KSU's Prince battling the past

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Ron Prince didn't inherit the easiest situation for his first head-coaching position.

Coming to Kansas State brought him to a program familiar with BCS bowls and conference championships. And it also brought him to a place where his predecessor, Bill Snyder, remains a certifiable coaching legend -- even down to having the stadium named after him -- and is still a formidable presence around the program.

Prince has tried to establish his own coaching identity in Snyder's shadow. After two seasons, it hasn't been easy.

The Wildcats tied for second in his first season coaching there in 2006, notching big wins at Colorado and over Texas to fuel a trip to the Texas Bowl. But their 37-10 loss to Rutgers in that game snuffed any real momentum he could claim coming out of the postseason action.

Last year, KSU played strongly at Auburn in their opener, manhandled Texas in their conference opener and were sitting in strong bowl contention with a 5-3 record.

But a late-season defensive slump saw them torched for 198 points in four losses to finish the season. It was the most points that KSU had ever allowed in a four-game period. The defense was blistered for at least 500 yards in three of their final six games.

Those late defeats have placed Prince and his program in the cross hairs heading into the 2008 season.

To shore up his program, he picked up 19 junior-college transfers with most of them targeted to provide immediate defensive help. But most of them didn't arrive in time for spring practice, meaning they will learn as they go while preparing for the upcoming season.

The Wildcats return only 12 starters from last season. They will face a killer schedule that includes Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Oklahoma from the South Division. Quarterback Josh Freeman, Prince's most ballyhooed recruit, has been mistake-prone during his first two seasons as a starter.

Two other factors are in place that weigh against Prince. He's coaching at KSU while archrival Kansas is undergoing a football renaissance under Mark Mangino. Prince is 0-2 against the Jayhawks, including a home loss last year that was KSU's first to the Jayhawks in Manhattan since 1989.

It's not hard for KSU fans to think back to the success that Snyder once had against the Jayhawks. After losing three of his first four games to Kansas, Snyder ran off an 11-game winning streak and won 13 of his last 14 games against Kansas.

The hiring of university administrator Bob Krause as KSU's new athletic director earlier this year could be viewed as a negative for Prince's long-term security, considering that Krause didn't originally hire him.

Krause has acknowledged that he's working on a contract extension for Prince and could have one soon. Prince is currently paid $760,000 per season, making him the Big 12's lowest-paid coach.

But those deals don't always mean much. Just ask former Texas coach John Mackovic or former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan, who were both let go less than a year after they signed similar extensions.

The Wildcats dropped a game against Fresno State and replaced it with a contest against FCS program Montana State for the upcoming season. The move should make it easier to reach six wins and qualify for a bowl trip.

And Prince is clearly pointing for next season. Freeman will be a senior and the defense should be settled with more experience from the junior-college class.

That team could be his best. But it remains to be seen whether Prince will be around to make his own lasting imprint on the KSU program.