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The Return of the King


Considering that I’m the last contributor on this site that’s chimed in about this topic, and this hire is now a week old, I feel that I need to take a different approach than EMAW (who wrote about this before the hire) and TB (who chimed in almost immediately after). Both of them did a great job of capturing the arguments and emotion of these two distinct time frames in the coaching search life cycle, but I will go ahead and dump my thoughts into more of a retrospective look at the rehiring of legendary head coach Bill Snyder.

Now, in the past week, there have been a number of excellent journalists, bloggers, and message board posters who have chimed in on this.  The reactions have been varied, as Curtis Kitchen pointed out in his guest contribution last Friday, but for the most part, I believe that most fans have gotten behind the hire even if they were initially apprehensive, a little shocked, or in some cases, pretty damn angry.

Admittedly, I fell into the latter of those three camps.  Those of you who post on probably witnessed my reaction first-hand, and needless to say, I was not happy about it.

Now, first of all, I don't want to give the impression that I dislike Bill Snyder.  That's not even remotely true.  Personally, he's one of my idols, and I honestly consider him to be an inspiration.  I believe that his thoughts on leadership (on and off of the football field) are amazingly insightful and applicable to almost any situation.  I find him to be a truly remarkable man, and I believe that every K-State fan, student, and alumni owe him an immeasurable debt of gratitude for what he's given to our university.   Also, I believe he is one of the greatest football minds of this (or any) generation, and the results speak for themselves.

The issue that I've had with this hire (and still do) is that there's an existing stigma that only one coach can win at Kansas State, and to me, this move simply reinforces that.  While some stigmas are nothing more than hyperbole or a misrepresentation of the facts, this is actually very true if you look at the history of K-State football.  Prior to Bill Snyder, you have to go back to 1934 (Lynn Waldorf) to find another football coach at Kansas State with an overall winning record.  Eighty-four percent of all bowl games have occured during Bill Snyder's tenure, and either he or someone that played for him holds nearly every record in the KSU record books.  If Josh Freeman comes back, that percentage will be even higher.

To be completely blunt, Kansas State football begins and ends with Bill Snyder.  Period.   The perception actually is the reality.

Now, this is probably an insult to the players and coaches who participated in the program during the other ninety-four seasons that Kansas State has fielded a football team, but facts are facts; Bill Snyder wrote the record book, filled the trophy case, and the stadium rightfully has his name on it.  He is the king, and this football program (and K-State in general) is his kingdom.  His mere presence in the stadium every Satruday casts a shadow so large that it seems to eclipse the game itself.

If you don't believe that, ask yourself this question; when things started going south this year, did you look over towards his suite and think, "I wonder what Bill's thinking right now?"

I know that I asked myself that multiple times, and I'm betting that I'm not the only one.

When Ron Prince's program began spiraling out of control, and he was hasily removed three-quarters of the way through the season, it appeared that K-State had an opportunity to re-establish the program with a respected and/or up-and-coming coach.  Every year, a plethora of coaches look to make a move to a BCS conference university.  It could be an established mid-major coach (Gary Patterson), or a coordinator looking to make their own mark (Brent Venables).  Regardless of the "who", or the "where", there are a lot of coaches out there that would be interested in the Kansas State coaching vacancy, and many of the qualified candidates are actually alumni of the university, and they may have an interest in 'coming home' to build upon what Bill Snyder built.

When knowing all of these things (Snyder's stigma, qualified alumni interested in the job, etc.), this rehire becomes very frustrating.  By hiring Bill Snyder, it feels like University President Jon Wefald and AD Bob Krause have bought into this stigma.  Now, that's not to say that Bill Snyder won't win games; I think he'll win more than he loses in his second tour of duty.  I've always felt that way.  But, the fact of the matter is that at the first sign of trouble, Jon Wefald and Bob Krause ran to Bill Snyder to fix the mess that the program had become.    They used up their "Get out of jail free" card in an attempt to solidify their legacies at Kansas State because the "Ron Prince Experiment" was rapidly becoming an unmitigated failure, and Wefald and Krause were in danger of being remembered as the guys that did nothing while the football program Snyder built imploded.  That would be unfair as their achievements in the academic arena have been every bit as amazing as Bill Snyder's on the gridiron, and I have a great deal of respect for Jon Wefald and Bob Krause due to their efforts in making Kansas State a top-flight academic institution. 

So, this is where I seem to lose a lot of message board posters and other fans I've spoken with.  Why, if I have so much admiration for all of the men involved, do I have a problem with this hire?  Why do I not wholeheartedly support it?  These men have done amazing things at Kansas State; why can't they do it again?

The answer, to me, is simple.  However, it takes a little background to explain...

Kansas State is very unique in the sense that we've had ninety-four years of God-awful football, and about seventeen years of excellent football.  When you go to a game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, you will see two distinctly different types of fans.  There are fans who have attended KSU football games through some of the darkest days the program has ever seen.  They sat in the stands during winless seasons, witnessed countless beatings at the hands of Oklahoma and Nebraska, and they watched the hated Kansas Jayhawks continually beat KSU...even when they weren't any good either.  These fans know and understand how amazing Bill Snyder is because they have seen it all, and he's responsible for almost 100% of the positive memories they have of Kansas State football.

However, there are fans, generally younger, like myself, EMAW, and TB that were not there during those negative times.  Personally, I attended Kansas State from 2000-2004, so my last season as a student was the 2003 Big 12 Championship year.  My last game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium was a nationally televised game against the Missouri Tigers, and the win sealed the North Division title for the 'Cats.  During my four years, KSU won thirty-nine games, two division titles, and a conference championship.  They played in the Fiesta Bowl.  The team was full of NFL Draft-picks and All-Americans.  Kansas State football was not a feel-good story of redemption; it was a juggernaut that turned in eleven win seasons and bowl appearances like the Beatles churned out number one hits.

So, you have this strange dichotomy that most other fan bases don't have.  For example, Nebraska fans, by and large, only know great football because that's what was there for forty years.  Any deviation from that is unacceptable because it goes against the natural order (as they see it).  For Kansas and Missouri fans, what happened last year (and this year for MU as well) is simply a great ride given their past history.  While some of their fans seem to suddenly have a sense of superiority about the program, for the most part, their fans are just enjoying the experience because it's basically an aberration given their respective histories.

Kansas State fans, however, seem to straddle that line.  Half of the fan base believes that the football program begins and ends with Snyder, and the other half tends to look at the football program as its own entity, and it doesn't matter who the coach is; all that matters is that Kansas State wins games like it did when Bill Snyder was there.

So, due to this divide, there is a sense of tumultuousness surrounding this hire (amongst the fans and within myself).  Some fans wanted a coaching search (and there wasn't one), and others would rather see Bill Snyder coach until the day he dies because they truly believe that he's the only man that can win at Kansas State, or they feel that it's his right to coach, win or lose, because of what he did between 1993-2003.

My stance falls somewhere in the middle.  I truly wanted a coaching search.  I believe that any competently run athletic department will employ one before running back to the stadium's namesake to bail them out of a jam.  I really believed that Gary Patterson was the right guy for the job, and if he (or someone else) would have had success at Kansas State, the stigma would have been shattered because a man not named Bill Snyder proved he could win in Manhattan.  I believe that eliminating the stigma is critical for the long-term future of the program because there will come a day when Bill Snyder simply cannot coach this team, and if we're afraid to trust anyone but him, or someone he coached with, to be the head coach, we're greatly limiting the pool of good coaches we can draw from.  That frightens and frustrates me immensely.

On the flip side, in the short-term, I have no doubt that Bill Snyder, the king, has returned to make everything right in the world.  First of all, he brings instant credibility back to the program.  He can go out and recruit coaches and players with the 'legendary' tag associated to his name.  Secondly, as a guy that frequents multiple message boards, and does his best to keep his ear to the ground and note what's going on, I will fully admit that I'm excited for what may come in the following weeks, months, and however many years Bill Snyder will be our head coach.  Some of the rumors that I've heard in terms of staff, vision for the program, and overall strategy are very exciting, and one cannot walk away without thinking, "Damn, the old man just might do it again."  Of course, rumors are just that, but as we all know, where there's smoke, there's always a chance of fire, and if what we're hearing even remotely comes to fruition, we will all be in for one wild ride.

So, after spilling my guts, ranting and raving like a fool, and generally over thinking something that I have no control over, all I can say is that in the near future, it's comforting to see Bill Snyder back at the helm.  Listening to him speak at his press conference just seemed so natural, and it felt like all was right with the world.  It was 2002 all over again, and I could expect KSU to compete for the Big 12 title and a shot in a BCS bowl next year.  But there was something different this time; the knowledge that he's rebuilding while operating under the weight of his own legacy and the expectations his success created, while knowing, in the back of his mind, what may happen if he fails.  As Curtis Kitchen said, much more eloquently than I ever could, it's essential that we all stand behind Snyder at this point and ensure that this second tenure is a success.  If he's able to make miracles happen again, there will be a much stronger foundation in place when we ultimately have to deal with the long-term future of the program...

However, if he can't rebuild this program, or he can't live up to the expectations his past successes set for it, I fear for the next ninety-four years of football at Kansas State.  I fear for the future because there isn't another legendary coach or winning tradition that we can conjour up to fix the mess.  The precedent has been set, and the stigma has been embraced.  We're "all-in".  Failure is not an option because the results could be disasterous.

Welcome back, Coach.  All of us here at BOTC are hoping like Hell you can do it all over again.  For your sake and ours.


GPC Video: 'Is there any doubt?' (via GPCvideos)