No joy in Manhattan as Snyder steps down

Bob Lutz
Bob Lutz KSN File

I really thought Bill Snyder was going to lead Kansas State to a special 2018 football season.

But the only thing special about this season is that it turns out to be Snyder’s last.

What a shame.

This is a sad day because this is not how it should have ended. Snyder should not exit a program he single-handedly built after a season like this.

The Wildcats were 5-7 and will miss out on a bowl game. The most over-achieving coach and program you’ll ever see actually underachieved in 2018.

And when it became obvious the on-field product did not match the preseason hype – I actually thought the Wildcats would contend at the top of the Big 12 and there were solid reasons to think so – the speculation about Snyder’s future started.

He’s 79, after all. And he retired once already, after the 2005 season. Only the profoundly mediocre performance of his replacement, Ron Prince, could have persuaded Snyder to come to the rescue of Kansas State football again in 2009.

Football was a travesty at Kansas State when Snyder arrived before the 1989 season. It’s easy to forget he was just an obscure assistant coach at Iowa when then-Kansas State athletic director Steve Miller plucked him off of Hayden Fry’s staff.

Trust me, there was no fanfare. Not a single person lined a street in Manhattan screaming “We Hired Bill Snyder!!!!”

He went to work. And after a 1-10 first season, which remarkably was better than the previous two under Stan Parrish in which the Wildcats failed to win a game, results started to show.

Kansas State started to produce All-Big 8 players. The Wildcats inched forward in the standings. By 1993, they made it to a bowl game and blitzed Wyoming, 52-17, in the Copper Bowl, to cap a 9-2-1 season.

K-State would win at least nine games in each of the following seven seasons and in nine of the next 10. That included a stretch of six seasons in which the Cats won 11 games five times from 1997-2002.

The quirky Snyder coached his tail off. He found outstanding assistant coaches and gave them plenty to do. He recruited off the beaten path, but found gems under almost every rock. He preached discipline and backed it up with personal discipline times a thousand. In 25 years of coaching football at Kansas State, Snyder was steady. He never seemed to get too high. Or too low.

He’s an old man now, coming off a bout with throat cancer in 2017. He’s not one to share much personal information, but it’s impossible to believe he feels as good as he once felt. Has the energy that drove Snyder to 18-hour work days and relentless preparation waned? Undoubtedly, you would assume.

Yet assuming anything about Snyder has always been dangerous. He’s packed so many surprises into a Hall of Fame coaching career. We counted him out after back-to-back mediocre seasons in 2004 and 2005 that led to his first retirement. Yet when he came back in 2009, he barely skipped a beat.

Our eyes tell us Snyder still looks remarkably good for a man of nearly 80. And our ears tell us Snyder still speaks with eloquence about the game of football and about his team’s struggles to perform.

He still has the quick wit that has made him lovable to so many and the biting sarcasm that makes reporters approach him with trepidation.

But all in all, this seems like the right time to step away. Kansas State is poised better now than it was 13 years ago to move on from Snyder. The Wildcats rested too much on Snyder’s laurels when they hired Prince, thinking that because he was a native of nearby Junction City and had some awareness of the program and the previous coach that there would be a smooth transition.

There wasn’t. Prince fell out of favor quickly and Kansas State’s administration made a beeline back to Snyder.

That won’t be an option this time, of course. But because of Snyder, Kansas State’s football facilities have improved greatly since he returned for a second go as coach. The Wildcats, because of Snyder, have established their brand and should be able to attract quality candidates to replace him.

My advice, though, is to give Snyder a million hugs and gifts, but to not let him be involved in hiring the next coach. He was on the periphery of the Prince hire and there’s just too much at stake for a man who has publicly stated he thinks his son, Sean, should get the job to have influence moving forward.

There’s a Bill Snyder statue at the main west entrance of a stadium named in his family’s honor. Nearby, a street bears his name. There’s not an honor Snyder doesn’t deserve and he should be toasted at every Kansas State football game for the next hundred years.

Best of luck, Coach. You are one of a kind.

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