Just like church you can go to the bolded portion if you're in a hurry.
You may or may not have heard about this … but I cannot stop thinking about this story happening at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. The story so remarkable — so bloody remarkable — that my mind cannot even wrap around it.
To give you a sense of balance, the big college corruption story these days is that the NCAA is officially charging Memphis with “knowing fraudulence and misconduct” revolving around an SAT Test (people seem to be inferring that the player involved was Derrick Rose) and about two thousand dollars in free travel. That’s usually what you get from the NCAA — a few thousand dollars misspent, unauthorized transportation for a player or a family member, smoke where there might be fire.
The Kansas State story is all fire. The story is about a secret pact involving a failed coach and $3.2 million. Repeat secret pact. Failed coach. Three point two million dollars. I suspect there has never been anything quite like it.
We’ll start with background: Kansas State used to have the worst football program in America. The worst, bar none — when I was in Augusta, my friend Ed Price and I ranked every Division I school in America based on about 10 different variables, including victories, bowls, All-Americans and so on. Kansas State wasn’t just last, the school was last by hundreds of points.
There are a million Kansas State stories that fill out the details, my favorite being the time the Wildcats were in New Orleans playing Tulane in 1988, and they were actually leading 16-13 with less than two minutes left. Everyone was on the Kansas State sideline celebrating — celebrating because the Wildcats had not won a game in almost two years — and by EVERYONE, I also mean the Kansas State defensive coaches who had decided to come down from the press box.
That was a bad thing. Tulane — thanks in large part to TWO 12-men on the field penalties — came back and scored the game-winning touchdown with seconds left. And Kansas State did not win a game in 1988 either. Like I say, there are a million stories like that.
Only then, Kansas State hired an Iowa assistant coach named Bill Snyder. Bill did not especially look like a football coach — he always seemed more professor than jock — but he had this preposterous work ethic (he rather famously went to a hypnotist to see if he could live without sleep), and he had this crazed attention to detail (when Kansas State played in Japan, he worked it out so his team got the shady side of the plane going both ways) and he was, well, I still think he pulled off the greatest coaching job in the history of college football. He reworked every single aspect of Kansas State football — from scheduling to recruiting to practicing to strength training to academics to EVERYTHING — and slowly Kansas State got better, and then better, and then the Wildcats became one of the best football teams in the country. The Wildcats were one fumble away from playing in the national championship game in 1998. They won 11 games or more six out of seven years from 1997-03.
Then, the team flattened out. Snyder stepped down — we’re slowly getting to the story — and the Wildcats hired a Virginia assistant coach named Ron Prince. From the first day, it seemed like a strange hire. Prince was from Kansas. But — at least from afar — he seemed utterly un-Kansas State. He seemed aloof, maybe arrogant. He seemed pretty certain that he had the answers. This was quite the opposite of Snyder, who was always quick to remind us that he was not a very smart man. I like Kansas State quite a lot — my wife went there — and I think there’s a certain Midwestern level-headedness about the place. Prince did not seem to fit that at all.
Then again, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with football coaches who seem aloof, maybe arrogant — some of the best coaches in America are like that. I mean, seriously, Nick Saban? So, Ron Prince recruited supremely talented quarterback Josh Freeman, who was just the 17th pick in the NFL Draft. Kansas State finished 7-6 in his first year. The Wildcats beat Texas that year. Things looked OK.
Only, they weren’t. Assistant coaches, for one reason or another, began to flee. The recruiting process was, well, I guess you could call it muddled. And the Wildcats began to lose. They beat Texas again in 2007 — if not for Texas, the Ron Prince years would have been pretty disastrous — but they also lost to a mediocre Nebraska 73-31. They finished 5-7 and there were some bad signs. For bizarre reasons, Prince was given a raise and contract extension and — more to the point — there was a larger buyout put into his contract. A much larger buyout. A $1.2 million buyout. We’ll get to that in a minute.
In 2008, the Wildcats lost six out of seven games in the middle of the year, and these included scores like 58-28 (Texas Tech), 58-35 (Oklahoma), 52-21 (Kansas), 41-24 (Missouri) and 56-28 (Nebraska). The Wildcats were getting humiliated again. At first, Kansas State athletic director Bob Krause said that Prince was doing well, he needed more time, he this was a big job. And, as these things go, Krause fired Prince after the Kansas loss. There was no real uproar about it — Kansas State fans generally seemed to accept that Prince wasn’t the right fit. And sure, it would cost the school $1.2 million (rather than the $300,000 buyout that was in the original deal) but it seems like that’s the price of doing business at big-time football schools. About three weeks later, Prince was simply forgotten as Kansas State hired … Bill Snyder to become the head coach. I love that story too.
Anyway, we get to the present. About a week ago, Kansas State announced that they had “learned” of a secret deal. They have not made clear how they learned about it … maybe they were doing some spring cleaning and just came across it.
Cleaning person: “What’s this?”
Cleaning person 2: “Looks like papers.”
Cleaning person: “No, I think it’s some sort of secret deal.”
The secret deal was for Kansas State to pay Ron Prince $3.2 million in deferred payments beginning in 2015. This, by the way, was on top of the $1.2 million buyout.
And by “secret deal,” I do mean SECRET DEAL — the story that they’re selling us is that the only person at the school who was aware of this deal was renegade former athletic director Bob Krause (yes, he’s former now). The president didn’t know. The other people in the athletic department didn’t know. The financial people at the school didn’t know. Nobody knew. The story they’re selling is that a loose cannon named Bob Krause (who was president Jon Wefald’s close friend for more than two decades) offered Ron Prince $3.2 million — I believe this is more than Kansas State paid Prince in ALL THREE YEARS he was coaching — and managed to not let anyone know about it.
Like I say: I simply cannot get my head around this story.
1. I find it almost impossible to believe that an athletic director could work out a $3.2 million deal without signatures and approval from the school president and various other money people. I mean, we’re not talking about getting a new treadmill for the weight room. I appreciate that athletic directors need autonomy … but really? Three point two million? Without anyone knowing? Please.
2. I cannot come close to figuring out why the school would give Prince this money. I mean I’m not even close to figuring it out. Prince was, at best, a mediocre football coach without much support in the community. I can’t even figure out why they put a $1.2 million buyout in his contract, much less why this would come up. My only theories involve extreme, extreme corruption — kickbacks, lies or an attempt to cover up something so heinous that it would be worth $3.2 million to cover it up.
3. How did ANYONE think this was actually going to work? Did they think that nobody would find out? Did they think that by the time anyone noticed it would be ok? (Future AD: “Hey, what’s this? It looks like a contract to pay Ron Prince three point two million dollars. Who is Ron Prince? Oh well, might as well just pay it.”).
4. There’s a whole other comic twist … apparently the payments were supposed to be made to Prince’s LLC which is called “In Pursuit of Perfection” or “IPP.” Well, that’s a big OR in the middle there. Apparently the original reference in the contract is to pay “In Pursuit of Perfection.” But Prince had not yet formed the company when he signed the contract … and he did form it, he called it “IPP” and not the full “In Pursuit of Perfection.”
So Kansas State has now formed its own LLC called “In Pursuit of Perfection,” in some sort of “Free Parking Gets All The Fines” legal maneuver so that they can claim that they can pay the $3.2 million to themselves. It seems apparent now that Barney Fife should give the bullet back to Andy.
And so on. It’s the story with everything … and nothing at all. Best I can tell, the timeline of the story has been: (A) School finds out about secret $3.2 million pact; (B) School goes to Ron Prince and says, “Um, we didn’t even KNOW about this deal, can we just cancel it?” (C) Prince goes, “Um, actually, no. I’d like my money.” (D) School takes contract to court and tries to get it invalidated. (E) School forms the “In Pursuit of Perfection” LLC in an funny effort to trick everyone.
And that’s where we are now. I know people are into this Jon and Kate thing, but I cannot imagine a better reality show than this one. Will Kansas State have to pay Prince the money? Will it come out why Kansas State offered him that money in the first place? How can I get on the Kansas State deferred payment plan? Tune in next time, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.