MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — Bill Snyder already was considered the architect of the greatest turnaround in college football history before he decided to return from a three-year retirement to resurrect Kansas State again.
Now, the 79-year-old coach is heading back into retirement.
Snyder decided to step away Sunday after 27 seasons on the sideline, ending a Hall of Fame tenure in Manhattan that began in the Big Eight and weathered seismic shifts in college football. Along the way he overcame throat cancer, sent dozens of players to the NFL and gave countless more an opportunity to succeed not only on the field but also in life.
“Coach Snyder has had an immeasurable impact on our football program, Kansas State University, the Manhattan community and the entire state of Kansas,” Wildcats athletic director Gene Taylor said. “He and his family have touched the lives of so many people, from student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, and he is truly one of the greatest coaches and leaders in college football history.
“His impact on college football is unmatched and legacy is one that will last a lifetime.”
The Wildcats fell apart during a season-ending loss to Iowa State, leaving them 5-7 and at home for the bowl season. Snyder finishes with a resume featuring a record of 215-117-1, trips to 19 bowl games, two Big 12 championships and a legacy that will endure long into the future.
The highway leading into town already has been renamed in his honor, leading fans from Interstate 70 to the stadium that bears the name of his family. A large bronze statue of Snyder stands outside.
Taylor said the search for a new coach will begin immediately with help from Ventura Partners, and a clause in Snyder’s contract indicates he will have input in the decision. Taylor also said Snyder will exercise a clause that allows him to become a special ambassador to the university at a yearly salary of $250,000 for “as long as he is physically and mentally able.”
“This university, this community and this state are deeply indebted to Coach Bill Snyder,” Kansas State president Gen. Richard Myers said. “He came here, and stayed here, because of the people. He made us a family — a proud purple family who travel in record numbers to watch him lead the Wildcats to victories, bowls and rankings never achieved before.”
Snyder arrived at Kansas State in the fall of 1988, a nondescript offensive coordinator from Iowa who once coached high school swimming before learning under legendary Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry.
The Wildcats had just four winning seasons the previous 44 years, and they were in the midst of a 27-game winless streak. Dozens of confidants implored Snyder not to take over what “Sports Illustrated” famously called “Futility U,” certain that it was a coaching dead end.
Snyder was still mulling his decision when he walked the campus one cold morning. He was smitten by the friendliness of the people, their earnestness and work ethic, and he accepted the job.
“I think the opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football exists here today,” he would say at his introductory news conference, “and it’s not one to be taken lightly.”
That news conference occurred 30 years ago Friday, beginning a turnaround of not only the long-languishing football program but a university in need of a boost.
Snyder introduced a new logo to distance the Wildcats from their losing past, and he began to heavily recruit junior colleges. He steadily improved the roster, beat North Texas that first year to end the long winless streak and slowly won over skeptical fans.
He did it with hard work, pure and simple. He was famous for eating once a day, lest he waste any time dining. He once consulted a sleep expert to divine a way to get by on four hours’ a night. He demanded the same rigorous schedule of his assistants, a group that would include future head coaches Bob Stoops, Bret Bielema, Dan McCarney and Jim Leavitt.
The wins began to pile up: The Wildcats went 5-6 in Year 2, won seven games the next season and went 9-2-1 to earn their first bowl berth in 1993. It began a streak of 11 consecutive postseason trips, highlighted by three Holiday Bowl appearances, two Cotton Bowls and a pair of trips to the Fiesta Bowl.
Kansas State started to slip in 2004 and ’05, though, a pair of winless seasons that appeared to take their toll on Snyder. And he surprised many by announcing his retirement, telling a packed room inside the old football complex that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
He said he wanted a break. It didn’t last very long.
After watching the program slide under Ron Prince, the silver fox was lured out of retirement to rebuild the program once more. Two seasons later, the Wildcats were back in a bowl game; a season after that, they rose to No. 1 in the nation before playing in the Cotton Bowl, and a year after that, they won Snyder his second Big 12 championship and landed in the Fiesta Bowl.
Five more bowl games followed, even though the Wildcats never reached the same heights. It was a period marked by sustained success, if not the excellence of Snyder’s earlier years.
The biggest scare of his career came two years ago, when Snyder was diagnosed with throat cancer. He went through grueling rounds of chemotherapy and radiation while rarely missing a spring practice, and he was back last season to lead the Wildcats to the Cactus Bowl.
But with a depleted roster and a young, rebuilt coaching staff, this past season never got on track. The Wildcats barely beat South Dakota, were routed by Mississippi State and struggled to live up to expectations as they barreled toward their worst season in more than a decade.
Along the way, the cracks began to show: There was the rare outburst at a reporter during a news conference and the even rarer sight of Snyder calling out individual players for poor play.
By the time Kansas State struggled to beat Kansas, it appeared Snyder had made up his mind.
The famously secretive Snyder kept the decision to himself, though, and the Wildcats handily beat Texas Tech to keep their bowl hopes alive. But when they blew a big fourth-quarter lead against Iowa State to end their season, Snyder looked both exhausted and defeated.
He looked as if he was ready for another break.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Bill Snyder, architect of the greatest turnaround in the history of college football and arguably one of the best college football coaches of all time, announced his retirement today as the head football coach at Kansas State.
Thank you, Coach Snyder.
— K-State Athletics (@kstatesports) December 2, 2018
The winningest coach in the history of K-State football with a 215-117-1 record, Snyder will transition to a special ambassador role for the University as stated in his current employment agreement.
He will leave as the 20th winningest coach in FBS history and currently ranks second among active FBS coaches in wins. Under Snyder, K-State is the third-winningest program in the Big 12 with 104 total league wins since the league was formed in 1996.
In all, Snyder led K-State to 19 of the school’s 21 all-time bowl appearances, won two conference titles, achieved two No. 1 national rankings, coached players who received a total of 214 All-America honors, 13 Academic All-Americans, was a five-time national coach of the year and seven-time conference coach of the year and also became just the fourth active coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (2015).
“Coach Snyder has had an immeasurable impact on our football program, Kansas State University, the Manhattan community and the entire state of Kansas, and it has been an honor and a privilege to get to know and work with him the past two years,” said Athletics Director Gene Taylor. “He and his family have touched the lives of so many people, from student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, and he is truly one of the greatest coaches and leaders in college football history. His impact on college football is unmatched and legacy is one that will last a lifetime.”
Snyder’s impact at K-State reached far beyond the football field. In addition to rekindling an overwhelming sense of pride in K-State alumni and supporters from coast to coast, the winning culture he ushered in helped spark a University and community-wide revitalization as K-State’s enrollment blossomed from 18,120 when he was hired to a record of more than 24,000.
“This university, this community and this state are deeply indebted to Coach Bill Snyder. Since arriving on campus in 1989, coach has delivered on all his promises — and more. He brought Kansas State University football to the national stage and built a program on the bedrock of integrity, honor and his famed 16 goals for success,” said Richard Myers, Kansas State University president.
“He came here, and stayed here, because of the people. He made us a family — a proud purple family who travel in record numbers to watch him lead the Wildcats to victories, bowls and rankings never achieved before. Coach Snyder has always taken the time and care to turn his players into college graduates, community leaders, successful businessmen and leaders of strong families. Bill Snyder is a legend and his legacy is one that K-Staters for generations will value and cherish,” Myers said.
Following a three-year retirement from 2006-2008, Snyder returned to the sidelines in 2009 with hopes of revitalizing a program that he once built, piece by piece, into a national force. And, after nine seasons back in charge, he did just that – and then some.
Over the past 10 years under Snyder, K-State has totaled 79 victories, advanced to eight bowl games, won a conference championship in 2012 and finished third or better in the ultra-competitive Big 12 Conference in four of the last seven seasons.
Act Two of his renowned career started in 2009 when the Wildcats played for a berth in the Big 12 Championship on the last week of the season and went 6-6 prior to a 7-5 campaign in 2010 and a berth in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl.
K-State’s climb back into the nation picture continued in 2011 as the Cats went 10-3, finished No. 8 in the BCS standings and earned their first Cotton Bowl invitation in 10 years
The bar was raised again in 2012 as Snyder led the Cats to their third conference championship in school history and first since 2003. Kansas State, which won its first 10 games of the season and finished the regular season at 11-1 with an 8-1 mark in Big 12 play, tied the school record for overall wins and conference victories while also ascending to No. 1 in the BCS rankings following its 10-0 start.
Snyder went on to win the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award as well as top Big 12 coach honors for the second straight season following the Cats’ memorable 2012 season that culminated with a berth in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and quarterback Collin Klein being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
From 2013-2018, K-State won an average of almost eight games a year and included a 2014 season that saw the Cats ranked once again in the Top 10 and compete for a Big 12 Championship in the final week of the season.
When Snyder was named the Wildcats’ head football coach in 1988, he inherited a team that had just suffered through its second-consecutive winless season and was on a current 0-26-1 stretch. It was a program that had been through 14 different head coaches and won just 24 percent of its games – going 137-455-18 – between Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf’s 1934 Big Six championship team and his hiring.
But it did not take long for Snyder to change the entire culture of the program. In just his third year, he guided the 1991 Wildcats to a 7-4 record to give K-State just its second winning season since 1970. For his efforts, Snyder was named ESPN’s National Coach of the Year.
Just two seasons later, Snyder would guide Kansas State to a 9-2-1 record and a berth in the 1993 Copper Bowl, marking just the second bowl appearance ever by the Wildcats.
The trip to Tucson was the first of 11-straight postseason appearances for Snyder’s Wildcats, who quickly became a fixture on the Big 8/12 bowl circuit.
Along the way, Kansas State would become just the second team in the history of college football to win 11 games in six of seven seasons from 1997 and 2003.
The 11-win campaign in 2003 brought more firsts for Kansas State as Snyder guided the Wildcats to an unforgettable upset of No. 1 Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game that not only gave the Wildcats their first Big 12 title and BCS bowl berth, but captivated the imagination of the nation’s college football fans.
In his first tenure, Snyder guided Kansas State to 11 winning seasons, four Big 12 North Division titles and three Big 12 Championship games as the Wildcats recorded the eighth-most wins in Division I-A from 1993-2004.
In addition to the team accomplishments, Snyder’s players were also some of the most decorated in the country. In his first 16 years, he produced three national award winners, 45 All-America selections and 68 first team all-conference honorees.
The rebuilding effort and subsequent success engineered at Kansas State by Snyder clearly stands as one of the most amazing in all of college football.
A national search is underway to identify K-State’s next football coach. The department will utilize Ventura Partners to assist with the search.