And then there were
four. In what could be either a masterstroke or a monumental reach, Kansas
State confirmed on Sunday the hiring of Ron Prince to succeed Bill Snyder as
coach. Prince, 36, spent the past five seasons at Virginia, the last three as
offensive coordinator. It is his only experience at a Division I-A school.
Wildcats fans underwhelmed by Prince's selection point out that he has never
been a head coach and has no name recognition in the Big 12, and that the
Cavaliers have fielded a so-so offense (ranked 55th, 24th and 69th nationally
in his three seasons as coordinator) in a middling football conference.
But as K-State athletic director Tim Weiser remarked on Monday, Prince has much
to recommend him. A Junction City, Kans., native who played offensive tackle at
Dodge City ( Kans.) Community College and Appalachian State, Prince is by all
accounts a bright offensive mind and an indefatigable recruiter.
"In Ron Prince we saw a young coach who had the fundamentals, core values
and coaching strategy to continue the success we have enjoyed here," school
president Jon Wefald said.
It is a testament to the sad, stubborn imbalance in big-time college football
that Prince's hiring is big news, first and foremost, because he is black.
Prince becomes just the fourth African-American head coach in I-A, which
comprises 117 schools. Clearly, Weiser hopes his new coach will help the
Wildcats lure minority blue-chip players to monochromatic Manhattan.
Snyder, the notorious workaholic who engineered the so-called "miracle in
Manhattan," took a program that had gone winless in the 27 games before his
arrival and molded it into a national power. When he announced his retirement
on Nov. 15, there was an immediate speculation that he would be succeeded by
South Florida coach Jim Leavitt (an assistant under Snyder in the '90s before
starting the Bulls program from scratch). But Leavitt pulled his hat from the
ring two weeks later.
In choosing Prince, who met with school officials at a hotel in Topeka last
week--Weiser reportedly said he was "blown away" by Prince's
interview-- Kansas State passed on two former Wildcats, TCU coach Gary Patterson
and, more suprisingly, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, a Salina,
Kans., native and member of Snyder's staff from 1993 to '98.
Prince walks into a job that has become more difficult in the last few years.
The Wildcats were adversely affected by a recent NCAA rule change that prevents
schools from flying in recruits on private jets. ( Manhattan in a two-hour drive
from the nearest major airport, in Wichita.) Kansas State's streak of 11
straight bowl appearances ended in 2004, and the Wildcats have struggled in the
past two seasons, going 9--13.
Were Prince to engineer a turnaround of his own, it would be no miracle. The
miracle, sadly, is that a major college hired a black man as head coach.
-- Austin Murphy