Not very long after the Kansas State Wildcats football team finished a four-hour salary and scholarship theft, head coach Bill Snyder attempted to sum up his team's mood after the excruciatingly inept, uninterested defeat to the Oklahoma Sooners.
"I think all of us are embarrassed," he said. "I cannot remember being a part of a game like this since 1989 in the first year that we were here. I do not even know if we had one that bad during the first go around."
Saturday was the worst of the worst in Snyder's tenure(s), and K-State history, in terms of home shutout losses. And, considering just how terrible the lows were at times (things like there having been 19 seasons since 1943 with 1 or fewer wins), that's awful. Getting whipped by 55 points (by a pretty good but not great Oklahoma team) dredges up those kinds of disgusting comparisons to performances long thought impossible to revisit -- at least not while Bill Snyder still was in control.
The coach once famous for media surliness, relentless pursuit of consistency if not perfection, and controlling the number of meal-time pats of butter for players saw his team get patted in historical fashion. 55-0 -- and all of its historical significance -- is a fantastically huge, ugly mold spot on the renovated Vanier limestone. Embedded in the spores of that fuzzy mess are questions fans and the media have every right to ask after such a performance.
Those questions should start here: This wasn't Stan Parrish or Doug Weaver. This was Bill freaking Snyder. So, how did Saturday happen with Snyder on the sideline? What gives?
Snyder has changed, there is no doubt, from the immovable, sometimes unlikable force he was while pushing the K-State boulder uphill through the '90s. He did what it took to shove "little ol' K-State" to college football's highest places -- including having a hand on the peak of a national championship. In his drive, he rarely offered public praise for anyone, players included, because high performance wasn't something to be overly lauded, not when it was expected. He sacrificed family time in the name of Kansas State football. It took all of him to get that done.
The Snyder 2.0 era has been different and was almost immediately. Snyder said he could relate to today's players, and he did. He answered the call that his beliefs, motivational tactics and football program systems would work, and he drove K-State to a second Big 12 title. He managed to work all of that in, and, again, it took all of him to get it done because re-branding isn't easy.
For the past few seasons, however, the impetus has been on transition, and that takes energy, too. Snyder has talked openly about wanting his son to take over as the next head coach. He has allowed his coordinators more freedom and influence than they've ever had calling plays.*
*This is not a good thing, it appears. The K-State offense against Oklahoma was so stubbornly married to throwing the ball, and doing so ineffectively, that even one of the most "program guy" former players I know said to me in a text, "I just think there is a better way to put your players in position to succeed." In other words, even the most staunch supporters who saw what happened questioned it. That's says something.
This year, noticeably, he has openly heaped praise on players during media sessions. And, yes, he has become (more) famous for the nice letters he writes to other teams' players -- including those youngsters who beat his team. He has also written a letter twice in the past few years apologizing to K-State students for his team's play.
These are all good or decent things, but they take energy, time and focus. And, while they may speak to how good of a man Bill Snyder is, they just don't seem to add up to the same Bill Snyder who once refused to focus on anything other than internal issues, sawing wood, controlling minute details and improving from one day to the next -- the very things that made Snyder-brand K-State football what it is, in other words.
It isn't a pleasant thought, but it seems possible that Snyder's expansion into "classy" (as many describe them) human things somehow squeezed out some of the maniacal football stuff -- at least the unhealthy amount of time, effort and control perhaps necessary to keep a K-State perpetually in college football's upper echelon.
That doesn't feel good or fair, really, but such is football, I guess, where a game-winning play against an instate rival is rewarded with a broken hip.
Like a crack in a dam eventually leads to catastrophe, this probably was a long time coming. And the culprit is unbeatable. Bill Snyder seems to want to coach until he can't, and it's a wonder if he isn't starting to lose his race against time in the sense of program cycling.
What happened on Saturday is the kind of thing that happens to two types of teams: those on their way up but aren't quite ready to fully compete; and ones that are one their way down, who suddenly lack the on-field consistency, or talent, or buy-in (or all of the above), that makes absolute drubbings impossible. When those holes develop, Saturday happens.
At this juncture, it is hard not to think about the 2004 and 2005 seasons that were rife with quarterback woes, depth chart problems and a loose-soil feel that maybe, just maybe, the game had passed by one of the sport's greatest innovators. The difference between then and now, of course, is that Snyder had the luxury of time back then to step away, rethink things, decide he didn't like how it felt to see his program slip, and devise a way to tirelessly rebuild what he had built before.
This time, it's a decade later, and it's not that K-State can't again devise a years-long plan to restructure, regroup and return to its custom, sustained high level. It's just whether or not there's enough time for the program's greatest coach to be the one to lead that extended charge for a third time.
This revision may need someone who wants to take over more responsibilities instead of less. At this point, it's hard to say whether that lines up well with a 76-year-old Hall of Famer's short-term plans or not.