History: Those Who Have Come Before Currie

For 38 years, yours truly has followed Kansas State's athletic story on a daily basis. That includes working with each of the last 11 ADs, which includes John Currie, who slides into the No. 1 chair next Monday. Here are some snippets on what made, or undid, those who have come before Currie.

When John Currie settles into his ADing chair on Monday, he will become 15th man to have served as athletics director at Kansas State University.

Fifteen men who have learned first hand that it is an ultra-difficult task due to the ever-financial limitations of the institution compared to its Big 12 cousins.

Today, that has never been truer.

With the hiring of Currie last month, it stirred reflections about those who came before him in my 38 years of covering Kansas State athletics.

Ernie "Mr. K-State" Barrett was the first I had the pleasure to work with. Barrett was, and is, a true icon within the Wildcat Nation. One shudders to think where the department would be without his leadership, commitment and extraordinary fundraising abilities where deals were finalized with his bone-crunching handshake.

Just go to the northwest corner of the K-State campus and do a visual tour of the landscape. The football stadium and Vanier Complex. Bramlage Coliseum. Tointon Family Stadium. R.V. Christian Track. And just over the horizon, the Colbert Hills Golf Course.

All are facilities constructed through Barrett's efforts as AD (1969-75), and afterward in his tireless role toward development for the overall university.

Vivid in my memory bank was the day that Barrett was removed from his position by President Duane Acker. With him going down, and me going up the stairs to the Ahearn offices, I offered a, "How ya doing? Where ya going?" comment.

To this day, I remember his reply: "Mark, I'm going to get fired."

I didn't believe it until I stuck my head in the door of his office where his secretary, Marge Knoor, was in tears. Only then did the reality ... the unthinkable ... set in that "Mr. K-State" was being fired.

It was just one of multiple happenings that defined Dr. Duane Acker's apathy toward athletics that sent the department in a downward spiral during his presidential watch from 1977-1986.

As an assistant to AD Bebe Lee, Barrett assisted with the hiring of Vince Gibson, plus had slam-dunk hires in basketball coaches Cotton Fitzsimmons and Jack Hartman. But he also fumbled with the naming of football coach Ellis Rainsberger, who went 0-21 in Big 8 play during his three-year stay from 1975-77.

With constant nudging ... no, make that prodding ... by women's coach Judy Akers, K-State was also a leader in the Title IX movement during the Barrett era.

John "Jersey" Jermier was next in the AD's chair in 1976 and 1977. He was out of the "old football coach" mold, but not even that could help Rainsberger win games, nor count scholarships. The Jermier era ended with a three-year probation due to football handing out scholarships like trick or treat candy.

Of his departure from K-State, Jermier, who does get credit for the hire of Jim Dickey, once told me, "I left Kansas State because of ill health. The president was getting sick of me."

Before leaving KSU, Jermier scheduled four football games against his former school of Northern Iowa. The 1-AA Panthers would win three of those games and K-State would buy-out of the fourth game.

K-State hired one of its own to restore order with the naming of former track standout, and Wildcat track and field coach, DeLoss Dodds, who was an assistant commissioner in the Big 8 Conference office.

The cool and calm, pipe-smoking Dodds took the next three years to bring respect and stability back to the department before taking off for the University of Texas, where he still serves as AD.

The next hire was Dick Towers. It was an unusual selection only because the former Wildcat sprinter was coming out of the high school ranks as athletics director at Great Bend High School.

When you take a look at those lights at Bill Snyder Stadium, even as sad sack as KSU's football program was from 1981-85, it was Towers who had the vision that if the Wildcats had the availability to play at night, the TV cameras would come. And they did.

Losing football games hurt fund raising, and that limited Towers' longevity even though he was in place for KSU's first-ever bowl game - the 1982 Independence Bowl.

Three years later, Towers said, "I was fired because I did not fire Jim Dickey, plain and simple. That's the bottom line."

Enter Larry Travis, with right-hand man Lee Moon, from 1985-88.

Maybe it was the fact that Travis was a former Kansas Jayhawk coach, but the marriage was on the rocks from the start.

The most vivid memory of Travis will be his standing outside the KSU football locker room just two games into the 1985 season. He fired Dickey after a 10-6 loss to Northern Iowa. The ax fell even before Dickey was allowed to talk to his team.

Travis named Moon as interim coach, and later hired Stan Parrish from Marshall. Parrish would go 2-30-1 from 1986-88.

During the Towers era, Steve Miller was hired as KSU's track and field coach in 1982. Miller stayed through 1986 when he left to become president of the Special Olympics for a year, and then returned to K-State as AD from 1988-91.

The rapid-chattering, self-promoting, fast-spending Miller brought enthusiasm back to the Wildcat Nation, and of course, was in command when a little known assistant football coach from Iowa named Snyder ... Bill Snyder ... was given his first opportunity to be a head football coach.

As they say, the rest is history.

When Miller took a position in the Nike family in 1991, an exact opposite personality was hired in Temple AD Milt Richards, whose first, second and third charge was to balance the financial books that Miller left in disarray.

Already boyish-looking, Richards was made to look even younger when he was dressed in a KSU letter jacket at the initial press conference.

Currently the AD at California State University Stanislaus, Richards did bring order to the Wildcat books, but he was never a comfortable fit with boosters, especially when he mingled with western Kansas cattlemen.

Not to be forgotten, however, is that under Richards' watch, the campaign was started, and completed, for the indoor football facility, and plans were initiated for a new press box with KSU becoming one of the first in the Big 12 to make plans for luxury suites.

Coming from Iowa State University, Max Urick succeeded Richards bringing with him the reputation of being a coaches' and student-athlete's AD.

When Richards was hired in 1991, KSU had an $8 million budget; when Urick resigned a decade later, it was just under $20 million. Today the budget is over $40 million.

With Urick, Kansas State had a leader in place with conservative values. He did what was right for the personality of the school, refusing to get into comparing size of facilities and dollars spent with league rivals.

"I think we get more bang for our buck here at Kansas State," said Urick, who added the sports of rowing and equestrian during his tenure when other financially strapped schools around the country were dropping programs.

The timing of Urick's tenure couldn't have been better as he was in place when Snyder's "Miracle In Manhattan" took off in 1993.

Tim Weiser entered in 2002 and continued to build on Urick's foundation, and benefited with the fact that Snyder continued to win, which included a 2003 Big 12 Championship. With moods high, Weiser was able to stockpile dollars as an emergency slush fund before departing to the Big 12 office in 2008.

Weiser will be remembered for revitalizing KSU basketball with the gambling hire of Bob Huggins, but also rolling craps with the hire of Ron Prince as football coach.

Bob Krause replaced Weiser making the move from Anderson Hall where he served as President Jon Wefald's partner. In a matter of months, all the extra funds set aside evaporated through mega-payouts to Weiser and the re-writing of the Prince contract.

Today, yet another chapter in the history of K-State athletics begins with first-year AD Currie being called on to patch the crumbling foundation of the department and to restore financial responsibility. It will be a daunting task.


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