MANHATTAN — Gene Taylor took over as Kansas State athletic director five months ago, but that didn’t stop him from feeling new to the job while he experienced his first football game last week.
“At times, I caught myself going, ‘Oh yeah, I’m the athletic director here. This is kind of cool,’” Taylor said in an interview with the Eagle. “Coming in as an opposing athletic director, you are more focused on the game and your team than the crowd. I was just amazed by the atmosphere. It was great to be able to soak it all in.”
Taylor has supervised games in similar roles at North Dakota State, a FCS powerhouse, and Iowa, a tradition-rich Big Ten member, so he was eager to experience a K-State home game from his new vantage point.
It exceeded expectations.
Taylor is actually 2-0 at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. But he ranks his most recent victory (K-State 55, Central Arkansas 19) higher than his first (North Dakota State 24, K-State 21). He liked the pregame buildup and loved the final score. In time, he may suggest a few changes to enhance the experience, but he was mostly impressed by what he saw.
In some ways, K-State’s season-opener was a culmination of all the work he has put in since arriving in May.
Though he hasn’t spent much time in the public eye, made any splashy hires or broken ground on new facilities, he has been busy. So busy, it turns out, that he hasn’t found time to decorate his office. His walls are completely bare and his shelves are empty. The only conversation piece in the room is a K-State football jersey that sports his last name.
“I don’t want people to think since there has not been a lot of news or great big decisions that we are sitting here being complacent,” Taylor said. “I want them to know there is a lot of work being done. We have been methodical, but we are moving the department forward.”
Taylor’s main task so far: listening.
He says he has met with nearly every member of the K-State athletic department (170 strong) and chatted with donors across the nation. He has spent countless days on the road, getting to know everything he can about the Wildcat family and the Big 12.
“My personality is one to kind of learn and listen,” Taylor said. “I have found that to be effective. I have a tendency to come in and listen and learn for six, seven, eight months and then formulate a plan about what our next steps are going to be. That will be my plan here, too.”
All that listening led to some notable decisions, like a contract extension for K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber, and noteworthy goals, such as the creation of a facility master plan that will improve on the resources that are already in place.
They also convinced him he had a strong administrative staff in place. He chose to promote the majority of K-State’s athletic administrators rather than bring in new faces.
“When I got to North Dakota State I planned to make dramatic changes and was ready to come in and really set the world on fire,” Taylor said. “But as I met with staff I found they were still very hungry administrators. Turns out, we were in a pretty good place ... It’s the same way here. I really felt comfortable with who was here and thought it was a great time to reshuffle the deck.”
Taylor hopes to make some bigger announcements soon. He says K-State plans to announce renovation plans for its baseball and soccer stadiums in the next month. He would like to put a master plan for facilities on paper shortly after.
Soon, it will be time to stop listening and start producing.
Taylor is looking forward to K-State’s next football game, and he is hoping to improve to 3-0 inside Snyder Family Stadium. But he is focused on much more than that.
“The message I have received most from our donors, fans and support staff is that we want to keep moving forward and keep getting better,” Taylor said. “That message is pretty loud and clear, and I love that. We are in a great place, but I don’t want to get complacent. Whether it is facilities, the budget or our staff, we want to keep pushing the program to get better.”