Snyder admired for improbable success at K-State
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- While creating his "Miracle in Manhattan" and taking Kansas State from the depths to the heights of college football, Bill Snyder left lasting impressions on those who worked with him.
Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, Arizona's Mike Stoops, SMU's Phil Bennett, Kansas' Mark Mangino and South Florida's Jim Leavitt are only a few of Snyder's former assistants who have become head coaches.
In 1988, I covered a game between 0-8 Kansas and 0-8 Kansas State. The idea was to describe the bottom rung of the college football ladder. The Jayhawks, with first-year coach Glen Mason, beat the Wildcats 30-12.
That was the state of the program when Bill Snyder arrived in Manhattan from Iowa a few months later. The state of the Wildcats as he retires Tuesday is simply this: Kansas State went 4-7 last year and is 4-6 this season. Twenty years ago, eight wins in two seasons would have gotten him a parade through the Little Apple.
Snyder used astute scheduling and recruited a lot of junior college players to bring the Wildcats to respectability. He also hired outstanding coaches and worked them hard. Six former assistants have I-A head coaching jobs: Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Mike Stoops (Arizona), Jim Leavitt (South Florida), Mark Mangino (Kansas), Phil Bennett (SMU) and, beginning in a couple of weeks, Bret Bielema, who will replace Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin.
It's also worth noting that Kansas State began to struggle as the NCAA ratcheted up the academic progress demands on players. Snyder recruited heavily at the academic margins. That's not a judgment -- that's the reality of luring players to Manhattan. That we're even having this discussion is an indication of what Snyder built.
Snyder and Alvarez coached together for Hayden Fry at Iowa. Snyder turned Kansas State around. A year later, Alvarez arrived at Wisconsin and turned around another dormant program. They are the two best rebuilding jobs in my lifetime.
Come to think of it, though, only Alvarez rebuilt. Snyder built something on an empty lot. He has 135 wins in 17 seasons. In the previous 54 seasons, the Wildcats had won 137 games. For that reason alone, I would be stunned if Snyder doesn't arrive at the College Football Hall of Fame in three years.
-- Ivan Maisel
"He taught us how to coach," Mike Stoops said. "His legacy will always be a relentless work ethic and unquestioning loyalty. And it was the greatest turnaround in college football history. That's as true a statement as anybody can make."
Snyder, who announced Tuesday that he plans to retire as Kansas State's coach after this season, will stay on until his successor is named. Athletic director Tim Weiser isn't saying how long that will be, or speculating on who will be charged with following Snyder.
Snyder will stay on the university's payroll as a special assistant to Weiser, but that won't require the long hours that helped define Snyder's 17-year tenure.
"I don't know how I'll deal with it," he said at a news conference announcing his decision. "I really don't know. I'm going to find out."
When Snyder arrived from Hayden Fry's Iowa staff at the end of the 1988 season, Kansas State was the only major college program with 500 all-time losses. The school's creaking, rusty, early-50s facilities didn't measure up even to those of top-flight high schools.
Many felt it was time for Kansas State to withdraw from collegiate competition, as Wichita State had done, and leave the University of Kansas as the only big-time football program in the sparsely populated Sunflower State.
"I don't believe as much as you write about it, you truly know how down it was and how poor and how bad it was," Bob Stoops said. "The facilities, the players on scholarships ... their budget at the time and what their opportunities were to do it.
"What he has been able to do is just remarkable."
Chuck Neinas, the founder of the College Football Association and former commissioner of the Big Eight Conference, often gets asked the same question almost everywhere he goes.
"They say, 'How did Bill Snyder do it at Kansas State?'" Neinas said.
In those dark early days, before high school superstars would even return his calls, Snyder was forced to develop an uncanny knack for sizing up a young athlete's potential. The foundation of the program that would one day capture a Big 12 championship and play in 11 straight bowls was laid with average athletes who were coached to their utmost performance.
"The blue-chippers wouldn't even talk to Kansas State," Neinas said. "So Bill and his staff had to be so very, very careful to find kids they could develop into good players. Then as they started winning, the blue chip players started paying attention to them.
"The construction project Bill did at Kansas State is unsurpassed in my memory in terms of developing a program."
Snyder, whose last game will be Saturday at home against Missouri, noted that he will leave the next coach with 18 returning starters, and the sort of lowered expectations and pressures that come with two straight losing seasons.
On The Herd on ESPN Radio, Colin Cowherd said Bill Snyder accomplished one of the toughest things in sports: "He won and he won big at Kansas State."
Cowherd called Snyder's success "the single greatest coaching job in the history college sports."
"I think the time is right ... because first and foremost, it's best for the university," said Snyder, whose 135-68-1 record Manhattan includes a run of 11 straight bowl games that began with the 1993 season. "I think that because of the nature of the profession that we are in, it becomes a difficult thing to follow a great deal of success."
After winning the Big 12 championship in 2003, the Wildcats have stumbled to two straight losing seasons.
Kansas State, (4-6, 1-6 Big 12) has failed to qualify for a bowl game for the second straight year, the first time since 1991 and 1992 that Kansas State missed bowl games in consecutive seasons.
But those recent struggles haven't made Snyder's departure any easier to take, senior offensive tackle Jeromey Clary said.
When Snyder told the team Monday night that he was leaving, Clary said, "I sat by my locker, and tears ran down my face. The man was a legend. He made some of my dreams come true."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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