There’s a template here. I’m just following it.
Earlier this season, I wrote a report card post for the first quarter of the season. I intended to write a similar post after each quarter of the season. But with the way things have turned out, this feels like it would have amounted to kicking a bunch of guys when they’re already down. This season isn’t going well, and you don’t need me to quantify that for you.
Instead, I’m going to write a post that I never thought I would.
When you write a post like this, you start by saying nice things about what Bill Snyder has meant to K-State.
No matter how bad the short-term results may be, don’t give in to the temptation to put an asterisk next to Bill Snyder’s record. His tenure raised K-State’s all-time winning percentage by more than 70 points and he owns 40 percent of K-State’s wins. For reference, he’s coached for 28 years, and K-State has played football since 1896.
K-State hadn’t won a conference title since the Great Depression. Snyder won two and played for two others in his first tenure. K-State played in one bowl game before Snyder came to Manhattan. Under Snyder, the Wildcats have won more major bowls than that.
He runs a program that has largely avoided NCAA attention and outwardly seems to believe in general character development, mentoring, and thankfulness. These things matter. Or they should.
When you write a piece like this, you then deftly transition to the latest calamity, the final straw that means there must be changes, because this is a business, not a charity. And that this bread and circus is paying him millions of dollars a year to win.
It wasn’t losing to Oklahoma. That was expected. It was not even belonging on the same field as the Sooners. Lincoln Riley probably could have scored 80 points on Saturday if he wished. K-State’s offense didn’t even manage 250 total yards against an average defense. This isn’t 2015, when injuries decimated the two-deep across the board and we were starting a former wide receiver at quarterback.
College football is a business, not a charity or a personal playground for unearned patronage jobs. Snyder and his staff are paid very well to win football games, and right now they’re not. It would be one thing if it were just this year, but despite the many excuses I’ve made since 2012, the general trend line is downward. And the line’s slope is getting steeper. You can achieve goals supporting the greater good while still winning games, and those who support K-State football don’t provide their time and money for half of that equation.
When you write a piece like this, you then transition to the broad overview, told in a few numbers, usually proceeded by something like this: this is the bottom line…
From 2011 to 2014, Snyder took a program that had bottomed out in terms of player development and general football strategery, though not in terms of raw talent, under Ron Prince, and built a winner. From 2011 to 2014, K-State won 38 games (9.5 per year) and averaged an S&P+ finish of 26th. In the three years since, K-State has won 23 games (7.7 per year) and averaged an S&P+ finish of 58th. Those numbers will drop after this season.
This year, when K-State was supposed to bounce back with its entire offensive line returning, plus two quarterbacks, and three experienced running backs, the offense has cratered. Instead of improving upon last year’s offense that was almost perfectly average nationally, the Wildcats are barely in the top 90 and average only 22 points per game. The defense, already not a team strength, could charitably be described as treading water.
There’s no talent influx on the way to fix things, either. K-State currently ranks in 82nd by Rivals team rankings. Earlier this year, K-State’s archaic recruiting approach was laid bare. Not using the rules to our advantage in a crucial aspect of program management, especially when we have the resources to do so, would constitute a firing offense for any coach who hadn’t earned as much personal capital as Snyder.
When you write a piece like this, you juxtapose those stark statistics with the resources at Snyder’s disposal…
Unlike Scipio, I won’t argue about the resources at Snyder’s disposal. This isn’t Texas. But it’s also not the Kansas State of 1988, either. K-State’s facilities are, at minimum, league average for a Power 5 school and Manhattan has daily direct flights to a major airport hub in Dallas. These aren’t the days of passing the hat among donors and a head coach writing personal checks to cover needed repairs, and wasting five hours driving to and from Kansas City to get recruits to campus. Although even that worked pretty well in the 1990s. Think about that for a moment.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy to recruit to K-State. But I’m also not setting the standard at yearly top-20 classes, either. In recent years, schools like Iowa State, KU, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana and Oregon State have been competitive with, if not outright better than, K-State in recruiting. Since 1989, those schools have combined for six 10-win seasons and three conference titles. K-State has nine of the former and two of the latter by itself.
When we talk about recruiting and K-State’s “lack of talent,” I want to make sure we’re clear. K-State does not lack for players deserving of a scholarship and playing time at a Big 12 school. Some of our better teams have been filled with role players and a handful of NFL-caliber playmakers. This current roster has one surefire NFL player on it. We’re hitting the upper boundary of a program model built on player development, and the results aren’t acceptable.
When you write a piece like this, you write how the trends are “disturbing” and “unacceptable” and that “Bill Snyder must seriously re-evaluate his blah blah blah…” Then you lay into the coordinators or a position coach. This is the hedge. Stopping just short of saying what needs to be done because the right assistants and players just might turn this thing around, because it has happened before…
Before this year, there was a plausible argument that our coordinators were the problem, and that if we just upgraded there then things would get back on track. The game had passed Dana Dimel and Tom Hayes by, they weren’t relating to players, etc. We made what changes are possible by internal hires and the returns aren’t pretty. Andre Coleman and Collin Klein seemingly want to run a base 10-personnel version of the Air Raid with some of our traditional QB run concepts thrown in, using a roster where we have one league-average wide receiver and an offensive line built more on angles and leverage and finding defenders in space than pass blocking. Not that I’m sure there’s any approach that would yield acceptable results given the personnel limitations, but I can confidently say that what we’re doing isn’t working.
Which brings us back to Bill Snyder. He’s 79 years old and has installed his son, with no outside coaching qualifications of his own, as the associate head coach. He has said his son, with no outside coaching qualifications of his own, basically runs the program. He has said he wants his son, who has no outside coaching qualifications of his own, to succeed him as the coach at K-State. The situation has made it impossible to hire up-and-coming coordinators from outside the program, because their upward mobility will hit a concrete ceiling in Manhattan. K-State football has ossified to the point where we do things in the old, comfortable, familiar way, despite mounting evidence that it doesn’t work anymore. Which then causes the staff to double down on a failing approach, with predictable results.
When you write a piece like this, you typically end with something bitter, cutting, ominous, or snarky…
It should be abundantly clear by now that, if we take Bill Snyder at his word, the direction he has set the program on is not working, and that continuing down that path is going to make things better. So while it brings me not the slightest bit of happiness to say this, I can’t hold on to hope any longer.
It’s time. It need not occur now, because no change is rescuing this season and Snyder deserves the dignity of finishing out the year. But athletic director Gene Taylor needs to lay the groundwork for a full regime change, because nobody on the current staff is the answer. I hope that the transition is handled in the most dignified and appropriate manner possible, because while Snyder is not going to ride off into the sunset with a conference championship like he richly deserves for all he has done, he should not be cast aside rudely. Whether this is possible is an open question, because … well, let me just quote Scipio here:
“But if he won’t go – and I suspect he won’t quietly because I don’t think the average [Wildcat] fan can comprehend how insular his world is – then he has to be fired. And if [Gene Taylor], various donor sycophants, or even just good men who are willing for [K-State] football to stink because they’re more interested in life lessons imparted to 85 scholarship 20 year olds than BCS bowls, get in the way, then they need to be sufficiently motivated to act. Or find their own retirements or marginalization hastened.”
This won’t be fun or easy. Snyder could indeed make it ugly, because I have no doubt that he believes he can turn it around. Elite coaches and athletes must maintain an unshakeable belief in success despite all evidence to the contrary. But to those outside the program, the point of belief has passed. Snyder is a good man whose ability to manage K-State’s football program appropriately has vanished. This remains true even if K-State stumbles through the back door into bowl eligibility this year. The macro trends are too clear.
To address one final aspect of the template, unlike Mack Brown at Texas, Bill Snyder did build K-State football. We ran through the numbers above. But even though every bit of legitimate success this program has experienced is due to his management, the program itself can’t be considered his own. Even great men are mortal, and if we allow the program and Snyder to remain inextricably intertwined, then K-State football will die with Snyder, whether with his physical death or the death of his ability to manage the program appropriately.
And while a successful post-Snyder program would be enjoyable for fans for the obvious reasons, it’s essential to K-State. The Wildcats have never enjoyed anything resembling success in football without Bill Snyder as coach, but at some point they will not be coached by Snyder. The program’s current trajectory means that the longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to lure a qualified coaching candidate, and that candidate will be set up for failure. The last thing K-State needs is a self-fulfilling prophecy that it can’t win without Snyder.
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that this change will be the easy answer, either. Sure, it’s possible that a fresh approach will generate better recruiting and tactics, but Snyder is widely considered one of the best coaches in history for a reason. Coaches like him don’t come around very often, and when they do, they often don’t stay at places like K-State very long.
This is not a declaration of war on Bill Snyder. It’s a declaration of resignation.