Monday, July 7, 2008
Manhattan Everything about the man screams Chicago: The hard "Cs," the flat vowels, the way he pronounces "South Side" as "Sout Side," the firm handshake, the Dick Butkus connection, the straight-shooting way he answers questions, the friendly manner and general air about him suggesting he's too much of a gentleman to start fights yet sure would feel comfortable finishing them.
Kansas State's new athletic director, Bob Krause, is proud of his Second City roots, but would object to Manhattan being labeled the Second (Kansas) City of the Big 12. In Krause's mind, the university for which he has worked since coming from the Minnesota State University system with K-State president Jon Wefald in 1986, didn't begin to blossom until it stopped comparing itself to its neighbor to the east.
That was one of many topics Krause touched on during a lengthy conversation with a visitor in his Anderson Hall office, from which he serves not only as AD but as the school's vice president of institutional advancement. Krause also spoke about the role of athletics in marketing a university, the inflation in coaches' salaries, the long-term gain of Michael Beasley's short stay at K-State, fundraising for aggressive facilities upgrades, the state of the football program under coach Ron Prince and his own Chicago roots.
Asked what accomplishment he is most proud of having been a part of as right-hand man to the retiring Wefald, Krause didn't hesitate.
"Taking an institution that I really believe had an Avis mentality and seeing a cultural change take place," Krause said. "They were second-best, and they always measured themselves against others, KU in particular."
While recommending Robert Smith Bader's book "Hayseeds, Moralizers, & Methodists," Krause said the lessons of a book that points out "Kansans crave public recognition and validation that they're good," can be applied to K-State athletics.
"Taking a key off that, accomplishing cultural change to where people could understand, 'Look, we don't have to compare ourselves to others. We can't be all things to all people. We'll be good on our own, and you really can't compare yourselves to others. Let's get strong on our own.' Jon's capacity to lead and to get people to dream big dreams to work hard and not give up (has helped to bring about the cultural change)," Krause said.
Athletics Marketing University
The current Wildcats AD also credited Wefald with not shying away from being honest about the importance athletics can play in growing a university.
"Jon understood that it's the front porch," Krause said. "(Former state representative) Joe Knopp ... made a comment to our provost at the time, Jim Coffman. He said, 'We all in the legislature assume that if your sports programs aren't doing well, the whole place is screwed up.' It's not a fair way to evaluate what's going on, but it's so public. I don't see anybody sitting around saying, 'My math team can beat your math team.'''
K-State's aggressive approach to athletics - from welcoming students who weren't academic all-stars in Bill Snyder's football program, to hiring Bob Huggins as the basketball coach at a time his renegade image scared away other institutions, to paying an assistant basketball coach a $420,000 salary - has subjected the athletic department to criticism over the years. Krause doesn't apologize on behalf of the university for coaches pursuing top talent. Besides, he says, Wefald has taken the same approach with the student body in general, often referring to his own academic career as being based more on effort and interactivity than genius in painting K-State as an inclusive university.
"I've never seen the Kentucky Derby won by a mule, never have," Krause said. "You have to have the talent. You have to have the athleticism, and you have to have the fit, and you have to have a good pipeline."
Associate head basketball coach Dalonte Hill, whose yearly pay recently was bumped to $420,000, was the pipeline to Michael Beasley, selected second in this year's NBA Draft. Hill was hired to assist Huggins, and when Huggins' top aide, Frank Martin, was named to replace him, Hill gained a promotion.
"I'm not sure K-State has ever had the access consistently to the talent that Dalonte has, through his hard work and the respect he has earned and the people he has surrounded himself with," Krause said.
Hill delivering Beasley will be the gift that keeps on giving for K-State in terms of marketing the basketball program in particular and the university in general.
"I'd hate to put a value on what the exposure, both print and electronic, has been on Michael," Krause said. "That's an identification with a guy who's a very strong advocate of K-State and in his own words will always be a part of the K-State family. Michael's love for K-State, it's priceless, just priceless."
Defending Ron Prince
Beasley, and to a lesser extent fellow NBA Draft choice Bill Walker, helped to turn K-State back into a school maniacal about basketball. Fan support remains manic for football, but can Prince, entering his third year as coach, give the masses the winner they demand?
Prince used 19 scholarships on junior-college transfers. He is being sued for non-payment by his former agent and is gaining a reputation as a coach who goes through assistant coaches the way Mike Tyson goes through money.
Prince also is working under a rule that might have made it more difficult for Bill Snyder to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college sports history. NCAA rules now require schools to use commercial airline transportation, which puts rural K-State at a disadvantage. K-State used to use the university plane to bring in key recruits, thus avoiding the long drive from the Kansas City airport.
"That's difficult because you've got a major institution (KU) between you and your home base," Krause said. "So you get the last flights at night. The kids are tired, you run 'em hard and get a late-night flight out."
Krause said attempts to band with other rural universities to get the rule changed back amounted to a whisper lost in the loudspeakers that are schools from the Pac-10 and Big Ten. The lobbying effort went nowhere.
"We even tried to say, 'Look we've got a pilot program at Salina, and we have student pilots on the all flights, and that's part of their training.' That didn't wash," Krause said, fighting back a smile. ": It hurt initially, but I think there are ways to overcome it. Frankly, if you want to get totally creative, we could probably stay within bounds and get an RV or an over-the-road bus with DVDs, etc., and we would use that for international students and out-of-state students so it's not just for athletics. In the scheme of things, you spend all your energy trying to find a way to circumvent a rule that if you apply it in terms of refining your recruitment and getting to a point you do more targeted recruiting, rather than shotgun recruiting, you'd be better off."
Prince ran into enough recruiting obstacles that he filled the incoming class with an inordinate number of juco transfers.
"The '98 team had a very high number of junior-college students," Krause reminded. "The recruiting plan that Ron has is the exact same recruiting plan he had when we hired him, so it's not a concern. : From a plan standpoint, you don't want to be in the same place two years down the road that you are now, and ultimately there is a balance. But historically, K-State has always been a place that Bill relied on junior-college transfers."
Krause has a favorite two-part question he uses to defend Prince.
"When was the last time in football a coach in his first two years won at least 12 games and went to a bowl game? Never," Krause said. "When was the last time a coach in his first two years won more than 12 games? It was 1917."
Asked about the fact Prince is being sued by his former agent, who said he has $67,500 coming to him based on a three-percent commission on Prince's five-year deal, Krause answered in the negative.
"I never comment on particular lawsuits," Krause said. "Once lawyers are involved, I let them go. But generally speaking, there is a deep-pocket syndrome, and I always tell my staff there is no way to insulate yourself from lawsuits."
Beefing up facilities
Amid all the controversies that crop up, Krause plows forward in trying to make sure that K-State doesn't get buried and left for dead in the Big 12 facilities arms race. A $70 million facilities expansion project with a 50/50 split between bonding and private donations is in the fundraising stage. The plans call for, among other improvements, a basketball practice facility, a Wildcat Hall of Fame, a new Bramlage Coliseum entrance with a more fan-friendly location for the ticket offices, an expanded press box, new premium seating and other renovations to the west side of Snyder Family Stadium.
When working in other areas of the university, Krause gained a reputation as a skilled fundraiser.
"We expect the same thing from our fans we expect from our athletes and coaches, to put us in a position to compete for championships," Krause said. "Be committed and sacrifice. When it gets tough and you think you can't do it, find a way to do it."
Krause found a way to make a career in higher learning and athletics, even though, looking back, he modestly doesn't give himself a glowing report card in either area.
Complications from an appendicitis prevented him from getting medical clearance to play as a senior at Lane Tech, a school of 6,000 boys at the time. He did play his junior year, in 1959, and has the crooked knuckles to prove it. Lane Tech played Chicago Vocational School in the city championship that year.
"We played CVS to a 6-6 tie and won the game on statistics," Krause said of the old tie-breaker system. "Butkus was playing for CVS. What a load. He played that game with a broken arm in the second half, and he still was a formidable force. He was just a crusher."
Krause went from there to Western Illinois University - he later received a master's from Michigan State - because WIU "didn't require a foreign language. Foreign languages were in the afternoon at Lane Tech, and if you played a sport you were at practice then and didn't have to take one."
His athletic career resumed, however briefly, in college.
"I played ball for a week, week-and-a-half at Western Illinois and I just got to the point I didn't like it," Krause said. "It was a street fight with pads on. Who needs that?"
Every day on the job as AD at K-State is the equivalent of a street fight without pads or punches, and Krause is all-in. He has been Wefald's right-hand man for more than two decades. Will Wefald's successor share Krause's vision of what's best for the athletic department?
Krause smiles, and his answer comes from where all his responses originate, the gut.
"I have a five-year contract," he said.