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Epic failure in Morgantown

We try to make sense of Kansas State’s latest football loss

NCAA Football: South Dakota at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

So...that happened. Playing like it was 1988 all over again, Kansas State lost to West Virginia 35-6, and honestly, it wasn’t even that close.

Here are the usual recaps, in no particular order:

ESPN | Wichita Eagle | Topeka Capital-Journal | Manhattan Mercury | K-State Collegian | Morgantown Dominion-Post | Charleston Gazette

I have no interest in dissecting the actual game. Jon Morse has already offered his thoughts in the official BotC postgamer: West Virginia 35, K-State 6.

Instead, let’s just tackle the 300-pound lineman in the room. Bill Snyder and Kansas State football. In the interest of avoiding the usual discussion points, let’s just stipulate to the following:

  • Bill Snyder is the architect of the greatest turnaround in college football. He is deservedly in the Hall of Fame, and he absolutely earned the right to have a stadium, a highway, and possibly a museum named after him. He’s had a direct—and massive—impact on Kansas State University, the community around the school, and the city of Manhattan.
  • He is 212-112-1 as a head coach. Among head coaches who have been in the game more than a decade, the .654 winning percentage puts him in the 90th percentile.
  • He’s widely regarded as an innovator and an offensive genius. He may have invented the zone read. In the past, he’s shown an ability to adapt offensive schemes to the talent available.

But also consider the following:

  • He’s 4-34 against teams ranked in the Top 10 and 22-53 against teams ranked in the Top 25.
  • He was recently given a five-year contract extension.
  • He’ll be 79 in a few weeks.

Now let’s talk about Snyder’s post-game remarks yesterday:

  1. On his decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 at midfield with the team only down 7-0, Snyder stood by that decision. He’s only mad because he “can’t coach a team that can’t get six inches.”
  2. Questioned on why Kansas State punted in West Virginia territory in the 4th quarter, Snyder insisted he would do it again to avoid putting his defense in a bad spot.
  3. On his quarterbacks, he thought Alex Delton played “extremely well,” whereas Skylar Thompson played “not as well as he’s capable.”
  4. He said the team did not practice well on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Your take may be different, but this feels exactly like a coach throwing his team under the bus. Specifically, it feels like a coach hanging his quarterback out to dry because he prefers the backup.

  • Maybe I’m misstating Snyder’s intent here.
  • Maybe he was just frustrated.
  • Maybe he hopes to keep Thompson sufficiently hungry and motivated.
  • Maybe he feels that Thompson, although clearly talented, is not the right guy to make things happen given the rest of the personnel on the team. He’s not wrong on that
  • Maybe he sincerely believes—in his infinite wisdom—that Delton is the better player and will get the start next week against Texas.

But here’s the thing: Thompson was surprised that he was benched. I don’t know enough about the politics of this locker room to speculate, but Snyder keeping both his quarterbacks in this constant state of limbo can’t be good for either player, or for team morale. I worry—as I did with Jesse Ertz last year—that this coaching staff will break Thompson, both physically and mentally. That is surely much worse than Thompson deserves. It would not be a surprise to me if Thompson, or Delton, for that matter, chose to ply their trade at a different program next season.

The rebuttal to all this is “In Snyder We Trust.” He’s turned things around before, so of course, he’ll just do that again this time. By the end of the season, he will—once again—seem like a genius while all the naysayers fade into the background.

But lately, the vibe around the program has changed. It no longer feels like Kansas State is taking slow-and-steady steps in the right direction. It actually feels like we’ve abandoned on-field success for building character, a noble endeavor, but not really conducive to winning football games.

It also reflects a failure to understand football as a business where those who fail to evolve also fail to succeed. We’ve already discussed Kansas State’s recruiting woes and how our current approach puts the program behind the 8-ball.

But consider also this Twitter thread from Benevolent Despot Jon Morse:

So where do we go from here? I don’t know. I only know that something has to change. Maybe Snyder has to go. Maybe he can’t hold the program to ransom because he has a particular view of its future. Maybe it’s time to burn it all down and start over.