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August 30, 2006
Notebook: A new legacy begins at K-State
Elevator music usually plays when someone is put on hold, but telephone callers to Kansas State hear a recording which lists the amazing accomplishments of former football coach Bill Snyder:
• A total of 136 career victories
• Six 11-win seasons
• Eleven postseason appearances
• Four Big 12 North Division championships
• One Big 12 Conference championship
• Seven time conference coach of the year
• Three time national coach of the year
• Credited with overseeing perhaps the greatest reclamation project in college football history.
The story of how Snyder elevated Kansas State's downtrodden football program into a national power is a classic tale of college football history.
It's also an intimidating legacy. When Snyder retired after last season, it was obvious his successor would have to be a strong man with a stronger personality.
In that case, Ron Prince is supremely qualified, perhaps even overqualified. With his clean-shaven head and dark goatee, he has an authoritative presence and a stare that seemingly can wilt plants.
You want strong? A former collegiate offensive lineman, Prince, 36, still looks like he could suit up and pancake a linebacker. The Wildcats probably wish he could after ranking 83rd in total offense last season.
Prince - who grew up in nearby Junction City, Kan., and can fully appreciate what Snyder accomplished - also doesn't appear the least bit intimidated at following Snyder's historical tenure.
He puts it in a bear hug.
"No one knows more about coaching, teaching and being successful at Kansas State than Bill Snyder," said Prince, one of just five African-American head coaches in Division I football. "I came here to be successful, so it would be foolish for a young coach not to embrace a legend. At Michigan they did a good job seeing coach (Bo) Schembechler as a resource. (Texas coach) Mack Brown embraced Darrell Royal. Bronco Mendenhall embraced LaVell Edwards at BYU.
"I do have the historical context. I grew up here and I was a Kansas State fan growing up. Obviously, most of the success was under Bill Snyder. I have to build on that. We're trying to take the legacy of perhaps the greatest coaching job in the last century and build on that."
It won't be easy.
Although Prince inherits a team that returns eight starters on offense and defense, that same group struggled to a 5-6 finish. Despite all Snyder accomplished in his 17 seasons, the program had begun to slip. The Wildcats managed just nine wins the last two years combined – a total Snyder's teams reached or exceeded in 10 seasons.
When Kansas State opens the season against Illinois State on Saturday, Prince won't have last year's starting quarterback, Allan Evridge - who transferred to Wisconsin - or starting tailback Thomas Clayton (benched for disciplinary reasons).
But the biggest difference Prince faces is a schedule much tougher than most Snyder faced.
Under Snyder, Kansas State routinely played cream puff non-conference opponents. Although Illinois State falls into that category, the Wildcats will face Marshall and Louisville in the weeks before entering Big 12 play. They're working to upgrade non-conference scheduling and have set games against Miami in 2011 and 2012.
And while Kansas State has taken a step back, Nebraska appears to be re-emerging as a powerhouse in the Big 12 North. Defending national champion Texas, Oklahoma and even Texas Tech are routinely in the national rankings.
Winning in the Big 12 appears more difficult than ever, especially at Kansas State - which no longer dominates the recruiting of junior college players.
Snyder built his program largely with junior college players out of Kansas' Jayhawk Conference, a league in which Prince played while at Dodge City Community College in 1988 and 1989.
But other Big 12 programs noted Snyder's success and began aggressively recruiting junior college players, too. Players who would have been expected to show up at Kansas State a few years ago are now dotting other Big 12 rosters.
Yet, Prince is undeterred. He aims to build a team on speed and strength and feels he can coax players with those qualities to Manhattan just as Snyder did.
"I think we'll have a very good chance to recruit players no matter where we find them," he said. "We'll make sure we'll find young people that will help Kansas State do well. I think that can happen with the (junior college) conference in our state, and also in the high school ranks. The story of what happened here at Kansas State resonates from coast to coast."
And is repeated on telephone recordings.
Legend has it you chose Oklahoma over Texas because your girlfriend (now wife, Meadowlark) enrolled in a college closer to Norman. Is that right?
"That's true. I grew up a Texas fan and I'd watch the Darrell Royal show every Sunday night. But my wife went to Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas, which is closer to Norman, Oklahoma, than Austin. I get good brownie points when I tell that story."
Is there any special reason you wore No. 24?
"We were always huge (Baltimore) Colts fans. My little brother (Kenny) always wore No. 19 through high school because he liked Johnny Unitas and I wore No. 24 for Lenny Moore. My dad also wore No. 24 and I was born on Sept. 24."
You averaged more than 6 yards a carry as a sophomore and junior and more than 5 as a senior. Coach Barry Switzer once said you were one of the best running backs ever in his wishbone offense. What do you remember most about playing for Coach Switzer?
"The one thing that made me stand out a little more was that I was probably the smallest of all of them. I played at 160 pounds. The wishbone is an offense where you don't carry the ball as much, so you have to make the most of your opportunities. My running style didn't exactly have things planned out. I hurdled people. Anything that had to do with running over people, I tried it. Barry never said anything about the way I carried the football or what I did with it. Against Southern Cal, I returned a punt and retreated about 30 or 40 yards. Off the field Barry said, 'Little Joe, don't do that again.' "
Who was known as the "Italian Stallion?" (Answer at the end of the column)
Ernesto could force game to move
Tropical Storm Ernesto is threatening to force Monday's Miami-Florida State football game to move from the Orange Bowl.
Ernesto, with winds up to 45 mph, was about 135 miles southeast of Miami on Tuesday and moving toward South Florida at 13 miles an hour. A hurricane watch is in effect for most of the area.
That threat has Miami officials contemplating other locations to play.
"There have been no decisions to move the game," Miami Athletics Director Paul Dee told the Miami Herald. "But in doing our due diligence, we want to be prepared and we've taken the first steps to see about availability."
Atlantic Coast Conference rules call for games that are threatened by weather to be played on the scheduled date at a neutral site or at the opponent's stadium.
Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando and Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville are possibilities. Miami would rather not play at Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium.
Miami and Florida State do not have a common open date, so the game could not be rescheduled for later in the season.
USC RB healing
"I was out there running fast with the scout team and I feel I'm going to play," Washington told the Los Angeles Daily News on Monday.
Washington, who was ineligible the last two seasons, was the most likely candidate to replace Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush in the Trojans' starting lineup before hurting his hamstring in the first week of practice.
Now, he's playing behind four freshmen.
Red Raiders too soft
Last year Texas Tech was criticized for playing a soft schedule. This year, coach Mike Leach is criticizing some of his players for being soft.
"I'm seeing a level of softness a little bit," Leach said in his weekly news conference. "I think we have a handful of guys that are complacent, a handful of guys that feel like they worked hard in the offseason so business is taken care of. All the other teams work hard in the offseason, too, so all you are is equal to them."
The Red Raiders are coming off a 9-3 season which included a 13-10 loss to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl.
Rutgers players escape serious injury in crash
Three Rutgers football players were involved in a car accident early Sunday, but none was seriously injured.
Receiver Willie Foster and defensive end Jamaal Westerman did not miss any practice time, but offensive tackle Corey Hyman was held out of Monday's practice after suffering bruises on his lower leg and needing stitches to close a gash in his head.
The players were reportedly returning to Rutgers' Hale Center for a 6 p.m. meeting when the car driven by Foster skidded on a wet road and crashed into a pole.
"We had a little mishap which, thank God, it wasn't more than that," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano told the Newark Star-Ledger.
Rutgers travels to face North Carolina on Saturday.
Alabama's cut-off jersey-wearing running back Johnny Musso, who was fourth in the 1971 Heisman Trophy voting, was the original "Italian Stallion." Sylvester Stallone's movie character Rocky Balboa, who was also known as the "Italian Stallion," did not debut until 1976.
The Associated Press and other media contributed to this report.
Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.