Eating Grass VS Win the Dang Day

    The last time that there was a true changing of the guard, or at least we thought so at the time, was when Ron Prince came aboard in 2006. That also coincided with the rarest of things in college football in the state of Kansas. True optimism at the same time for both programs.

     Things can be fleeting, and of course the optimism at Kansas is rooted solely in the larger than life presence of Les Miles, but it would seem that what we have right now is the actual actually possibility of a real rivalry that truly includes real success on both sides.

     Prince came aboard after the Bill Snyder era seemingly came to an end after consecutive losing seasons, but his “Rock Star Ron” personality as he was welcomed around the Wildcat nation, and the fact that K-State had so many things in place, made it seem like a perfect recipe for success.

     Meanwhile, Kansas had just come off a rare bowl game win in their second bowl appearance in three years. We seemed poised for a real duel of Sunflower State programs. Not so much. The next three years produced only one decent season for Prince, he lost all three times to Kansas and all nine times to the Jayhawks, Nebraska, and Missouri, and got the gate just days after being pummeled in Lawrence in 2008.

     Those three years marked one of, if not the best patch of Kansas football ever, with an Orange Bowl victory at the peak. But as soon as Snyder returned to “calm the waters” in Manhattan, the Jayhawks went over the other side of the mountain into one of the deepest crevasses in the history of college football.

     That brings us to today, where just a day after Chris Klieman won his press conference, and a couple weeks after Les Miles rolled his, it would seem both fan bases are actually looking towards better times at the same time. It’s a very logical question to ask as to whether this is possible. Take a bite out of this. Since 1933, the only seasons where both schools had a winning record were back to back in 1994 and 1995. That’s it.

     Of course, that isn’t quite as stunning as it might seem, although it’s mighty awful. It’s not as if the teams had been swapping off periods of good football. They BOTH have generally been bad. but still, man alive. There are obvious reasons. Kansas has the lowest population of any state that fields two BCS football programs, and the state generally produces 15-20 recruits that fit that bill, if that many.

     The challenges are great, but in the recent past, both schools have shown the ability to compete at the highest level, if only briefly for Kansas. Basically, only one coach in each case has been able to pull it off, and in each case left with a losing record in his final season.

     Can it happen now? I think the answer is an unequivocal maybe, ha ha. Les Miles has a proven track record as a winner, and if it had only been at LSU, there would be plenty of reason for skepticism. But in this conference, he took over an Oklahoma State program that had enjoyed only one winning season in the previous decade and made them a winner with a national championship contender in their own state to battle. He split his four meetings with the Sooners.

     Miles clearly wasn’t ready to ride off into the sunset at age 64 (now 65) when he was fired by LSU early last season. The absolutely absurd SEC expectations can clearly be shown by this… a coach who posted an .826 winning percentage overall, and .689 in easily the toughest division in America, was shown the door.

     He seems an energized 65, and his cult of personality is certainly almost a requisite to create a level of enthusiasm at a place where crowds late in the season were announced at 15,000. I remember in the Sunday newspaper the day after Kansas attracted one of those “crowds”, an AP capsule on the previous days Tennessee game concluded with the fact that their unimpressive win was attended by a “paltry” 86,000 fans. That’s the world Miles is coming from. There no doubt will be days when he can’t believe how football is viewed in Lawrence, Kansas.

     It is not viewed that way in Manhattan, Kansas of course. Bill Snyder’s football program in many ways rescued the university, and at the very least created an incredible sense of pride that many who lived through the transition had never been able to exhibit. But the level to which Bill Snyder elevated the program also likely in many ways led to him deciding to step away, or to be pressured to.

     I don’t think ‘Cat fans expected the heights of the turn of the century K-State teams on his return, but he again spoiled them early, and won a conference title, making losing records in two of the last four years hard to swallow. Also, as the fans base was made up more and more by those who had really only experienced winning, perhaps the old- fashioned ways, lukewarm recruiting, and style of football seemed less sexy.

     The way it ended, with at least a significant chunk, if not a large majority, of fans thinking a change was the right thing, makes it an easier pull as Chris Klieman comes in. Replacing the legend is less onerous when fans are ready to see the legend pull up an easy chair, even if at first reaction to the hiring was tepid.

     But the first few days for the still North Dakota State head coach could not have gone better. From the public posting of the call from A.D. Gene Taylor to Klieman, with Kliemen saying he was “jacked” to come aboard, to his “win the dang day” mantra as he introduced himself to his new squad, perception has seemingly swung to the point where these phrases will sell thousands of t-shirts.

     Winning, of course, is mandatory, and Klieman has done a whole lot of that, dropping just six of 72 games and winning three FCS national titles with the Bison, and perhaps on his way to a fourth in his five-year tenure. Ah, but the “FCS” is the rub. Ironically, the only year in his entire playing and coaching career that he has been involved in FBS football was in 1997… Kansas.

     Miles has the jump in staff hiring and a bit in recruiting, but Klieman has an atmosphere, facilities, and a culture that dwarfs the Jayhawks right now. But Miles championship ring was earned in the deep end of the pool.

     A successful veteran coach at the highest level trying to write a satisfying final chapter to an undeniably fine coaching carer, versus someone trying to show he belongs.

     Sure sounds fun to me.

Danny Clinkscale