K-State’s 25-24 comeback victory against Texas Tech on Saturday was a much-needed win for Chris Klieman’s Wildcats. They were behind 14-0 before the offense took one snap and were still behind 24-10 at the half. The defense played well in the second half, shutting out Texas Tech and scoring enough on offense to get the one-point victory.
It has always been pretty interesting to me how the fan bases of each team view a game like this one. K-State fans saw this game as another slow start in which the team eventually adjusted and shut down Texas Tech, earning a hard-fought comeback victory. Texas Tech fans saw this game as an epic collapse that they blew but should have won. Athletic director Kirby Hocutt agreed, firing Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells on Monday following the game. Usually, a lot of things have to happen for an athletic director to fire a coach mid-season. Tech fans have been happy with Wells, but they were 5-3 on the season and still could have become bowl eligible with one more victory. It also marked the second time in recent history that a coach has been fired mid-season immediately after losing to Kansas State. The other was Paul Rhoades in 2015.
There is a running joke among K-State fans that losing to the Wildcats is the last straw for athletic directors when deciding to fire their football coach. It has happened more than a few times over the years. I thought I would look back over the years and make a list of coaches that got fired immediately after losing to K-State or shortly after losing to them. Here is what I came up with.
Frank Solich coached the Nebraska Cornhuskers from 1998 to 2003. During those years, either Nebraska, Colorado, or Kansas State won the Big 12 North. K-State won it three times, Colorado twice, and Nebraska once. From 1992 to 1997, Nebraska won the Big 8 championship or the Big 12 North every year. In 1998, K-State won the Big 12 North. In six seasons of coaching against Frank Solich, Bill Snyder had a 4-2 record against those Nebraska teams. When K-State kept Nebraska out of the Big 12 Championship game in 2003 by beating Nebraska 38-9 in Lincoln, it was the last straw for Nebraska fans and the administration. Solich was fired on November 30, 2003, two weeks after losing to K-State at home. Even a victory against Colorado in the last game of the 2003 season was not enough to save Solich’s job.
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoades was fired the morning after losing to K-State on November 21, 2015. Iowa State had a 35-14 lead at halftime and had a 35-28 lead with 91 seconds remaining in the game, and somehow, K-State still managed to win 38-35 in regulation. It was a crazy game and the ending was badly mismanaged by Iowa State. It took no time at all for the Iowa State administration to decide to move on from Rhoades.
Terry Allen coached the Kansas Jayhawks from 1997 to 2001. In those five years, he went winless against K-State and lost by an average score of 49 to 10. The 40-6 loss to the Wildcats on October 27, 2001, was most likely the catalyst to him getting fired even though he lasted another week, losing 51-7 to number two ranked Nebraska before being fired the next day.
Kingsbury was fired on November 25, 2018, eight days after losing to K-State 21 to 6 in Manhattan. Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt made these comments following the K-State game: “We’ve talked on this show about our expectations and where we aspire to be and wanting to be relevant. But you are what your record says you are, and we’re not where we expect to be. You know, football is the ultimate team sport. You have 11 men on the field and you’re only going to be as successful as each individual executes their responsibility. Unfortunately, we just seem to continue to have lapses in focus, lack of discipline at certain times. Those mistakes, those penalties continue to affect us and the success we’re not experiencing right now.” Kingsbury had a 1-5 record versus K-State in his six years in Lubbock. The 21-6 loss in 2018 was bad enough that the athletic director felt the need to make a public statement of displeasure with the program. A week later he was fired.
Larry Smith coached the Missouri Tigers for seven seasons from 1994 to 2000. He never beat the Kansas State Wildcats coached by Bill Snyder. The Tigers lost to the Wildcats 66-0 in 1999. Smith was fired immediately after a 28-24 loss to K-State in the final game of the 2000 season. Was his firing directly related to losing to K-State? Perhaps not, but his failure to beat K-State and Bill Snyder was a likely reason he was let go.
What can we surmise from all of this? If you are a coach in the Big 12 and want to keep your job, you had better not lose to Kansas State.