Bill Snyder retired today from his position as K-State’s head football coach today after 27 seasons in Manhattan. A release from the AD’s office says he will move to a special ambassador role for the university.
Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015, Snyder finishes his career with a 215-177-1 record, all at K-State. Snyder won two Big 12 championships with the Wildcats, in 2003 and 2012. He took the Wildcats to 19 bowl games, including three appearances apiece in the Fiesta and Cotton bowls.
Those numbers describe the rare coach who coached for a long time at a high level and, even rarer, did so at the same school. But with context, Snyder’s accomplishments are far greater. He took over the worst college football program in the nation, and a team that hadn’t won a game since 1986 when he took the job in 1988. A program that hadn’t won a conference title since the Dust Bowl.
With his retirement, Snyder leaves a program that expects to go to bowl games as a minimum accomplishment, and believes it can occasionally compete for conference titles and enter the national conversation. Whether or not those accomplishments are replicable under another coach, the program baseline has been raised. For that, we can thank Snyder.
Snyder’s revolution in Manhattan was the product of a consummate control freak with an unyielding belief that hard work would lead to success. His tireless work ethic pushed K-State to its first win in three years, then its first bowl win in 1993, then its first win over Nebraska since 1968, and to the cusp of winning a Big 12 title and playing for a national title in 1998. Along the way, Snyder stacked up nine seasons of 10+ wins, nine national coach of the year awards and seven such conference awards.
But that same belief ossified into an archaic recruiting approach, program management and tactics in later years. Rather than updating with the times by hiring additional staff to manage recruiting, Snyder doubled down on a maximum player-development model. Physical ability is a harsh governor, and K-State began bumping up against its limits in recent years. Installing his son as associate head coach and publicly expressing his desire for an in-house succession plan prevented hiring new coordinators from outside the program. The results in 2018, especially offensively, speak for themselves.
This last must be mentioned because it is part of the Snyder story. But don’t lose your perspective in these recent developments. K-State may not have a major-conference affiliation today if not for Snyder. Manhattan likely would not be considered a top college-town destination with air service from major airlines if not for Snyder.
Personally, without Snyder I would not have been at Arrowhead Stadium in 2003, watching K-State beat the so-called “greatest team in college football history” by four touchdowns, a memory that still gives me chills today. And I wouldn’t have seen the same coach who orchestrated that win driving to work at 6:30 a.m. two days later, while I went in for a final. I wouldn’t have the memory of the warm smile and kind word Snyder offered me as I walked away from my last final in 2006. And I wouldn’t have spent a cold December evening in 2012 watching K-State beat Texas yet again, to win a second Big 12 title, with my good friend.