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College Football
Phil Taylor
December 12, 2005
Bush's League
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December 12, 2005

College Football

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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

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