Editor’s note: This story was originally published on April 18. It has been updated to reflect Bill Snyder’s retirement.
After two tenures and 27 years, Bill Snyder may not have any national championships to his credit, but he is still in the College Football Hall of Fame. In the eyes of Kansas State fans and many others, Snyder is recognized as the football team’s savior and regarded as one of the best college coaches to ever don the headset.
In his introductory news conference in 1989, Snyder made the bold statement that the Wildcats had the opportunity for “the greatest turnaround in college football history.” As we stand here on Dec. 2, 2018 and look back while trying to process Snyder’s retirement, that statement no longer seems so bold. Many have defined Snyder’s work of wizardry at K-State as just that.
The path before K-State
Long before he settled down in Manhattan, Snyder himself played college football. He spent the 1958 season at the University of Missouri before becoming a three-year letter winner at William Jewell College as a defensive back from 1959-1962. Upon graduation, he began his coaching career.
Snyder’s first experience coaching at the collegiate level came in 1967. He spent that one season as a graduate assistant coach at the University of Southern California under John McKay. The fact that Coach Snyder had experience at a historic program like USC puts the success he had into perspective.
From 1976-1979, he was an assistant at North Texas State (now the University of North Texas) under Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry. At North Texas, Snyder played a part in orchestrating a 26-7 record.
He then followed Fry to the University of Iowa. There Snyder served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 1979-1988, while helping lead the Hawkeyes to two Big Ten Championships.
Nov. 24, 1988 is the day that Bill Snyder first became the head football coach at Kansas State University.
The program’s first victory in 30 games came in game four of the 1989 season, with a 20-17 defeat of North Texas. Upon his arrival, K-State hadn’t won a game since October 1986, holding a record of 0-26-1 during that span. During the 93 years prior to Snyder, K-State had a .370 winning percentage, only registered four winning seasons and had been to just one bowl game in which they lost.
It took just two short seasons for Snyder to lead the Wildcats to an above .500 season. After going 1-10 and then 5-6, the 1991 squad finished 7-4. In 1993, he led the team to his first bowl game — a 52-17 throttling of Wyoming in the Copper Bowl.
In the eyes of the press
Tim Fitzgerald is currently a publisher of gopowercat.com. From his time writing for the Collegian as a K-State student in the 1980s to now, he has covered Snyder and his teams for several years. He knows firsthand how bad the state of Wildcat football was before Snyder.
“There had never been any real tradition at Kansas State,” Fitzgerald said. “I always tell people he can raise the dead because he did with Kansas State football. They were quite literally down to one last coach, giving it to Bill Snyder or join the Missouri Valley.”
Another GoPowercat writer also knows Snyder and his teams very well. D. Scott Fritchen is living the dream that he fell in love with in fall 1993 as a student writer for the Collegian. He has been covering Snyder and K-State football for the last 25 years.
In the eyes of Fritchen, the most memorable bowl win for a Snyder squad was the 1997 Fiesta Bowl. That Wildcat team was the first ever to win 11 games in a season.
“It was about Snyder directing a team that continued to get a little bit better throughout the season, and at the end defeated a very good Syracuse football team with Donovan McNabb,” Fritchen said. “It represented that next step for Coach Snyder’s team, [quarterback] Michael Bishop and for all the Kansas State players coming back to really set the stage for that successful 1998 season.”
The following year saw Snyder’s 1998 team narrowly miss a chance to play for a national championship in the first year of the BCS, as they were ranked as high as second in the country before a loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship game. The team’s average margin of victory was 38.1 points that season. Even with all that in mind, perhaps the highlight of 1998 was a 40-30 victory that ended a 30-year losing streak to rival Nebraska.
That first 11-win season in 1997 was certainly not the last of the Bill Snyder era. From 1998 to 2003, the Cats won 11 games all but once in 2001. K-State achieved 11 wins for the seventh time in 2012, on their way to winning a Big 12 title.
What is remarkable about Snyder’s career is the fact he has led K-State to success in not one, but two tenures. His first stint as head coach of the Wildcats was from 1989-2005, and Snyder amassed a record of 136-68-1 in that span. During those 17 seasons, the Wildcats had a bowl record of 6-5. They also finished 10 of those seasons ranked in the AP poll, six of those seasons within the top 10.
Snyder returned to the sidelines in the 2009 season after three years away.
In K-State’s second-to-last regular season game in 2016, Snyder achieved his 200th career victory. He became just the 26th FBS coach to reach that milestone, and just the sixth to do so with one team.
At the end of the 2017 regular season, the Wildcats were 7-5 and his career record stood at 209-110-1.
An impacting running deeper than football
Snyder has also been successful in sending players to the National Football League. K-State currently holds the Big 12 record for having a player selected in the NFL draft for 24 years in a row.
Fritchen recalled a conversation he had two summers ago with former Wildcat defensive back, Terence Newman. Newman was selected fifth overall in the 2003 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys, and finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings after 15 seasons.
Newman posed this question: “Where else in America, does a coach take 2- or 3-star recruits and make them successful people, players and send them to the NFL to have long careers?”
One could talk about what Bill Snyder has accomplished on the field all day, but something unique to him is the impact he makes off the field as well. He impacts not only the Wildcat football team, but the whole university and Manhattan community.
A way he did this was in helping grow and develop K-State’s Mary Lynn and Warren Staley School of Leadership Studies and the Snyder Leadership Legacy Fellows program. A program that started out in a two-story house across the street from campus resulted in its own building being opened in January 2010.
Fritchen offered his thoughts on this accomplishment of Snyder.
“To me, it is so impressive not only the impact he has made on football players throughout his great career, but the impact he has made upon Kansas State students and really the community, helping guide students and turning them into great leaders in their own right,” Fritchen said. “That is getting them set for life.”
Another attribute of Snyder’s career Fritchen said he admires is his approach to coaching that predicates getting a little bit better each day. He said from his vantage point, it appears the Wildcats don’t skip any steps in the process.
Fritchen added that while Snyder teams might not be perfect, they make the best of situations, continue to build upon success, correct the little things and leave no stone unturned. It will never be about winning 10 or 11 games, but about the general process of getting better.
Fitzgerald attributed the success and life of GoPowercat to the work of Coach Snyder.
“If you look at our company, we wouldn’t exist without him,” Fitzgerald said. “We literally would not exist without the football success. He has created a lot of jobs, including my entire career, and for that I will be forever thankful.”
Karen Hibbard is the director of the Manhattan Conventions and Visitors Bureau, and has been since 2005. In her position, she said she has been able to see how Snyder has impacted the Manhattan community.
“I call it ‘Snyder Magic,’ and it has certainly been more than welcomed,” Hibbard said in response to how Snyder has affected Manhattan.
Physical evidence for Snyder contributing to Manhattan’s success is found in hotels. Hibbard said it was in 1998 when the city really started to see hotels come on board. That year, the Hampton Inn and Fairfield Inn were built, and before that there was just a Motel 6 and America’s Best Value Inn.
According to Hibbard, during that time there were around 700 hotel rooms in Manhattan. Now, she said, there are about 1,350. As of April 2018, there were 17 hotels in Manhattan.
Hibbard cited that during 2014, occupancy of Manhattan hotels during the week ranged from 55-65 percent and would increase to 87-93 percent filled on game day weekends.
Hibbard applauded Snyder’s integrity and caring heart.
“Coach is a man of integrity,” Hibbard said. “He is very genuine. He is a man that cares for his players. He cares for them, he wants them to be successful. I think not only does he care about those young people he coaches, but he cares about ‘Wildcat Nation’ and the community.”
With 215 wins at the end of his career, Snyder sits 15th on the list of all-time wins in Division I football history. With this accomplishment in mind, Fritchen said it really epitomizes the impact of Snyder.
“I would argue that out of the top 20 coaches in terms of wins, that none of them overcame the odds or the hardships that coach Bill Snyder did in resurrecting the Kansas State football program,” Fritchen said.
“To me that is a feat that likely had not been accomplished by any other college football coach in history — one that given the impatience within the industry, and the impatience with school administrators throughout college football, that I argue cannot be duplicated again,” Fritchen continued. “I think that speaks plenty about the impact that Bill Snyder has made on college football.”
While Snyder has stepped down from leading K-State football, his presence will never fail to be felt among the football program, the university and the city of Manhattan.
Bill Snyder’s impact on K-State football is like none before and cannot be erased, and because of that “Snyder Magic” will truly never fade.