Nearly two decades have passed since Michael Bishop played quarterback at Kansas State, but he only needs a matter of seconds to recall his favorite memory as a Wildcat.
It revolves around his former coach, Bill Snyder.
Without hesitation, Bishop’s mind races back to the chilly November night in 1998 when K-State beat Nebraska. The Wildcats had lost 29 straight to the Cornhuskers, and at times it felt like the losing streak would never end. When the Wildcats finally won, fans rushed the field and celebrated an unprecedented 10-0 start. K-State was on its way to a No. 1 ranking and an undefeated regular season.
As the team’s star quarterback, Bishop became a K-State legend that night. It’s only natural he singled out the game. But his favorite memory actually came afterward in the locker room. He remembers Snyder’s smile most vividly.
“Seeing Coach Snyder after the game and the emphasis he showed was great,” Bishop said. “It was an amazing feeling. The game itself was great, but to see how he felt after that, knowing that he had finally gotten Kansas State over that hump, was a great feeling for me.”
Snyder, 76, will be formally inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, becoming the fourth active coach to enter the distinguished club. It will be a special moment for Snyder, who came to Manhattan in 1989 and transformed one of the nation’s worst football teams into a consistent winner.
He has led the Wildcats to 193 victories, 17 bowls and two Big 12 championships. Other teams tried to lure him away over the years, but he stayed loyal to K-State and preached his 16 goals for success every step of the way.
For that reason, Tuesday will also be special for former players such as Bishop, who helped him reach a professional milestone.
We contacted former players, coaches and others who have come to know Snyder closely during his 24-year run. Here, in their own words, they describe what made Snyder a Hall of Famer:
Kevin Lockett (former K-State and NFL receiver, and father of the top statistical receiver in school history, Tyler Lockett): “My favorite Bill Snyder memory happened when I heard he was coming back for a second stint as coach. I was thrilled. Looking at it from a dad’s perspective, I knew when he returned that Tyler would have the ability to play for him.
“I have great memories playing for him, too, but that was more memorable for me, because I knew what a great experience that could be for Tyler. He grew up a Wildcat and always wanted to go to K-State, but things didn’t look very rosy while he (Snyder) was retired. When Snyder came back, Tyler and I both knew he belonged at K-State.
“As long as that man is there, I will send any family member to Kansas State.”
Martin Gramatica (former K-State and NFL kicker): “He was like a dad to me. Anything you ever needed on or off the field, he was there. He genuinely cares about his players. That’s rare. I’ve have had a lot of coaches, and most of them only worry about what you can do for them on the field, but Coach was more worried about you being a good man. He wanted you to make good grades and graduate.
“He created a family atmosphere that made Kansas State feel like home. When my college career ended, my first instinct was to leave school and focus on getting ready for the NFL in Florida. That was my priority. But I stayed in Manhattan another semester and graduated. After all the hard work Coach Snyder did for us and for me, I felt like I owed it to him to graduate. I went to college with the goal to play professional sports, not to get a degree. But I didn’t want to let him down. That’s how hard he pushed us about being good men.”
Ben Leber (former K-State and NFL linebacker): “His reward is different from most coaches. Anytime he can go out there and turn a good player into a better player, and, most importantly, a better person, that is why he keeps coming back. There is always a new kid he can influence.”
Carson Coffman (former K-State and Arena Football League quarterback): “He is the only coach that can do what he does and be successful, as far as the grinding work he demands. My younger brother took a recruiting visit to Alabama, and I was very curious about how they worked. He said it wasn’t near what you would find at K-State.
“Coach Snyder wants his players to outwork everyone. That would turn a lot of players off but not the type of guys he gets. We don’t have prima donnas. Once you get to K-State, you realize you have to earn everything.”
Curry Sexton (former K-State receiver): “Consistency is so important to him. There are a lot of guys with a lot of talent who come to K-State and can’t get on the field, because they don’t perform consistently Monday through Thursday. He will play a walk-on over a four-star recruit based entirely on consistency.”
Chris Harper (New York Giants receiver currently on injured reserve): “The year we reached No. 1 (2012 coaches poll and BCS standings), we had three guys get drafted. That’s it. That is a down year for USC or Alabama or any major program, but it was a big year for us in terms of NFL prospects. Coach Snyder doesn’t need star players to win because of the way he coaches. No one else can say that.”
Travis Britz (senior K-State defensive tackle): “Our resiliency this year is Coach Snyder’s doing. He puts us in situations in practice where we have to be resilient and fight back every single day. You have seen the K-State football program fight year after year. He’s the reason why.”
Darren Sproles (Philadelphia Eagles running back and former Olathe North star): “Nothing is going to be handed to you, but if you practice hard enough during the week, you can beat anybody when you step on the field for a game. Hard work is the biggest thing he taught me.”
Michael Bishop: “Coach Snyder demands you leave everything out there when you’re between the white lines. I’m a high school coach now, and I tell the exact same thing to my kids. If they come back into the locker room after the game and they still have energy, they didn’t play hard enough.”
Jordy Nelson (Packers receiver): “He holds himself to the same standard. He puts in long hours and finds creative ways to stay involved in practice.
“During one training camp it was way over 100 degrees and not enjoyable at all. The first thing we all start doing as players is complain about the heat. Well, the first thing Coach Snyder does to convince us it’s not that hot is come walking out of the tunnel in his full winter coat, zipped up. He was going to sweat right along with us. There was no way we could complain.”
Chris Harper: “He will push you past where you think you can go. Then you can see how far you can actually push yourself. After going through his practices, NFL coaches fee like babysitters.”
Carson Coffman: “I was talking to a friend that went to the Fiesta Bowl and got to experience the No. 1 ranking, all that good stuff. He also played under Ron Prince with me. We both agreed we had a lot more fun with Prince, but we won a lot more games and had more meaningful memories with Snyder. He was a demanding coach, but he made you better.”
Curry Sexton: “His attention to detail always impressed me. Not only is he a perfectionist, but he doesn’t ever change. We could be coming off a win over Oklahoma or a loss to North Dakota State, his approach the next day at practice was the same.”
Kevin Lockett: “He wanted every second of every day planned out perfectly. No detail was too small. I remember him being upset in ’92 when we were preparing to go to what they called the Coca-Cola Bowl. It was a game in Japan against Nebraska, and we shared a 13-hour flight there. Someone showed him the seating assignments, and he was mad, because he had figured out the sun was going to be on our side of the plane. He was outraged.
“He was worried about our players getting more fatigued than Nebraska’s players. He thought it would be easier for us to sleep on the shady side. No one else in the room had even considered that. I don’t remember what he said, but our seats got changed. We had the shady side both ways. There were a lot of stories like that. He always carried around a recorder and documented every thought that entered his head. This guy was prepared for every situation.”
Anthony Cantele (former K-State kicker): “He preaches discipline, too. There were times we won games with 120 total yards of offense. How does that happen? Well, we had great special teams, and we never committed penalties. He cares about the little stuff, and it adds up. His team never beats itself.”
Stan Weber (K-State radio analyst for all 294 of Snyder’s games, father of team captain Stanton Weber): “I watched Bill Snyder’s team practice for the first time at Arizona State the night before his first game in ’89. About an hour in I turned to the radio guys next to me and said, ‘We are going to win.’
“That is after my first two years of broadcasting when K-State didn’t have a single win. I could tell by the way the team practiced we were going to go to a bowl — something K-State had only done once before at that time — within the next few years and we were going to start winning six games regularly.
“It was the most outrageous, aggressive, crazy statement I could make. The look on their faces was like, ‘What did you just say?’ But I could tell right away there was something different about this guy. That’s how dramatic the shift was to Bill Snyder.”
Barry Switzer (former Oklahoma coach): “You won’t find a better coach. When he got to Kansas State, they were the worst program in college football. No tradition, no facilities, hard place to get to, horrible talent base. They lost something like 30 straight games.
“I played them every year at Oklahoma, and I hung half a hundred on them every year. I felt sorry for them. I really did. I played all my players, and they still couldn’t stop us. Kansas State was one of those games you just knew you were going to win.
“Well, then Bill Snyder came to town and took the challenge. Before you know it, they start beating Oklahoma’s (butt). I never faced him, thank God, because he turned that program into one of the top teams in the country. And he built it on a foundation that had nothing but cracks.”
Bob Stoops (Oklahoma coach, former assistant under Snyder): “I was here when it was not this. I was here from the first game with Coach Snyder for seven years, and I marvel at what he has been able to build.”
Stan Weber: “No self-limitations. That’s what sets him apart. I thought I made the wildest prediction possible when I said we could play in a bowl game. But somewhere along the way he ramped it up to 11 wins a year, just shattering every possible expectation. Fans were in fantasy land by ’98. He could have been satisfied, but he never put a cap on this team’s success.
“It’s an honor to have a child under his leadership, because he teaches those players so much. People think he is old and can’t relate to players, but he does that better than anyone. No one believes in his players more. He believed in my son more than I did.
“When Stanton met with him to finalize being a walk-on, he talked to Stanton like he was Jordy Nelson. He had this grand vision for him. They let me sit in on the meeting, and I about fell out of my chair thinking there was no way. Today he’s on scholarship and a captain. Never thought that was possible, but I saw his limitations. Coach Snyder refused to think that way.”
Darren Sproles: “No one gave us a shot when we played (then No. 1) Oklahoma (in the 2003 Big 12 championship game), but when you step onto the field, anyone can be beat. You learn that playing for Coach Snyder.”
Kevin Lockett: “It also helps that he puts you in position to win. He was always one step ahead of other coaches. Think back to when he had Michael Bishop, he was at the forefront of the wildcat formation. He has always been a pioneer with dual-threat quarterbacks. He was first to use the pop pass. He prepares better than anyone.”
Carson Coffman: “No one can do more with 24 hours than Bill Snyder. God, that guy gets a lot done in a day. I don’t know how he does it. He spends all this time coaching and planning, yet he finds time to write letters and help strangers going through difficult times. You hear stories about how he never eats. I’m not sure he sleeps.”
Curry Sexton: “I broke my collarbone in practice as a freshman. We were headed to the Cotton Bowl, but I was going to miss it. I needed surgery. I was pretty down. On Thanksgiving Day I got a call from Coach, just to check in on me. He didn’t have to do that, but he has done it multiple times.
“He just wrote me a letter of recommendation for my law school applications. He got it written and sent out within 48 hours, right in the middle of the season.”
Anthony Cantele: “He sends my mom a Mother’s Day card every year. Sometimes I wonder if he is trying to show me up.”
Kliff Kingsbury (Texas Tech coach): “When I was a player, as a sophomore, we lost to them, and he wrote me a letter. It always stayed with me, because I was trying to find my way, and I didn’t know if I was any good or not, and he was very complimentary. Ever since then I’ve been a huge Bill Snyder fan.
“I have such a tremendous respect for him. I’ve gotten to know him a little bit through the Big 12 coaches’ meetings, and in those meetings he is still the sharpest guy. Anytime he speaks, everybody sits up and listens.”
Jordy Nelson: “There’s no arguing with him. I came to Kansas State as a walk-on safety. Then he suggested I switch to receiver. I am forever indebted to Coach Snyder for that decision.”
Carson Coffman: “I hope the Hall of Fame has been a lifelong goal for him, because he deserves to be in there. I am proud to say I played for that man.”
John Currie (K-State athletic director): “He reconstructed the program. He built it and then rebuilt it, doing it with dignity and class and loyalty. This day and age, you see coaches bouncing around place to place. He stayed.”
Michael Bishop: “He means so much to Kansas State and Manhattan. You look around at the stadium and the town today, and they are nothing like when I played here. Everything is bigger and better.”
Curry Sexton: “Without Coach Snyder, I don’t know if Kansas State football is even a thing. He deserves a ton of credit for how the university has transformed, building the football program to what it is. Everything else around it became big time. Without him, Manhattan is probably a small town with no reason to visit.”
Martin Gramatica: “There is not a better coach in the history of college football. I’m not sure there is even a close No. 2. No coach means more to his team or his town. Coach Snyder is like a god in Manhattan. He is loved by everyone. The Hall of Fame wouldn’t be complete without him.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett
With and without you
Bill Snyder has coached exactly 20 percent of Kansas State’s 120 seasons of intercollegiate football. He has slightly more than 20 percent of the Wildcats’ success, however.
With Snyder: 8 (Sean Snyder, Jaime Mendez, Chris Canty, Martin Gramatica, David Allen, Mark Simoneau, Terence Newman, Tyler Lockett)
Without Snyder: 2 (Gary Spani, Jordy Nelson)
With Snyder: 27
Without Snyder: 8
With Snyder: 193-100-1 (.658)
Without Snyder: 316-530-40 (.379)