Take a time machine back to 2005 and try to tell Kansas State wide receivers coach Michael Smith that things would play out like this. He shakes his head while marveling at the ride. On Thursday, the former All-American will coach in his 14th K-State bowl game. In this GoPowercat.com Q&A, he reflects on this season, discusses the prospect of winning 12 games, and looks to the future.
And Smith believes the future looks bright.
First of all, what has this ride been like?
SMITH: "It's been great. The kids really bought into Coach's way of doing things the last few years and it's all culminated into this year. To have the opportunity to be No. 1 in the BCS for the short time we were was something special. These kids can say they were the only team in school history to accomplish that. For me, it's been special and it's always going to be special for me knowing where this program was when I first got here and for these kids to continue to work to become better and to be the type of young men we want them to be when they leave here. I've enjoyed the ride. I know these kids are and I know these coaches are. We've got some unfinished business and we've got to come out and play a really good Oregon football team and play our best game ever."
What would you have said if I'd told you 10 years ago that Bill Snyder would retire, come back, and you'd be a part of this and have the chance to win 12 games as a Top-10 team in the Fiesta Bowl?
SMITH: "I didn't think Coach would ever come back. Once he walked away from it, I thought he was done. I'm glad he did because it gave me another opportunity to come back to my alma mater and to be around a lot of people that I care a lot about. It's special. It's been awesome. If you'd told me 10 years that I'd be back at K-State in any capacity I would've never thought I'd been under Coach Snyder. He's my guy. I played for him and he's really the only guy I've coached under with the exception of two short stints away from here. It's special. It really is."
How many more years do you think Bill Snyder will remain as head coach?
SMITH: "I think he'll do it until the wheels fall off, man, I really do. I don't know if he wants to do anything else. I don't think he liked retirement. I know he didn't. That's why he came back."
How has the program's success in recent years impacted recruiting?
SMITH: "The success has affected it in a positive way. People want to say we're becoming a household name. We've been a household name since Coach's tenure the first time. Do I think some people use the fact that Coach is one of the oldest coaches out there against us, yeah, but the proof is in the pudding, and the thing that's easiest for us to sell is we win football games. We are a family. We do recruit junior college players. Our junior college players play and they play early. The guys who go through our system for four or five years have a lot of success at the next level if it's playing football or in the work force. I think that's what kids come to college for, to be better young men and get that opportunity to further their careers, and they do that at K-State. The success, winning is the main thing. If you want to win, K-State is definitely a school you need to look at."
What are your thoughts on the star ratings -- five-star, four-star, three-star?
SMITH: "I think it's a farce. But who am I to say. I just know I've coached a lot of players that didn't have any stars that were pretty good football players and pretty good guys. It puts a lot of pressure on some of these kids with all those stars and it's sometimes unfair to them because they're given some unreal expectations. Darren Sproles had three stars and he's got seven years in the league. Jordy Nelson didn't have a star. He was a walk-on. You don't have to be a superstar in high school to be a superstar in college. That's what our program has been built on and we're fine with that. We don't have to finish in the top 50 or top 25 in recruiting classes so long as we finish in the top 25 at the end of the season."
You've talked about family and there's a pretty special family in the Locketts. Now you're coaching the youngest one and maybe the best one. What's that family meant for K-State?
SMITH: "Their legacy here at K-State is second-to-none in any sport and in any realm in the school. To have had the opportunity early in my coaching career to be around Kevin and to develop the friendship we've had over the years, and then to coach Aaron when he was here and to develop our friendship, and now to have (Kevin's son) Tyler Lockett, it's really a blessing for me. A lot of people want to put a lot of added pressure on Tyler to be like his father or to be like his uncle, and to his credit, he's so strong in his faith and so strong in his character and in what he believes in and his support system with his whole family is remarkable. Tyler is just an unbelievable person. The thing I love about him is he works his tail off, he's humble, and he wants to be the best. I'm not sure by the time he finishes his career here that he won't be the best. It might not be in the numbers that his father put up, but in the overall football player. He's just a sponge. He soaks up so much knowledge and he's getting good knowledge from his dad, and he's getting really good knowledge from his uncle, and I give him some good credit. The Locketts are royalty in Manhattan, as far as I'm concerned."
Could you see Kevin coming back to assume a position in the K-State athletics department at some point -- athletic director?
SMITH: "Could I see it? Yes. Kevin is bright. That's one thing I've always envied about Kevin. Kevin did it the right way. He wasn't just a superstar on the football field, he was an academic All-American. Kevin's always been really, really good with business and he's a very bright man. He could definitely do it. It wouldn't surprise me. Kevin can do whatever he wants. Kevin's sharp."
What's impressed you the most about this group of wide receivers that you have this season?
SMITH: "Just the way they've stuck together. Last year at the end of the season in the Cotton Bowl we didn't play our best game. We had some attrition with some guys leaving and some guys coming in. This year, it's not just Chris Harper, it's Tramaine Thompson and Curry Sexton and Zach McFall and Torell Miller. They're a great group of guys. The thing I'm most proud of them is the way they've handled themselves in the classroom. I had 12 guys make The Commissioner's Honor Roll. That goes unnoticed to the public eye because they just come watch them play, but they're doing it like Kevin, and they're doing it the right way. I challenge my guys -- 'Don't be like me, be better than me.' I told them from an athletic standpoint I left here with some high accolades but academically I didn't reach my potential. These guys have taken that to heart and have done that. They're really good football players and they're exceptional students. That makes my job easy, it makes our room awesome. We have a lot of fun together and I'm proud of all of them. They do it right and it's what makes being a college football coach worth it."
How strong could this wide receiving corps be next season?
SMITH: "We have a chance to be, if not better, a chance to be really, really good. Of course, it's going to be tough to replace Chris Harper and what he's done for this program, but with the leadership of Tramaine, Curry and Tyler and Torell and Cody Harrison -- Cody has probably made the most strides since he's been here as a wide receiver. He practices and does things right and he's set a standard for that position. Curry and Tramaine and Tyler have set a standard for that position. That's kind of how it was when I left here. Then Kevin and Tyson (Schweiger) came in. You set a standard and those guys have to live up to those expectations and that's where tradition starts. We're gaining that tradition back again and that's fun to watch. We've got a chance to be really, really good.
"These guys have been around each other for three years. Tramaine is the first kid I've had since the beginning since we came back. I've got to believe people have seen the progress he's made and the type of the football player he's become. That's a credit to him for buying in. We've got a special group, man. We really do. If we were in one of those offenses where they throw the football all the time, these kids would put up the type of numbers a lot of these kids around the country are putting up, but that's a credit to them. They're not selfish. They're all about team and family and we're going to go out and do what we have to do to help our team win."
This team and this program will move on after this game Thursday. Where do you see this team coming back next season and how good could this team and this offense be again?
SMITH: "We have the opportunity again to be a really good football team. I think that's just a testament to our coaching staff and Coach Snyder and our support staff. The things are in line here to continue to be successful. We've had great leadership and we're going to lose some great leaders. Anytime you lose 27 seniors, people on paper are going to be like -- 'Oh, I'm really concerned,' -- but there was a run there where we had those 11-win seasons and we'd lost a lot of seniors, but the kids had finally bought into it. They know what to expect from us and they know we're going to have high expectations for them. We're going to come back and just reload and play Kansas State football. People want to say that we don't look flashy and we don't do this, and that's fine, but there's nobody in this country that wouldn't want to trade places with us right now to be in the Fiesta Bowl."
Can Jake Waters be flashy?
SMITH: "He can be whatever he wants to be. We're going to play to our team's talents. Were we flashy when we had Michael Bishop? No. Were we flashy when we had Ell Roberson? No. But those guys were good quarterbacks. We're going to play to our kids' abilities. We're going to do what we do. We're going to get the type of kids that fit into what we do. Can Jake Waters be flashy? If he wants to be. If it helps us win. That's fine with us. He's a hell of a player, a hell of a player, but he's got to come in and compete with some guys that we have here right now. It's not his job yet."
What will it mean to you if this team is able to finish out with 12 wins for the first time in school history?
SMITH: "It'd mean the world to me. It'd mean the world to me for these guys. I try to stress that with them every day that we go into a meeting. Being a K-Stater and being involved with this program for the last 20 years, it'd be really special, and I'd be so excited and proud of these guys, and that's something I've told them that no one will ever take away from them. When you're the first to do something, that's really special. These guys have that opportunity."
The 1998 team, they were expected to do well. This team was expected to finish sixth in the Big 12. What does that say?
SMITH: "It's more gratifying because we don't have the 'big' names. You look at it and it's pretty parallel. You have Collin Klein up for the Heisman and Michael Bishop was up for the Heisman. You've got Arthur Brown getting the defensive recognition. You've got Anthony Cantele and Martin Gramatica. Aaron Lockett and David Allen. Now you've got Tramaine and Tyler. There are a lot of similarities. But the biggest similarity is they just play K-State football, man. We went out there and competed and won the games. We had the little setback and we had a setback in 1998. Now our biggest deal is how we respond, which these kids showed they could do against Texas. We've just got to keep it going in the Fiesta Bowl."