Vahe Gregorian

The time has come for Bill Snyder to step down as K-State football coach

Over the better part of three decades, Bill Snyder and Kansas State became nearly synonymous. They completed each other, really, as Snyder discovered his destiny and carried out one of the most inspiring stories in the annals of college football.

Few, if any, coaches will be more forever entwined with the revitalized self-image of their program, the proud growth of a school itself and broader community pride than Snyder in Manhattan.

It was amazing while it lasted, wasn’t it?

And it’s a true shame it has come to the lamentable turn it has — though Snyder now has an opportunity to do another wonderful and honorable thing for K-State and retire again.

True as ever, he’s best suited to provide the solution. He just has to understand that pride can be self-defeating and, perhaps paradoxically, bend the unrelenting will that hatched a beautiful story.

Before it becomes not just a good idea but an ugly necessity for the 79-year-old, who signed a new five-year contract in August that features a $3 million buyout.

This is written with a heavy heart about a man we all admire, one I’ve been following since he took over at Kansas State in 1989.

But we make the point as much for Snyder’s sake as anything else … even while recognizing that this sort of suggestion for a man who doesn’t like to be questioned might make him dig in more.

Naturally, stepping away would make for a complicated compromise for Snyder, whose no-surrender, proprietary sense of the program is part of what enabled him to transform it. By almost literally seizing control, he exercised what many consider a football miracle when he exorcised the past of what was then the worst program in the history of the game.

With an obsessive work ethic, unfounded but unbounded optimism and a penchant for detail at times bordering on the absurd, he whisked K-State into a perennial power.

Then, somehow, he engineered another admirable turnaround when he returned from his first retirement after the program staggered again in his wake.

At that time, 10 years ago this month, Snyder said he was returning to “calm the waters” — a fine ambition after once parting them.

But at 3-6 this season, uncompetitive three times and 6-9 in Big 12 play the last two years, the program at best is treading water now — while trouble bubbles below.

Nothing can diminish what he’s done, but this is needless conflict and a foul aftertaste in the making if Snyder doesn’t do now what he’s always preached: act for the greater good instead of in his own self-interests.

And, yes, that means unconditionally. Specifically, even if son Sean, his assistant head coach and special teams coach, isn’t chosen as his successor by athletic director Gene Taylor. A prospect that seems unlikely now only will become more so as the argument for continuity fades.

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This isn’t about a 14-13 loss Saturday at Texas Christian, which actually lost the week before to a Kansas team that fired its coach on Sunday. That just further reaffirmed the program is languishing and needs a different sort of rejuvenation – particularly amid a $210 million facilities upgrade.

Since peaking in 2012 with a Big 12 championship and an 11-2 finish, K-State has lost five or more games in three of the last four seasons and is just 11-11 overall the last season-plus.

Now, once again, Snyder is perhaps the only one who can right this. Alas, though, this time by graciously retiring to set the school free to move forward smoothly.

Because only Snyder deciding it’s time can enable the change necessary to reset and energize the program without rancor or controversy.

Whether at season’s end or now, he needs to do it before his team’s diminished performances and some curious behavior loom larger than they should in his otherwise uplifting profile.

For more than a year now, Snyder unbecomingly and uncharacteristically has flung under the bus the “youngsters” — as he likes to call them — he’s entrusted with guiding and so often has nurtured with the right sort of tough love:

Remember last year, when receiver Corey Sutton sought his release from scholarship and got it only after a protracted battle with Snyder? No doubt inflamed by Sutton’s ridiculously over-the-top reference to K-State being a “slave master,” Snyder inappropriately made public a private matter.

“There’s a young man who’s been in trouble twice, tested positive twice,” he said before a Catbackers function in Overland Park. “I’ve never kept a player in our program who has tested positive two times. Drug testing. We have some rules in our athletic department that allowed that to happen at this time.”

At the time, it seemed like a rare lapse by Snyder. And, yes, we should all consider that he was in the middle of treatment for throat cancer. And it’s worth remembering that he later apologized.

But now it’s hard to separate that from all this:

After the 35-6 loss at West Virginia, Snyder said, “I can’t coach a team that can’t get six inches on a play.” Following the 51-14 loss to Oklahoma, Snyder said his defense tackled like kindergarteners.

Then, moments after the loss to TCU, Snyder was asked about multiple special teams issues and said, “Well, it wasn’t special teams as much as it was an individual. You take away the turnover that gave them the winning touchdown, and we’re talking about a different thing right now.”

No doubt there’s a fine line between holding people accountable and motivating them. But it’s easy to see a difference between coddling and willfully publicly embarrassing players, in this case Isaiah Zuber, especially from a coach who always has been apt to absorb their shortfalls as his own.

Now, it’s just part of some other puzzling disconnects in a season that has included the oddity of Snyder making a change at quarterback in the West Virginia game without so much as telling offensive coordinator Andre Coleman and quarterbacks coach Colin Klein ahead of time.

Nearly 30 players have left the team the last two seasons for reasons other than graduation, recruiting has been tepid and indications are that the blind faith Snyder once enjoyed has eroded.

Yes, with home games against Kansas and Texas Tech ahead before finishing the season at Iowa State, it’s entirely possible that Snyder can summon a rally to salvage K-State’s bowl eligibility for a ninth straight season.

That’s also a stretch, though, given Iowa State’s resurgence. And even such a run wouldn’t change reality: All great things must come to an end, and this era has seen its best days.

There is no shame in that, of course. Snyder has achieved things few could even dream of, has directly transformed hundreds of lives and surely changed countless attitudes about what’s possible in life.

The symbiotic relationship between K-State and Snyder will always be something to celebrate, and it will be one more victory for all if he finds it within himself to calm the waters again now.

Vahe Gregorian

Vahe Gregorian is a Kansas City Star sports columnist.

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