“The opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football exists here today. And it’s not one to be taken lightly.”
Those words, uttered almost exactly 30 years ago, have gone down in college football history. A spry, confident, 49-year-old Bill Snyder stood at a podium in Manhattan, Kansas and said he thought he might be able to turn around what was almost definitively the worst major college football program at the time. I’m sure there were people in the room who laughed to themselves. But he clearly wasn’t kidding.
Throughout his career, Snyder has repeatedly defied the odds and bucked expectation on his way to staking a pretty substantial claim to the title of greatest college football coach in history, but 30 years takes a lot out of a person, and the 2018 season showed that the Bill Snyder that stood at the podium in 1988 is long gone.
What remains is a man clinging to his legacy, believing that what worked in 1988, or 1998, should still work in 2018. But the man who stood at that podium in 1988 wasn’t a man who looked at the past for answers. In 1988, 49-year-old Bill Snyder saw an old, tired football program and he freshened it up. He commissioned a new logo and designed new uniforms to mimic the look of the Dallas Cowboys, who were just beginning their ascent to “America’s Team.” He was ahead of the curve with junior college recruiting. He helped usher in a new era of option offense.
Then, when the program hit its peak, Snyder dug in his heels.
49-year-old Bill Snyder embraced change. 79-year-old Bill Snyder seems to abhor it. While the rest of college football trots out new uniforms seemingly every week, Snyder has stayed almost unfailingly true to his original, 30-year-old concept. While the rest of college football has found ways to use the internet to expand fan engagement and attract recruits, K-State squanders in relative social media silence. And despite new, young coordinators this season, K-State’s game plans didn’t seem to change much either.
No, new uniforms, a great Twitter account and a new scheme won’t necessarily win football games, but a refusal to try something new when the the program is clearly trending downward certainly won’t either.
Snyder seemed to recognize Saturday that despite his rejection of change, something about his program was undoubtedly different.
“I am going to have to think about how I respond from this loss in terms of what my feelings are,” he said after Iowa State surged back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to beat the Wildcats 42-38. “I have just never experienced a loss like that, not even back in whenever that was ... ancient history. It just wasn’t to be, I guess. I don’t know how I feel about it.”
Even if Snyder realizes that change is needed, at 79, he’s not likely equipped to usher it in. As we’ve already said on these pages, the program needs to move on. Kirby Hocutt, who played for Snyder in the early days, is working to fill the Texas Tech head coaching vacancy by seemingly moving down K-State fans’ dream list of candidates. Every day Snyder remains at the helm is another day lost in the search for a worthy successor.
Like it or not, the Bill Snyder we all fell in love with is gone. If any of the spirit of 1988 Bill Snyder still remains in him, he should recognize that the sooner he leaves, the better.