(Editor’s note: This story is part of The Star’s annual football preview, which will appear in three special sections in the Sunday, Aug. 28 print edition and also on KansasCity.com and The Star’s Red Zone Extra app.)
Only 17 of the 128 current head coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision have been coaching their program as long as Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
And that just counts the second time around for Snyder, who in 2009 returned to Kansas State after a three-year absence. If you start Snyder’s clock when he debuted in 1989 in Manhattan, Kan., he is by a decade the most experienced coach in college football and stands seven victories away from 200.
The success and longevity have been celebrated in many ways. The stretch of Kansas Highway 177 that leads into Manhattan is named for him. Fans arrive to the games at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and if they enter through the main entrance on the west side they’ll pass the 11 1/2 -foot tall bronze statue of Snyder.
The legacy is secure. But for all Snyder has accomplished, enough to be only the fourth active coach inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, his future is as compelling a topic to many.
As last season wound down, enough speculation had surfaced about Snyder’s immediate future that a news conference was assembled in January to announce he was returning for his 25th season overall and eighth of the second stint. Recruits could breathe easier.
But the uncertainty resumed another popular topic, the one about Snyder’s successor. For the past few years, the 76-year-old Snyder has shared the preference of his son, Sean, to become the Wildcats’ next head coach. Bill Snyder hasn’t been insistent publicly about it, in fact one time wondering aloud if he wanted Sean to remain in coaching at all because of the demands on family.
But the notion of son succeeding father will remain part of the narrative until Kansas State has another football coach, whenever the time comes.
“I’ve had eight years of Bill Snyder as the football coach,” Kansas State athletic director John Currie said. “How special is that?”
Indeed. Currie has had the best view of Snyder’s second tenure, which has included six bowl seasons and a Big 12 championship. For any athletic director, the best course would be continued success and coaching stability.
But college sports administrators have to plan for every occasion, especially a coaching change and part of their job involves collecting intel on coaching prospects. Currie wouldn’t share his thoughts on football’s future, except to say the university has worked hard to ensure the Wildcats will continue to provide the tools for the opportunity of success no matter who is coaching.
Kansas State has spent nearly $185 million in football upgrades over the last three years. It has increased salaries of coaches, including giving Bill Snyder a new contract in 2013. The deal is a five-year rollover and guarantees a position in athletic administration upon his retirement, similar to the positions occupied by Gary Pinkel at Missouri and Steve Spurrier at Florida.
Add to that qualities Currie often reminds his social media audience — Manhattan was voted the nation’s top college town in 2015 by livability.com and no Big 12 campus is closer to a commercial airport than K-State — and painting an attractive athletic and community picture becomes less difficult.
As would casting a wide net for a coaching successor, if that’s the route taken.
Sean Snyder’s resume — he’s a former K-State All-America punter, a staff member for 22 years and currently the Wildcats’ special-teams coach, associate head coach and director of football operations — likely would not move to the top of the stack at another Power Five program.
At Kansas State, it would make him a unique candidate. But the current staff includes others with head coaching experience. Offensive coordinator Dana Dimel has served as head coach at Wyoming and Houston.
There’s also this: the last time Kansas State sought a head coach, it whiffed with Ron Prince. That’s an argument for Bill Snyder knowing what’s best for the football program he largely created.
In college sports, there are plenty of examples of sons succeeding their head coaching fathers, but not in football. Basketball has been more of a family business. In the Big 12 alone, Sean Sutton followed his father Eddie at Oklahoma State and Pat Knight succeeded Bob at Texas Tech. Neither son enjoyed the success of his father and they lasted a combined 5 1/2 years.
But there is a recent situation that is similar to the possible Kansas State scenario.
Last November, Frank Beamer announced he was stepping down as Virginia Tech’s coach after a remarkable 29-year career there. His son, Shane, was the Hokies’ long snapper on the team that played for the 1999 national championship. Shane started his coaching career the next season and worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming Tech’s assistant head coach and running backs coach.
Soon after his dad’s announcement, Shane Beamer met with Tech athletic director Whit Babcock and was told he wouldn’t be a candidate to succeed his father.
“And I told Whit this,” Beamer told David Teel, a reporter for the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. “From a personal standpoint it would be difficult for me to coach at Virginia Tech with someone other than my dad.”
Shane Beamer, like Sean Snyder, had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator and knew that hurt his chances of becoming a head coach, although he said he believed his multiple roles in other programs made him better prepared than if had just been, say, an offensive coordinator.
Beamer interviewed at East Carolina after last season, and that job went to Duke offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery. Beamer landed at Georgia and is the special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
Every situation is different, and as a new season and a formidable opening opponent in Stanford approaches, the topic of Bill Snyder’s future should be distant. But as the year unfolds, speculation invariably will surface. If Snyder decides it’s time to step down and Sean Snyder wants a crack at the job, Currie will face a difficult decision.
Whenever that occurs, all Currie or whoever is leading Kansas State athletics at the time can do, is make the job as attractive as possible.