COLUMN: Snyder’s legacy includes great lessons off the field

Head coach Bill Snyder leads the #14-ranked Wildcats from the locker room onto the field ready to take on the #11-ranked Oklahoma Sooners Saturday morning at Gaylord Family Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. (Parker Robb | The Collegian)

“Bill Snyder isn’t the coach of the year, and he isn’t the coach of the decade. He’s the coach of the century.”

That statement from legendary head coach Barry Switzer was published in Sports Illustrated in 1998. Snyder was 59 years old at the time, and though many saw something special in what he was doing, few would call him “coach of the century.”

Switzer was one of them.

Now, some 17 years later, Snyder is College Football Hall of Fame-bound, elected earlier this month following another successful season at K-State. His record stands at an impressive 187-94-1 in two tours and 23 seasons with the Wildcats. He will be back for a 24th later this fall.

The architect of the “greatest turnaround in the history of college football” has left an indelible mark on the field at K-State. He has won championships, triumphed as the underdog and turned overlooked high school and JUCO players into stars on Sundays.

This isn’t another story about Snyder’s legacy on the field. That narrative has been well-documented, and it certainly deserves more than a space on a printed piece of paper or a small corner of the Internet.

For as much as Bill Snyder has accomplished on the field at K-State, his most important influence, not only over a football program, but also an entire population of fans, lies off the field.

Candidly or indirectly, Snyder has taught an entire generation of fans many life lessons. Of these, three stick out.

The first began on Nov. 30, 1988: confidence. K-State was in the midst of an 0-26-1 drought when Snyder was hired. The program had just one bowl appearance in over 90 seasons, and Sports Illustrated had already labeled it one of the most embarrassing and ineffective college teams in history.

That did not matter to Snyder. The turnaround, he said at his first press conference, “is not one to be taken lightly.”

There was a confidence instilled in him from day one which has persisted ever since. Whether they are overwhelming favorites or picked to lose by three touchdowns, Snyder is confident in his players and confident in every situation.

Forget the fact that his teams are as blue collar as they get, mostly made up of walk-ons from small, rural high schools and JUCO transfers. It doesn’t matter the “stars” next to your name, you simply have to believe that you can become great with hard work.

And that was the lesson for everyone: be confident and work hard to become great — don’t let great be handed to you.

The second was an extension of confidence: owning up to your mistakes.

Head coaching is not for the faint of heart. Few professions are scrutinized so regularly. Yet, one of the most endearing attributes of Snyder was admitting when he had made a mistake or not met expectations.

Time and time again, Snyder took the fall after a bad performance. “I didn’t have them prepared well enough,” he often said. Though many knew that wasn’t the case, Snyder knew it was best to step into the fire and redirect complaints that would normally be tossed in the faces of his players.

Even with trivial gaffes, Snyder was upfront. When he was asked about appearing in a Pat Roberts campaign advertisement, Snyder said, “I embarrassed the university.” Did he really? Many would say no. But as a leader he tackled the issue head on so his program could get back to football.

Lastly, Snyder’s most honest, amiable and celebrated lesson: do things the right way and you will get rewarded.

With National Championships? In Snyder’s case, no. But there’s a reason so many around the country — from writers to coaches to opposing players — respect him. Snyder didn’t take shortcuts. He didn’t have the tools or resources to do so. He simply believed in his abilities, invested in the players he had and continued to do so.

Up and up K-State football went, and still Snyder followed the same formula. Doing things the right way garners respect, and there was and is no shortage of that when it comes to Bill Snyder.

These lessons: confidence, ownership and integrity are as important off the field as they are on. Sports have the ability to teach us about life, ourselves and how we should treat others. Snyder did all of that and more in a career that will go down as one of the best in college football history, even if it is in its own exceptional way.

Tate Steinlage is a junior in mass communications.