Bill Snyder came to Kansas State 30 years ago last week for a salary of $85,000 to take over a program that had a 27-game winless streak, four winning seasons in the previous 52 years, few players and fewer hopes. He leaves with 215 victories, a College Football Hall of Fame career and the respect of the entire sport.
We know that college football will continue without Snyder. It has already done so once. Snyder left after the 2005 season, already a legend for having transformed Manhattan, Kansas, from an outpost to a winning outpost. The program floundered for three seasons without him; Snyder returned in 2009 and in three years had the Wildcats winning again.
Their record of 82-51 over the past 10 seasons speaks to his ability, even in his late 70s, to reach "youngsters," as he quaintly referred to his players. He had some old-school habits, such as being a prolific note-writer, all in purple Sharpie. And now Snyder, 79, a softer-edged, more grandfatherly figure than before, leaves again.
You could forgive his taciturn nature in his first tenure. There was just so much to do. Here's how bad Kansas State played before he arrived: From 1986 to '88, Barry Switzer's Oklahoma teams scored 56, 59, and 70 points against the Wildcats. In a four-game streak from 1985 to '88, Kansas State failed to score a touchdown against Tom Osborne's Nebraska teams.
Snyder recruited regional players others overlooked. He took chances other coaches would not take, though in retrospect, some of them hardly seem like chances at all. His biggest star, quarterback Michael Bishop, came to Kansas State after leading Blinn (Texas) Junior College to consecutive national championships. Other coaches wanted Bishop to play defensive back. In two seasons under Snyder, Bishop led the Wildcats to 22 victories and won the 1998 Davey O'Brien Award.
Although his magic in rebuilding Kansas State has been recounted many times, few have pointed out the most important aspect of Snyder's achievement: He stayed. Great coaches led Kansas State to success before World War II. But they earned their Hall of Fame credentials elsewhere: Charlie Bachman at Florida and Michigan State; Bo McMillin at Indiana; Pappy Waldorf, after staying at Kansas State for only one season, at Northwestern and California.
Snyder stayed. He won one game in that first season, and in 26 more seasons, he won fewer than five only once. More importantly, he coached nine teams to at least 10 victories, went to 19 bowl games and won two Big 12 championships. Every other coach in Kansas State history combined for one 10-win season and two bowl games. Snyder had one team that reached No. 1, in 2012, and one that should have, in 1998, and perhaps it is a credit to his career that he made the Wildcats good enough to suffer the soul-crushing defeats that haunt so many fan bases across the country.
Snyder's attention to -- and mastery of -- detail is legendary. During his first tenure at Kansas State, he pushed himself so hard that he ate only one meal a day. Bret Bielema, the former head coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas who coached for Snyder at Kansas State, once recalled a staff meeting in which Snyder explained how to shave (upward strokes, if you must know).
From 1997 to 2000, Kansas State had few peers. The Wildcats won 44 games in those years, tied with Nebraska and second only to Florida State, which won 45. During that run, in 1998, No. 2 Kansas State stood one win over No. 10 Texas A&M away from clinching a spot in the inaugural BCS Championship Game. The Wildcats led the Aggies 27-12 in the fourth quarter before losing 36-33 in double overtime. In 2012, the week that Kansas State ascended to No. 1 for the first time, the Wildcats lost at Baylor 52-24.
Snyder admitted after the game that his team hadn't handled well the attention that comes with being No. 1. The Wildcats fell to No. 7 after the loss and haven't returned to the top five since. But that's not to say they didn't succeed. At 5-7, this is the first Kansas State team that failed to qualify for a bowl game since 2009, the first year of Snyder's second tenure.
Snyder laughed more often and did more interviews in his second go-around. He spoke wistfully of the sacrifices his family made for his career. When he retired the first time, and Kansas State moved to name Memorial Stadium for him, he insisted that it be called the Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
His son Sean became an All-American punter for him and has been a fixture on his staff for many years. Snyder made no secret of wanting Sean to succeed him as head coach. If that were going to happen, it already would have been announced. As much of a fiefdom as Kansas State appeared to be, it seems the Snyder legacy will remain fixed on three decades of winning football and the coach's name on the stadium. That's way more than anyone foresaw the day he was hired.