Twenty-five years later, Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder’s brilliantly simple formula remains remarkably similar.
It’s still about asking himself and everyone around him, “Did you get better today?” It’s still about what he calls the “same ol’” practice schedule, fiendishly demanding precision and out-toiling everybody.
So much so that he seemed perplexed to be asked about what he might have done during, say, a week off in the summer.
“Which week was that?” he said last week, smiling but not really joking. “You must know something I don’t.”
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And that’s pretty much it, the framework of the still-stupefying turnaround(s) orchestrated by Snyder:
He inherited the historically worst major-college football program in the nation. Against the grain and maybe even gravity itself, he’s coaxed consistent excellence from it about ever since.
But the extreme makeover isn’t just a function of Snyder mechanically implementing a system.
It’s about the man animating the dynamics of it with an uncanny touch that somehow at once transmits a certain persnickety insistence and nurturing urging.
That’s what will make his legacy semieternal, as affirmed already by the fact you’re apt to take the Bill Snyder Highway into town and might walk by his statue into Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
And that’s what makes his inevitable departure a topic of much speculation, intrigue and concern.
When he will retire for the second and presumably final time and who will replace him are momentous questions for K-State even as it girds for that future with seismic facilities renovations.
It’s perhaps all the more so after the school got it wrong the first time around with Ron Prince’s three-year stint.
That sent a shudder through the school, reminding it of the fragility of what’s been not just an identity-changing phenomenon for the football program but also for the institution itself.
In a sense, it’s not relevant until it happens, because when will dictate so much. But it’s also something K-State has to be mulling now, too, because it’s coming sooner than later.
Even if Snyder isn’t 100 years old, as he joked the other day, at 75 he’s closer to a century old than he is to prime coaching years for most mortals.
Considering he is 42-22 since returning in 2009, it seems he’s achieved his initial goal to “calm the waters.”
His monologue the other day about the selling out of college athletics seemed telling in itself; it also was provoked by a question about his inclination now to discourage people from collegiate coaching.
If these seem to add up to signs that Snyder is pondering the end, he didn’t give that away in a chat with The Star.
“I don’t have the answer to a specific time,” said Snyder, under contract through 2017. “But … if my health remains good, they don’t fire me, and if I am doing what is in the best interest of the young people in our program, and they are responding to it, then all those things together probably keep me here for a little while.”
Moreover, in Snyder’s estimation, the waters maybe aren’t as tranquil as he’d like them to be.
“Well, that’s kind of still a part of it, I think. … I want the time to be right for Kansas State. I don’t want (it) to…”
He paused for a second and added, “suffer.”
No doubt all invested feel the same way.
But there’s no certainty they all feel the same way about a succession plan even if the undertaking will be connected in some way to a contractual obligation to allow Snyder “appropriate input” in the search for his successor.
The term, of course, is vague, so it can’t be known how much of a real voice Snyder would have.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said. “Whenever that happens, hopefully that’s the case (that he has a say). We’ll see.”
It makes for an interesting philosophical debate: How much sway should Snyder have, anyway?
You could argue he deserves a decisive voice for all he’s done and all he understands about the program and the school itself.
You could also make the case that such decisions are best left to those entrusted with the broader mission.
Now, depending on the unpredictable timing, it’s possible that all could be in harmony whenever this comes to pass.
Certainly, the evidence on behalf of some form of continuity will be compelling. You can also be sure that current athletic director John Currie believes “fit” is a major factor and knows there is a healthy culture in place now.
But it’s also possible there will be struggles ahead.
Currie wouldn’t be doing his due diligence if he weren’t constantly assessing the broader marketplace, for instance, and a “fit” doesn’t have to come off Snyder’s assembly line.
Moreover, even what constitutes continuity could be complicated.
For instance, Snyder almost certainly wants the job to go to his son Sean, 44, his associate head coach.
No one is more steeped in the success of his father than Sean Snyder, a punter at K-State during the grueling rebuilding years. But his resume lacks such conventionalities as coordinating an offense or defense.
Calming the waters himself, Sean Snyder said: “I can’t predict the future; I can’t create the future. I can be best-prepared for what comes next. So my goal is to do the best that I can and be prepared for whatever does come next.
“The thing that I don’t lose sleep over is trying to predict the future. … I’m very content with whatever happens next. It’s going to go in the right direction, whatever that direction is.”
Also on the staff is offensive coordinator Dana Dimel. He was 22-13 at Wyoming as one of the youngest coaches in the nation … only to go 8-26 at Houston in a decision he regretted soon after he got there.
And Dimel, 51, doesn’t hesitate to directly say he’d want the job.
“Oh, that would definitely be something that I would want to do,” said Dimel, who has been back in Manhattan since Snyder returned in 2009.
It’s not the end-all argument, but the notion of continuity seems a particularly persuasive one at K-State.
Maybe recruits and players appreciate more that you helped build something from nothing, Dimel said, or have a little limp from playing on the same field before times changed.
“I think really to understand where we are you have to understand where you’ve been,” he said.
But a sense of continuity could be generated from off-campus, too. Snyder’s coaching tree includes working directly with Bob and Mike Stoops, Mark Mangino and Bret Bielema and, thus, connects to their protégés.
Then there are possibilities like the energetic, impressive Eric Wolfert, the Youngstown State coach who was among Snyder’s first recruits in 1989.
This is all hypothetical stuff, of course, and the range of options or thinking will vary with the remaining range of Snyder’s career, too.
But whenever that is, K-State will be charged not with replacing the helm of a system but a rare presence more resembling a force of nature.
Solving that will come with a lot of questions that have only a precious few right answers. The school should have an open mind about them no matter how much pressure it faces in any direction.