After the 1988 college football season, Kansas State brought a handful of candidates to campus to interview for the head coaching job and the search committee visited three away from Manhattan. As starved for success as the university was, none of them seemed right and the search dragged on.
It happened that the Wildcats had finished a home-and-home series with Iowa that season, and a Hawkeyes media guide had made its way to the athletic administration office. Athletic director Steve Miller read the biography of the offensive coordinator. This was the first time someone at K-State had considered Bill Snyder for the job.
Things moved quickly. The Wildcats could hardly believe what they heard, that someone as qualified as Snyder could envision a future that included football success, even with the school’s financial situation so severe the football team played at Oklahoma in four straight years.
Three decades later, Snyder bid farewell to Kansas State and the university began the process for a successor.
The timing for change is right.
Snyder, 79, steps down with the program losing momentum. The Wildcats headed into their final game at Iowa State with a chance to qualify for a bowl and held a 17-point fourth quarter lead before losing to complete a 5-7 record.
Recruiting had become difficult with uncertainty and roster attrition, with nearly 30 players leaving the program in the past two years, had impacted depth.
Yet, before this season’s 3-6 Big 12 Conference finish, Kansas State had been over .500 in six of the past seven years. The one year it wasn’t, 2015, Snyder was compelled to hold a news conference to announce his return.
That says something about where expectations are in Manhattan. Twice in eight years the Wildcats finished with a losing conference record and Snyder announced his status both times. This is his creation and what he accomplished at Manhattan stands among the greatest achievements in college football.
Former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer once said of a season in which Snyder won an award, “He’s not the coach of the year, he’s not the coach of the decade, he’s the coach of the century.”
How quickly things improved. Two winless seasons preceded Snyder, and a final play triumph over North Texas in 1989 that ended the program’s 30-game winless streak was the highlight of his first season.
But the Wildcats won five games in 1990 and seven in 1991. The turnaround was dizzying. In 1993, when Kansas State reached a bowl game and the sea of purple at the game in Arizona was greater than the attendance at home games only years earlier.
The Fiesta Bowl victory over Donovan McNabb and Syracuse … the regular-season triumph over Nebraska in 1998 that broke a three-decade losing streak in the series … domination of Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship Game at Arrowhead Stadium … another Big 12 title in 2012 capped by a resounding victory over Texas. Maybe those stand as atop the Snyder victory list, and the one-sidedness of the Kansas series (23-4) checks a lifetime achievement box.
Along the way there were nearly twice as many victories as losses, a 215-117-1 career record, 19 bowl games and the two conference championships and an induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, only the fourth active coach to be so honored.
Since the formation of conference in 1996, only Oklahoma and Texas have more victories than Kansas State among Big 12 teams.
And perhaps the most amazing thing about Snyder’s career is he did this twice. He stepped down in 2005 after 17 seasons with the Wildcats, coming off consecutive losing seasons. Snyder believed he had reached the end.
Three years later came a new beginning as Snyder answered the call to replace Ron Prince and provided another decade of stability.
Sunday, that era of Kansas State football closed. Snyder, who probably has written more letters of appreciation than any coach, deserves every thank you note that comes his way.
The sport’s greatest turnaround? Sure. But also maybe the greatest coaching job in college football history.