Looking back on the ‘Miracle in Manhattan’: Bill Snyder’s start at K-State

Bill Snyder talks to senior defensive tackle Will Geary during the pregame of the football game against Iowa State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium on Nov. 25, 2017. (Photo by Alanoud Alanazi | Collegian Media Group)

On Nov. 30, 1988, a man by the name of Bill Snyder was named the Kansas State University football program’s next head coach, and he changed the ideas that fans, students, and alumni had about the state football program before the ‘88 season.

When Snyder took the role of head coach, the Wildcats were coming off a cumulative record of 0-21-1 in the ’87 and ’88 seasons. They had one of the worst records in college football at the time and were on the verge of being named a division two school. Snyder completed what is widely referred to as “the greatest turnaround in college football history.”

To give you an idea of how big of an impact Coach Snyder has made on the program at K-State, let me put it into perspective for you.

Fans would come to games expecting their team to lose before this hiring. During the first year of this hire, the Wildcats went just 1-10, but everyone hoped there were greater things to come. It came during the fourth game of the season, against North Texas. If you were to go back and rewatch how K-State won this game, it should look familiar.

In the game against North Texas, the Wildcats were ahead late, but with 1:37 left, North Texas took the lead, but that wasn’t the end of the story. With the drive starting at their own 13-yard line, K-State found a way to drive it down the field to the 12-yard line of North Texas. Backup quarterback Carl Straw threw a 12-yard pass to wide receiver Frank Hernandez in the end zone as time expired.

Sound familiar to a game we all intensely watched this season while holding our breath? It should because they won in the same fashion against Big 12 opponent Iowa State during the last home game this season. With 1:55 left in the game and the Cyclones up 19-14, the Wildcats started at their own 13-yard line. Only needing one more yard to score and give the Wildcats their seventh win of the season and their tenth straight against Iowa State, backup quarterback Skylar Thompson delivered a pass to wide receiver Isaiah Zuber with no time left on the clock.

The first winning season under Snyder was in 1991 when he led the team to a 7-4 record. This was just their second winning season since 1982.

The Wildcats didn’t have a bowl win until the 1993 season when they beat Wyoming 52-17 in the Copper Bowl. From then on until 2003, K-State would have 11 consecutive bowl game appearances under Snyder, winning six.

Big things were happening for this program. K-State was ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings for the first time in the history of the program in 1998.

One of the greatest feats for Snyder in his time as head coach was the 2003 season when the team got to face off against the University of Oklahoma. The Sooners were labeled by just about anyone you talked to as “the greatest college football team ever.” Going into this game, no one gave K-State a chance. But as he had done so many times prior to this game, Snyder coached the Wildcats to a 35-7 win where they rolled right over the Sooners.

After 17 seasons Bill Snyder made the announcement before the last game of the 2005 season that he would retire after the Missouri game. Thus everyone thought the “Miracle in Manhattan” was over.

After the team went 17-20 over the next three seasons, losing to Kansas all three years, everyone knew it was time for a change. Coach Snyder came out of retirement to calm the waters and instill a winning atmosphere once again.

In 2015, Snyder was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He is just the fourth active coach to be inducted.

On Nov. 26, 2016, Snyder earned his 200th win when the Wildcats beat Kansas on Senior Day. Players carried him off the field as the crowd gave him a long standing ovation with loud cheers and clapping.

Since returning to the coaching sidelines for the 2009 season, Snyder has coached K-State to eight straight bowl game appearances. Over 26 years, he has amassed 209 wins, more than any other coach during the Big 12 era.

Throughout his head coaching career, Coach Snyder has instilled his 16 goals as his blueprint for success both on and off the field. These goals include: commitment, unselfishness, unity, improve, be tough, self-discipline, great effort, enthusiasm, eliminate mistakes, never give up, don’t accept losing, no self-limitations, expect to win, consistency, leadership and responsibility.

As Snyder has said on multiple occasions, “We came to Kansas State because of the people, stayed because of the people, and returned because of the people, and that remains unchanged.”

When Coach Snyder accepted this job and took on the task of rebuilding this program, he had one goal in mind. His famous line of, “I think the opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football exists here today, and it’s not one to be taken lightly,” was just a foretaste of what was yet to come.

What would have become of the K-State football program without the man that Barry Switzer has called “the coach of the century?” Would Kansas State have a Division 1 program that competes competitively in the Big 12 conference? I think I speak for every fan when I say I’m so glad we didn’t have to find out. Snyder has done so much for not just the football program, but for the entire Manhattan community.

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