Jim Leavitt made a verbal agreement with Kansas State last year to become the Wildcats’ head coach-in-waiting but Bill Snyder nixed the plan, according to a report from former ESPN college football writer Brett McMurphy.
The report, citing anonymous sources, said that Snyder prevented the deal from going through, because he wanted his son Sean to replace him.
Top K-State administrators, including university president Richard Myers, were reportedly on board with Leavitt joining Snyder’s coaching staff and ultimately taking over whenever Snyder decided to retire. The plan was for Leavitt, then Colorado’s defensive coordinator, to work under Snyder in 2017 and become head coach in 2018. Part of the reported agreement guaranteed Leavitt $3 million if he wasn’t named K-State’s head coach by Jan 1, 2018.
Snyder pushed back against the plan last December and threw his support behind his son to become his successor. Sean Snyder, K-State’s associate head coach and special teams coordinator, has long been Snyder’s top choice for his replacement.
Leavitt, a former K-State assistant, has since left Colorado and is now the defensive coordinator at Oregon. His contract includes a special stipulation that would allow him to terminate his contract with the Ducks without paying a buyout if he is named the head coach at K-State.
K-State athletics issued the following statement in response to the report: “As has been the case and stated many times, Coach Snyder is our football coach and will remain coach until he decides otherwise.”
On Thursday, Leavitt refuted some of the details in a statement to GoPowercat.com, saying that he has never had a desire to be a coach-in-waiting.
“I always have been and always will be Coach Snyder’s number one fan,” Leavitt told the website. “If Coach ever retires, which may not be for some time, I would want whatever is best for KSU and the people of Kansas. Hopefully sometime soon I will have the opportunity to be a head coach again. For now my only concern is to help build our defense at Oregon.”
Former Kansas State athletic director John Currie, now at Tennessee, did not respond to a message seeking comment. Myers was traveling overseas on business and unavailable for comment, according to K-State vice president for communications and marketing Jeffrey Morris.
Two K-State boosters, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said it was a “poorly kept secret” that Leavitt was Currie’s choice to replace Snyder. But they were surprised by the report, saying they were unaware a hand-shake agreement with financial terms was ever in place.
The report illustrates the politics that have been involved with discussions surrounding Snyder’s future and will remain until he decides to retire.
Snyder, 78, is nearing the end of a Hall of Fame coaching career in which he has won 207 games and two conference championships. He took over a moribund football program in 1989 and turned it into a consistent winner, guiding the Wildcats to 18 bowls.
He coached from 1989 until 2005, deciding to retire in the midst of back-to-back losing seasons. But he returned to the sideline in 2009 to help rebuild the Wildcats after three mediocre years under Ron Prince. He has said he will continue coaching as long as he thinks he is making a positive impact on K-State players and the entire program.
On several occasions, he has publicly endorsed Sean as his ideal replacement.
Sean Snyder, a former K-State punter, has a long history with the Wildcats and is currently up for the Broyles Award as one of the nation’s top assistants. But few share Bill Snyder’s enthusiasm for his son taking over as head coach.
Fans have long kicked around the idea of Leavitt as a replacement option. Leavitt was an assistant under Snyder in the early 1990s before leaving to be the first head coach at South Florida. There, he built the Bulls into a regular winner, before losing his job in 2009 over allegations of player mistreatment.
Leavitt was considered a candidate to replace Snyder when he retired in 2005, but timing issues and other obstacles got in the way of that possibility. Leavitt later flirted with joining Snyder’s staff as defensive coordinator after he left South Florida, but instead took a job coaching linebackers with the San Francisco 49ers. He returned to the college ranks with Colorado, and is now leading Oregon’s defense.
K-State administrators were reportedly ready to approach Snyder again about approving Leavitt as his replacement early this year, but they backed off when Snyder was diagnosed with throat cancer.
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett