MANHATTAN — Gene Taylor already had a good idea what he was looking for in a football coach long before Bill Snyder announced his retirement Sunday at age 79.
He knew when he was hired as Kansas State's director of athletics in April 2017 that at some point in the not-to-distant future he would be charged with finding a successor for Snyder, the Wildcats' hall of fame coach for 27 of the past 30 years.
"It doesn't matter whether you're Jamie Pollard at Iowa State or Mike Bobinski at Purdue or whoever, because you never know what a coach may or may not leave for," Taylor said on Nov. 20, the week of the Wildcats' season finale at Iowa State. "And so you always need to be looking for talented coaches and have an idea who might be a good fit for your program.
"Because anymore, the moves happen pretty quickly and you need to be prepared."
At the time, K-State still had a chance to qualify for a ninth straight bowl game, needing a victory to extend a two-game winning streak and get to 6-6. But when the Wildcats blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost 42-38, time was of the essence for Snyder to make a decision on his future.
That decision became official eight days later, made public following Snyder's Sunday afternoon meeting with his players. K-State also announced that it had retained Ventura Partners to assist with the search.
On Monday, Taylor released a statement that he said would be his only comment until a coach is hired.
“Our priority will be to identify the absolute best individual to lead our football program and we will do so in a timely yet exhaustive manner," he said. "This is a program with rich tradition, a passionate fan base and a facility infrastructure that is second to none, and we want to find a successful coach who best fits and understands our culture here at K-State.
"We will attract some of the nation’s top coaches, and I look forward to introducing the K-State Nation to its next coach in the near future."
The early favorite appears to be third-year North Texas head coach Seth Littrell, 40, considered a rising star in the profession. Fan favorites include Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, 47, a Salina native who played for and coached under Snyder at K-State, and 61-year-old Oregon defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, who was Snyder's defensive coordinator from 1990-95 before building a successful program at South Florida from scratch.
Given the length of Snyder's tenure and his legendary status — he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015 and the Wildcats play in a stadium bearing his name — identifying the right fit for K-State might be more of a challenge. He took over a program dubbed "Futility U," in a Sports Illustrated article and built the Wildcats into a national power with streaks of 11 straight bowl appearances in his first tenure (1989-05) and eight after he came out of retirement in 2009.
But Taylor wasn't concerned about that in the Nov. 20 conversation.
"Every program has a culture," he said. "That doesn't mean the culture can't change somewhat. We're Manhattan, we're not a major metropolis. I think we have a great reputation as a program."
For that, Taylor credited Snyder.
"I think what Coach (Snyder) has done for our program is very well respected," he said. "But any job, you have to find the right fit. It doesn't really matter what the situation is, whether it's a long-term coach or a coach that's been here two years. I think there's a right fit and you've got to find that right fit."
Still, finding it might not be as easy as it sounds.
"If you look back across hires over the years, whether it was Nebraska — they probably had a few misses or not right fits," Taylor said. "And people at Nebraska will probably tell you Scott Frost is a great fit right now.
"It took them a while to find it, (but) there's always a fit that you're looking for."
There's also increased pressure on athletic directors to get it right the first time and on the coaches they hire to deliver. Take Kansas, which a year after going to the Orange Bowl hired Turner Gill to replace Mark Mangino, starting a downward spiral for the program through two more coaches and leading the Jayhawks to hire Les Miles last month.
"In any sport really, the program, if there is a change, the mistake could cost you a lot longer term to get it back going," Taylor said. "(Football), for the sheer number of players.
"Basketball, one or two good recruits and you can get back in the mix, but football, it's longer. It's like turning an aircraft carrier at times, if you're going to do it the right way."