giants, hits the nail on the head when he says: "The problem is, they don't get good players." Former kicker Steve Willis, who played with Johnson, says, "I was like all the other guys who came here. This was our last resort." The only player on the current team who received a genuine offer from another big-time school that truly wanted him is Watson. He was on Florida State's wish list. "People thought I was crazy to come here," Watson confesses.
Snyder says he will win with Kansas players, but among Kansans who never even considered K-State are Wichita's Barry Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy last year at Oklahoma State; Rodney Peete from Shawnee Mission, who quarterbacked USC into the Rose Bowl; and Keith DeLong from Lawrence, who played linebacker at Tennessee and was picked in the first round by San Francisco in last April's NFL draft.
•Fan interest. There are 13,000 K-State grads living in the Kansas City area; 200 of them contributed to football last season. Twice in recent years, students have voted down a $15-per-semester fee earmarked substantially for football. Still, Snyder travels around the state saying, "If you fill the stadium, these kids will play so hard it will make you cry." There won't be a moist eye in the house this season. Last year, average attendance at 42,000-seat KSU Stadium was a horrendous 18,200 (next-worst in the Big Eight: Kansas, at 31,950). Season-ticket sales were 7,200.
•Patience. Snyder is State's 32nd coach in 93 years, making for an average tenure of less than three years per coach. Jim Dickey, who led the Wildcats to their only bowl game (Independence, in 1982, a 14-3 loss to Wisconsin) and was canned 24 games later, laughs and says: "A coach should never forget The Alumni Prayer: I pray for patience. I want it right now.' "
•Coaching. Too often, it has been inept. Last season, en route to a 56-14 loss to Colorado, State's defensive line simply stood up on a Buffalo extra-point try, making no apparent effort to block the kick. Senior guard Chad Faulkner admits, "We were starting to give up before Coach Snyder arrived. Our psychological stuff was all messed up." Faulkner is now playing for his fourth head coach. The Wildcats were so disheveled that in one spring Parrish used only 17 of the 20 days of practice allowed by the NCAA. Parrish refuses to discuss his three years at K-State—or his 2-30-1 record there. Boston College coach Jack Bicknell says, "I don't think the players think they can win. If true, that's always the coach's fault."
In 1967 Gibson came in like a tornado, proclaiming his love for purple and hollering from the rooftops: "We gonna win." And they did. a little, with the 5-5 record in '69 and 6-5 in '70. Then the Cats were put on probation for violations that included a bogus standardized test score, and Gibson was soon history. Ellis Rainsberger was the next coach; State was ticketed by the NCAA for playing two varsity players under assumed names in a jayvee game in 1977 and, in the same year, for awarding 43 scholarships when the limit was 30.
•Money. When Jim Dickey was fired two games into 1985—another horrible mistake, because he was easily the best coach K-State has had since World War II—he had a recruiting budget of $100,000. Miller says that should have been $200,000. The school has always been dead last in the conference in money spent on all sports. For example, in the fiscal year 1987-88 K-State spent $5,511,700 on athletics; Oklahoma shelled out $12,521,000. For football alone, Oklahoma out-spent K-State by half a million dollars.