November 18, 2008

Prince's purple reign to end

The original version, the one Ron Prince pitched to Kansas State administrators three years ago, had grown outmoded and obsolete. There is a new plan now, a plan set into motion Wednesday by athletic director Bob Krause.

Prince was fired Wednesday, two years and 11 months after he was introduced as K-State's 33rd head football coach. He did not step down. He did not resign.

"That's just not who I am," said Prince, who will coach K-State for the remainder of the regular season.

The decision raised a number of questions, many of which were posed to Krause and Prince during a 30-minute conference call with reporters.

Why now, with three games remaining in the regular season? Why give Prince a new contract and fire him three months later? Who will be the next football coach at K-State, and when will he be hired?

Those questions were met with a response that became familiar during Prince's tenure in Manhattan.

"I think there's a plan in place," Krause said.

This plan, like the previous version, remains somewhat mysterious. Krause said experience is the first criteria he'll seek in a new coach, a trait noticeably absent from Prince's resume when he was hired at age 36. Prince came to K-State after three years as offensive coordinator at Virginia.

"At the top of this list, you want a person that has experience, that has a winning track record as a head coach," Krause said. "That's my first criteria. I think that's very important for the stage we're at."

Krause also said he hopes to have a new coach in place by the end of the season, even if that means conducting discrete negotiations with a head coach at another institution.

"It depends upon what an AD says or agent says or agents to agents," Krause said.

Krause said he would like to involve former coach Bill Snyder in the search process, but he did not say in what capacity. The discussion eventually digressed into a question of semantics, with Krause declining to specify whether Snyder would be "consulted with" or "considered for" the job opening.

"You start out at a consulting basis and you go forward from there," Krause said.

There's also the matter of Prince's new five-year contract, signed in August. The deal boosted Prince's annual compensation to $1.1 million and, perhaps more significantly, reset his sliding buyout scale.

Had Prince's deal not been reworked, K-State would have owed him a $300,000 buyout for terminating the contract. As it is, Prince will receive a $1.2 million buyout plus a prorated portion of his longevity bonus, a sum totaling approximately $1.35 million.

"There are no rearview mirrors," Krause said, adding, "I have no regrets on that."

Prince, meanwhile, handled his firing with the same stoic demeanor he exuded throughout his tenure at K-State. He was eloquent, calm and relentlessly on-message, declining to express any bitterness or resentment toward the men who fired him.

"This is a place that I grew up, a program that I followed as a child and feel very fondly of," Prince said. "I'm very thankful for the opportunity to be the head coach at Kansas State."

Prince, a Junction City native, referenced his Kansas roots frequently during his time in Manhattan. Still, his tenure was marked by suggestions that he failed to adequately embrace the accomplishments of his successor, a man who elevated K-State to national prominence in 17 seasons on the sideline.

Prince refuted those suggestions during Wednesday's conference call.

"I think embracing Bill Snyder, making sure he remained in our building (was important)," Prince said. "You can see a list of every single All-American that's ever played here. You can see all the bowl teams that have ever been here. We've celebrated those teams with pictures and placards and had a tremendous number of former players come back and visit us.

"I'm not sure exactly where that kind of conversation comes from. Nobody's more familiar with where the program was."

Prince also declined to address the difficulty of replacing a legend, though the magnitude of that task clearly contributed to his early departure.

"We never took the approach that we were replacing coach Snyder," Prince said. "That would be ridiculous to do that or think that."

Prince began by delivering an opening statement, seemingly prepared in advance.

He detailed his accomplishments at K-State, citing increased graduation rates, two wins over top 10 Texas teams and the Wildcats' 2006 Texas Bowl appearance.

"We're proud of going to a bowl game in our first season, which only four coaches have done in Big 12 history, inheriting a team with a losing record," said Prince, who is 16-18 at K-State. "That 7-5 record occurred despite being predicted preseason last place in the North.

"And finally, we understand how our 34-game record fits into the greater K-State history and how it matches up among our closest Big 12 peers in their early years."

Krause previously had cited many of those same factors as evidence that Prince's plan was running on schedule. Krause, who became K-State's full-time AD in October, urged patience when fans began to grow restless following a 58-28 home loss to Texas Tech on Oct. 4.

"From a plan standpoint, we're pretty much on target with some adjustments here and there," Krause said at the time.

But pressure from fans and boosters continued to mount, complicating fundraising efforts for K-State's $70 million facilities expansion.

The final straw may have been Saturday's 52-21 loss to Kansas, an embarrassing defeat that dropped Prince to 0-3 against his instate rival and 3-9 against the Big 12 North.

"That certainly is a factor, yeah," Krause said.

At that point, Krause said, "Some things crystallized." K-State announced Prince's dismissal in a statement Wednesday afternoon, and the coach told his players of the decision before addressing reporters.

Asked if there was anything he would change about his tenure, Prince answered philosophically.

"There are obviously so many decisions that you make daily that any one of those decisions could help you win a game or be able to turn a corner here or there," Prince said. "I think all coaches, all athletes, could think about a particular play or a particular move or decision. You really have to be at peace with the decisions you make."

Krause, apparently, is at peace with his.

"I think probably as much as anything it's the execution of the plan," he said. "Ultimately, the acid test is wins on the field, progress towards it and what it takes in the long haul to get there."


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