Kansas State Wildcats Coach Bill Snyder Builds a Contender

A look at how Coach Bill Snyder built a perennial contender in the Little Apple.

Stan Weber noticed something he hadn’t seen in two previous years calling games for a winless team.

Kansas State’s current radio color analyst watched from the Sun Devil Stadium pressbox as new coach Bill Snyder prepared his Wildcats for their 1989 season opener at Arizona State. What seemed ordinary to those around him struck the former KSU quarterback as a revelation.

“I saw our players warming up like they were getting ready for the Super Bowl,” he remembered. “To see guys of that ability with an intensity level that high, I thought, ‘whoa.’ I saw something. I told everyone in the booth how I thought the new guy in charge would be a winner.”

A winner who saved an all-time loser: The end results of Bill Snyder’s work at Kansas State are familiar to many. Since inheriting a program that owned a 27-game winless streak in 1989, Snyder constructed the greatest turnaround in college football history. The 76-year-old owns 193 career wins in 24 seasons in Manhattan. The Wildcats – they of four winning seasons from 1945 until Snyder’s arrival – won 11 games six times between 1997 and 2003. It’s a far cry from “nobody does it worse than Kansas State,” as Sports Illustrated wrote the year Snyder arrived here.

But consider the means that allowed this story to occur. Success in “The Little Apple” is the result of devotion to timeless principles: hard work, humility and relentless optimism. "This thing didn't rise out of the sand like Las Vegas. We have a solid foundation,” Snyder said.

In a symbolic sense, the head coach’s house has no roof (rhymes with “tough” in this part of the Midwest).

“His roof is the stars,” Weber explained. “There’s always a reason to get better and aim higher and to keep going. For Bill, it’s every day, every way, 365 days a year, and there’s a purpose to every day.”

An executive for a Missouri property management company, Weber knows success. He piloted the Wildcats to the program’s first postseason berth, a loss to Wisconsin in the 1982 Independence Bowl. He was recruited out of high school by both Pat Dye (during his brief stay at Wyoming) and Jimmy Johnson, then at Oklahoma State. He said playing against Nebraska’s early-‘80s juggernauts “was like fantasy camp because we had little to no chance of competing with them.”

It’s fitting to put Snyder into the same category as two other coaching legends. Like Bobby Bowden at Florida State and LaVell Edwards at BYU, Kansas State football has two eras: The time before its coaching savior arrived…and everything since. All three men had zero football history and tradition to work at those schools before turning them into football factories.

Bowden owns 315 of Florida State’s 486 all-time wins, a remarkable 65 percent clip. Nearly 60 percent of BYU’s all-time victories -- and all 22 of its bowl appearances – belonged to Edwards when he retired in 2000. Snyder’s career victory total is roughly 38 percent of Kansas State’s all-time collection.

But is Snyder’s work more impressive? Some would argue that. The tradition of losing was ingrained in Kansas State, an original member of the Big Six – later the Big Eight – beginning in 1928. 

“The difference with Snyder was the state of the university when he was hired at Kansas State,” Topeka Capital-Journal columnist Kevin Haskin said. “Athletics was in jeopardy of getting booted from the Big Eight and possibly dropping into a lower division. I’m not sure it would have happened (had Snyder not arrived), but the prospect existed.”

Snyder owns the reputation of a man unbound by trends. He wears the same pair of Nikes “from 1995,” Weber said. His devotion to bland pullover jacket once earned online praise. But his program stays relevant. The Wildcats earned a No. 1 ranking during the 1998 season. They equaled that feat 14 years later.

“I think what Bill brings is timeless,” Weber said. “You’re always going to have successful football players who are drawn to an ego-free, hard-working environment where expectations are high. With these kids, even some of their parents don’t have as high an expectation for their abilities as Bill and his staff do.”

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