Musings at the New Year while reflecting on 2017:
— A battle with throat cancer left Bill Snyder looking thinner than ever. The coach joked about his doctor’s orders — eat more and guzzle water — but he kept coaching Kansas State football and the Wildcats claimed a second straight bowl victory. Few wins, however, are better than beating cancer.
— Ned Yost seemed a little out of his tree to not go ahead and retire with the Royals likely facing a rebuild. Then, Yost literally fell out of a tree stand he hunts from at his country estate. The ordeal was scary, but Yost is recovering. He will soon be safely underground again, in the KC dugout.
— Linebacker Joe Dineen missed all but the first three games of the 2016 season for Kansas after suffering a hamstring injury. The Lawrence native bounced back, though, to lead the Bowl Subdivision in unassisted tackles this fall, the brightest development in another trying season for KU.
CONTRASTS CAN BE STARK
— Full crowds in Allen Fieldhouse are always electric for KU hoops. However, the power grid goes unlit during football. Turnouts at Memorial Stadium — now, “The Booth,’’ to borrow from former C-J scribe Tully Corcoran — were among the worst in recent memory as the Jayhawks continued to struggle. Also, donations for a stadium makeover were requested, but David Beaty was retained as KU coach.
— Kansas State fans seem genuinely split on the direction of the football program. While Snyder is a respected icon, his legacy could potentially be jeopardized the longer he stays. The Cats disappointed early in the season, then bounced back to win five of their last six, including the Cactus Bowl. Now, Snyder says he is pondering his future.
— A bold decision to leave the Centennial League and within it high school rivals from Topeka, was approved at Shawnee Heights. Concerns centered on how bigger Centennial League schools put the T-Birds at a competitive disadvantage, particularly in football. Then, Heights went out and claimed a share of the Centennial football title this past season.
TAKE II: CONTRASTS
— Statistical production from Alex Smith was the best the Chiefs quarterback has managed in his NFL career. Yet the lure of the unknown, which includes no scars yet for Patrick Mahomes, makes the first-round pick the enticing QB of the future in KC. How soon Mahomes becomes the starter remains uncertain for a team that flamed, then flubbed, and now flames again as repeat champs in the AFC West.
— FanFest for the Royals is typically a spirited event in which the faithful can stoke the hot stove and bask in the glow. It was different, though, in 2017, because of the tragic death of Yordano Ventura, a pitcher whose vast promise sadly went unfulfilled. The Royals then finished 80-82, their first losing season in five years.
— What is it with KU at Sprint Center? The Jayhawks had a nice NCAA Tournament setup, advancing to the Midwest Regional in KC, with its carnival atmosphere at Power and Light. Yet the Jayhawks fell to Oregon in the Elite Eight. Then they lost at Sprint this season to Washington. Bill Self, in his 15th season as KU coach, has lost 11 games in Allen Fieldhouse but nine at Sprint.
NEW FACES IN PLACES
— Bob Chipman saw many changes in college basketball during his incredible 40-plus years coaching at Washburn, including 38 as head coach. Rules were revised and the Ichabods moved into the NCAA and MIAA during his watch. On the court, new WU coach Brett Ballard inherited a promising group of returnees, sprinkled in some newcomers and the Bods are currently riding a seven-game win streak.
— A man from Iowa happened to work out pretty well for K-State when it attracted Snyder. Gene Taylor also moved from Iowa this past year to become K-State’s athletic director. Taylor seemingly possesses a level head and a measured touch, but takes over at a potentially turbulent time. Snyder ‘s future is a consideration and the trajectory of basketball under Bruce Weber is something to scrutinize.
— A candidate was hired from outside the KSHSAA when Bill Faflick, a longtime Wichita school administrator, was named the new executive director. Faflick helped author a new classification system, which was approved and will go into effect as he begins his oversight.
IS THE GRASS GREENER?
— John Currie always seemed a bit distracted looking for what he considered a bigger and better job. Well, he found it at Tennessee. But only for a few months. A strange, disorganized search for a new football coach led to the displacement of the former Kansas State AD, who left a legacy in Manhattan of building facilities but not relationships.
— Frank Martin was among K-State coaches who did not get along with Currie and left after five seasons to take over a massive rebuild at South Carolina. He not only coached the Gamecocks to their first NCAA Tournament victory in 44 years, but then proceeded to steer them into the Final Four.
— Amani Bledsoe of Lawrence starts at defensive tackle for Oklahoma and will factor into the Sooners’ national championship hopes during Monday’s Rose Bowl, a CFP semifinal. Considered the top recruit in Kansas in 2016, Bledsoe overcame an NCAA suspension he has challenged to continually improve after playing as a true freshman. His college choice came down to OU or KU.
JUDGING THE SCENERY
— An initial visit to Wabaunsee Pines, a nine-hole gem at Lake Wabaunsee, was followed up by another trek around the course later in the summer. The second visit provided a chance to play with Jim Golden, the Silver Lake icon who formerly pitched for this year’s World Series contestants, the Dodgers and Astros. Great fun on a neat course. Special thanks to Ron and Diane Martinak.
— A walk at Lake Shawnee rarely disappoints. Unlike most, I don’t wear headphones, but instead listen to nature. On occasion, nature gets a little coarse when shots drift wayward for those playing golf. Sometimes I spot a ball for the shag bag. Yeah right, like I have a shag bag.
— A special VIP invitation to Firekeeper Golf Course was quite alluring. Better than anything Randy Towner and his staff could manufacture if I were silly enough to take a lesson. I’ll leave it at that.
— Weber coached Kansas State to a victory in the NCAA Tournament but remains winless in first-round games with the Wildcats. That’s because K-State opened in the First Four. It beat Wake Forest. The winter drive to Dayton, by the way, is lovely.
— Frontline help seemed intact for Kansas. Then freshman Billy Preston had a one-car accident on campus, which launched an investigation seeking financial clarity on his automobile. Preston has yet to play, and at this point you wonder just how much help, if any, he provides the Jayhawks.
— Washburn fell in its final regular-season football game at Emporia State, leaving the Turnpike Tusslers with identical 6-5 records. The Ichabods, however, were the team that received a bowl bid, thanks to some advance legwork. WU defeated Angelo State in the Heart of Texas Bowl.
— Phil the Bobcat. ESPN announcers working the Cactus Bowl were taxed to explain the inspirational work of a taxidermist, but K-State players treasure the mystical powers of a stuffed feline they hoist after wins.
— A clubhouse espresso machine became the rally mantis of 2017 for the Royals. The brew poured by reliever Peter Moylan sparked a brief uprising, but eventually KC’s hopes went the way of the coffee grounds.
— Explaining the positive effect of declining night-time temperatures in drag racing is something best left to a crew chief. Splendid conditions prevailed again, though, in May during the Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals, re-establishing Heartland Park’s reputation as the fastest track in motorsports.
To cover: Will Geary, Wesley Iwundu, Landen Lucas, Frank Mason, Trey Parker, Peter Pfannenstiel, Trent Tanking, Nick Walsh and a whole bunch of other seniors.
To meet: Doug Meacham, Josh Nahm, Andy Poling, Mike Racy, Gene Taylor, Teresa White.
To catch up with: Tony Beck, Tim Jankovich, C.B. McGrath, Billy Sims, J.P. Wright, members of the 1994 state champion Shawnee Heights baseball team.
To congratulate (in retirement): Bob Chipman, Don Free, Joan Friedrich, Bob Lutz, Bob Stoops.
To remember (in memoriam): Dixie Barb, Frank Boggs, Dick Brown, Gerald Christensen, Ruth Fairbank, Meredith Head, Mike Murphy, Steve Tilford, Chuck Woodling.
Also, my Aunt Lois, whose pioneer spirit influenced her to leave a job teaching physical education in Wichita in the 1960s and start a Minnesota summer camp instructing girls on horseback riding. She loved a good laugh, along with a Pall Mall, a Jack Daniel’s highball and a bowl of popcorn. Sometimes, in that order.
Contact Kevin Haskin at firstname.lastname@example.org or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.