Few football programs endured the type of futility Kansas State went through before Snyder's arrival in Manhattan in 1989.
This program, considered one of the nation's best today, was among the dregs of college football not all that long ago. Between 1934 -- Kansas State's last conference championship before this season -- and 1988, K-State had just five winning seasons and one bowl appearance.
Snyder came over from Iowa, where he was Hayden Fry's offensive coordinator, and did not immediately find success, either: His first team was 1-10. The only win was a 20-17 victory over North Texas, a win that came on the last play and snapped a 30-game winless streak.
But by 1992, Snyder had K-State in the first of what has become 12 straight seasons of postseason play. Including this season, K-State will have 10 seasons where it will finish in the national top 25 in the last 11. A victory over Ohio State in Friday's Fiesta Bowl (8 p.m., ABC) would be the Wildcats' seventh top-10 finish in the same period.
Clearly, Snyder has led Kansas State from the outhouse to the penthouse -- if only he believed in such things.
Snyder, branded as a control freak in a Sports Illustrated article a few seasons back, may be the driest head coach in Division I-A. But you can't argue with his methods or his results.
"It's been gradual, and that's the way we approached it," Snyder said of his program's renaissance. "And that's what we shared with our players that first day. It's going to be one step at a time. There's not going to be any shortcuts. All I can promise you is we're going to get a little bit better every day."
Snyder led Kansas State to its first major bowl appearance in the Fiesta in 1997, when the Wildcats defeated Syracuse 35-18. A year later, K-State was 11-0 and reached the Big 12 title game before it was upset by Texas A&M 36-33. Then, the Wildcats were snubbed and left out of the Bowl Championship Series. K-State was exiled to the Alamo Bowl, where Purdue also upset the Wildcats.
But K-State notched 11-win seasons again in 1999, 2000 and 2002 and are sitting at 11-3 heading into this match-up with Ohio State. The crowning achievement was a 35-7 upset of top-ranked Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game. The win allowed Snyder to shed the tag that he couldn‘t win the big game.
"The press keeps saying, `Bill Snyder hasn't done this and Bill Snyder hasn't done that,' but now they can't say that anymore," Kansas State President Jon Wefald said. "Those barriers have been crossed now. He's clearly one of the best coaches in America."
In the weeks leading up to this match-up, OSU coach Jim Tressel made sure to praise Snyder for his place in the college coaching ranks.
"Coach Snyder and his staff are extremely hard workers," Tressel said. "I have a lot of colleagues who have worked with him and I have seen him out as head coaches and so forth. If anyone asked me who has done the best job in the last 25 years of building a football program, before this game was even announced I would have told you Bill Snyder. What he has done at Kansas State, in my mind, is truly extraordinary."
Tressel was asked how Snyder was able to build a consistent winner at a school former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler once branded -- as an example -- Kansas State as a perennial doormat.
"I can tell you to do what he has done has taken a lot of hard work, a lot of patience and a lot of good calculated decisions," Tressel said. "He went in and threw his hook in the water recruiting-wise and found some areas that were going to be friendlier waters and more opportunity. He was methodical. Plus, he's had some good coaches come in and out. Every decision he has made has been well thought out. I don't know anyone in the coaching profession who works harder than Bill Snyder. Usually, if you work hard and make good decisions, you make progress and he has done that."
Tressel noted that Snyder and his staff found some success milking the junior college ranks for some impact players.
"They're in the heart of the junior college system," Tressel said. "Kansas has a great junior college system. I'm sure he's gone out West and recruited there as well. He has made good decisions on who they have recruited and brought into their team."
Since 1996, only Florida State's Bobby Bowden has won more games than Snyder in Division I-A. (Bowden has posted an 83-17 mark in that stretch to Snyder's 81-21 record.) He has also been a three-time national coach of the year award winner.
But this may be Snyder's best coaching job yet. The Wildcats opened the year 4-0 before suffering some key injuries that helped lead to three midseason losses. But K-State rallied with seven wins to end the year and give the Wildcats just their second conference championship -- ever.
"When they started the year, Kansas State was thought of as one of those teams that could have a storybook year," Tressel said. "They had a senior quarterback, a veteran team and a great runner. They had all of those things going for them, but then they had some misfortune with some injuries and the ball bounced wrong. But they didn't fold the tent. By the end of November and early December, they were back where everyone thought they would be in August. You have to admire that and tip your cap to them."