The past, present and future of Snyder and K-State football

Bob Lutz
Bob Lutz KSN File

I don’t know where former Kansas State athletic director Steve Miller is now. His Wikipedia page says he’s a professor at Oregon, but it’s hard to know if that page has been updated lately.

I do know that Miller once picked up a rock and found a $1 million bill underneath.

OK, that’s a fabrication. But it’s a plausible analogy for what Miller did, which was to hire Bill Snyder as Kansas State’s football coach in 1989.

Snyder has been a million-dollars-under-a-rock coach. He took over at Futility U., the headline of a Sports Illustrated story on K-State’s historic football woes, after serving as an assistant coach to Hayden Fry and Iowa. There was nothing that led anyone to believe Snyder would be the guy to transform Kansas State football.

But he did. He turned K-State from Futility U. into Miracle U., leading Kansas State to a 109-29-1 overall record and 63-21 Big 8/Big 12 record from 1993-2003.

Consider that Kansas State had been 0-26-1 in the 27 games preceding Snyder’s hiring and 299-510 in its 93-year football history.

What Snyder has done in Manhattan is miraculous. That word is not too strong to describe his accomplishments.

But now – now – is a different matter.

Snyder turns 79 on Sunday. He’s not had the same level of success since returning from three years of “retirement” in 2009. K-State is 76-45 during the Snyder II reign and 48-33 in the Big 12.

The 2018 Wildcats, who play at Baylor on Saturday, are off to a 2-3 start, and are lucky it’s not worse. The offense looks weak. And Snyder is being questioned like he’s never been questioned, especially about what appears to be indecision on which of his quarterbacks, Skylar Thompson or Alex Delton, is best suited to run the team.

Snyder snapped at a reporter this week after being asked about the quarterback quandary, even though the question is legitimate and everybody wonders what Snyder is seeing that they don’t.

Thompson has been better than Delton. It’s hard to refute that and perhaps we’ll see much more of Thompson than we will of Delton on Saturday against Baylor.

The QB issue, though, is a distraction from what’s really going on at Kansas State. This looks like it could be the end for Snyder, although it’s dangerous to ever count the guy out.

So often, his Wildcats have been underestimated. So often, they’ve exceeded expectations.

Snyder is a College Football Hall of Fame coach. He has a stadium that bears his name. He is deity in Manhattan and everywhere Kansas State football fans live and gather.

By all accounts, Snyder was miserable during the three years he spent in retirement. And when a change was needed from the Ron Prince Era – there really was a Ron Prince Era, I promise – Snyder came to the rescue.

He is, I believe, the best coach in Kansas sports history. And we’ve had some good ones. But Kansas State football was, we believed, un-rescuable. It had sunk to the bottom of the ocean and it would take centuries to find any remnants.

Snyder proved us wrong. He started by recruiting good football players and hiring top-notch assistant coaches. He instructed the players and mentored the coaches and constructed a system. He has remained devoted to the lessons he has taught. At this stage, Snyder isn’t changing.

But so much else is. And while Snyder has spearheaded a massive facilities upgrade that has kept K-State viable on that level, it’s hard to know now what’s inside Snyder’s head.

He has recently fought a battle with cancer. The demands of being a football coach have to be weighing on him. They weigh on coaches half his age.

There is more unrest about Kansas State football and about Snyder than I can remember. He retired after back-to-back losing seasons in 2004 and 2005, explaining then that he didn’t feel as energetic and engaged as he once did.

Well, that was 13 years ago.

I have always believed Snyder should be the one to make the decision about when it’s time to go. And I always hoped he would make that decision with his legacy in mint condition. He deserves to be remembered for what he is: a brilliant tactician, a compassionate man who wanted the best for his players and a devoted part of a university community whose vision extended beyond the gridiron.

But the performance of the Wildcats this season has been mediocre. There’s time still to win four or five more games and reach another bowl game. Still, the level of enthusiasm has waned. Folks who never doubted Snyder are beginning to do so. It’s an awkward situation.

The best solution would be for K-State to start winning again the way the Wildcats did during an incredible 11-season run from 1993-2003 during which they won 11 games six times and 10 games once.

There have been good years since, of course, but only twice have the Wildcats won double-digit games.

So we’re left to weigh Snyder’s past against his present. And to ponder how it affects the future.

The past is easy and wonderful. The present is confusing. And the future is unknown, as futures wonderfully tend to be.

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