The normal stages of grief didn’t seem to apply when Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder announced Monday that he had been diagnosed with throat cancer.
There was no denial, anger or bargaining. There wasn’t much depression, either. Many jumped straight to acceptance and began sending thoughts, prayers and positive messages Snyder’s way. An outpouring of support dominated social media.
Those close to Snyder, the 77-year-old Hall of Famer who turned the once-moribund Wildcats into a consistent winner by piling up 202 victories in 25 seasons, expressed hope and confidence for his situation.
“He is going to beat this,” former K-State quarterback Jake Waters said. “I’ve never seen him give in to any obstacle. No matter how much we were down in a game, he was always fighting, never letting us give up. He’s definitely going to fight his way through this.”
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“Coach will be back stronger than ever,” former K-State receiver and current Arkansas assistant Michael Smith said. “There is no doubt in my mind about that.”
“Bill Snyder is the toughest guy I know,” former K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller said. “I am sure he was shocked by the news, but I am also sure he is going to take this day by day and get better and better and fight until he wins. I assume his response to the doctor was, ‘OK, let’s overcome this.’”
Snyder has already begun the process. He has been receiving treatments for three weeks, juggling outpatient treatment at the University of Kansas Medical Center with his usual work schedule in Manhattan.
The cancer has forced him to spend some time away from his football team, but it didn’t prevent him from meeting with recruits as they made visits to K-State in late January. So far, he says he is “getting along very well” and expects to lead K-State throughout spring practice in March.
His doctors, at both KU and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, have described his recovery prognosis to be excellent, Snyder said.
“(They) have projected a positive outcome,” Snyder said in a statement released by K-State, “and have worked out a schedule that allows me to be in Kansas City for my regular treatments and still be back in the office on a regular basis through the first week of March.”
Snyder addressed his health status after The Star reported Friday that he was receiving treatment for an undisclosed health issue and that he had taken time off work to travel for treatment in Kansas City. Snyder, a regular attendee to K-State basketball games, was noticeably absent from this month’s game vs. KU.
“I feel bad having to release this information about my health in this manner,” Snyder said, “prior to sharing it in person with so many personal friends, distant family, players and their families, past and present, and many of the Kansas State football family so close to our program. But, with so much talk presently out there, I certainly owe it to everyone to make them aware of my condition.”
Now that it’s out in the open, many are lining up to extend a helping hand.
“He’s not going to ask for any help, but he’s going to get lots of it,” Waters said. “This is what family is all about. He preaches the importance of family more than anything else. I know all his former players and the rest of K-State nation will be there to support him.”
That will make for a different feel from the other times Snyder has sought medical treatment for injuries and illnesses.
Three years ago, he quietly had surgery on his left foot and surprised some of his players when he began spring practices in a walking boot.
When Michael Smith worked at K-State as a receivers coach, he remembers Snyder tearing his anterior cruciate ligament during a spring scrimmage when players accidentally bulldozed him on the sideline.
He didn’t miss a day of work.
“Coach never even had surgery on it,” Smith said. “He just told everybody he was fine. He was at practice the rest of the season like nothing happened. He is a tough sucker.”
Throat cancer is obviously more serious than an injury to the knee or foot, but Snyder may not look at it that way.
Snyder has long asked his players to focus on the task at hand by using a 1-0 mentality. Win the next workout, win the next practice, win the next game. To him, a nonconference matchup against a FCS opponent means as much as a showdown with Oklahoma or Texas.
Perhaps he will take the same approach with throat cancer.
“If anybody could be prepared for something like this, it’s Bill Snyder,” former K-State receiver Curry Sexton said. “I’m sure he would rather be in his office watching film or getting ready for a practice, but his positive outlook and approach to life will allow him to overcome.
“Coach is pretty frail looking, but he is probably as healthy as they come for being 77 years old. He’s got tons of energy left.”
That much was evident to Mueller when he spoke with Snyder earlier this month. Snyder welcomed the former pass-rusher into his office and they had an enjoyable conversation.
“I couldn’t tell any difference in him,” Mueller said. “He still had pep in his step. He was nothing but smiles, just asking about me and my family. Nothing really seems to faze him.”
Several players interviewed for this story suggested he will turn to his 16 Goals for Success for guidance during this process. They include: never give up, expect to win, no self limitations and be tough, mentally and physically.
Snyder created those rules to win on the football field, but they have a deeper meaning.
“The 16 goals aren’t just for show,” Waters said. “Trust me, he is going to use them and beat cancer.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett