The mid-1980s were rough times at Kansas State for the football program. Losing had become the norm for the program as others mocked and taunted the team for its shortcomings. From 1986-1988, the team failed to record a victory in 28 consecutive games.
The 1988 season in particular was remembered for two forgettable losses against Tulane and Louisiana Tech in back-to-back weeks.
In the Tulane game, Kansas State took a 16-13 lead with just moments to go in the game. However, when coaches called up to the defensive coaches booth for plays, they could not get through to them.
The reason? Defensive coaches had left the booth prematurely to go down on the field and celebrate the team’s first victory in nearly two years.
Predictably, Tulane drove the length of the field and scored a touchdown to win the game by the final score of 20-16.
“It was just a joke,” Al Jones, tight end from 1987 to 1991, said in the popular 2017 documentary “Miracle in Manhattan.” “We were just awful.”
Two weeks later, K-State dropped an embarrassing game to Division II Louisiana Tech at home by the score of 28-24.
Following the game, fights broke out in the locker room between the players and the position coaches. Just days later, head coach Stan Parrish announced he’d resign after the 1988 season.
For athletic director Steve Miller, who was recently hired by school president Jon Wefald in June 1988, this was his first major test as the head of the school’s athletic department. He knew that if he got this new head coach hiring wrong, it would be the end of the program.
The issue for K-State wasn’t just losing games — it was also not getting any fans to their games. According to the NCAA’s rules and requirements, in order to be a Division I team, you needed to have a certain attendance requirement.
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In several instances, K-State failed to crack the 15,000 fan mark at KSU Stadium. During the final home game against Missouri in 1988, there were only 10,000 fans in attendance.
Alongside the program’s other problems, every single K-State head coach would never coach again after leaving Manhattan. This made it very difficult for the university to attract a prominent coach.
After weeks of looking, Miller decided to regroup, until one day when one of his associates was thumbing through the Iowa Hawkeyes media guide for the 1988 season. The associate came across one name: Hawkeye offensive coordinator Bill Snyder.
“I hesitated when they asked me to give him a call,” said Miller in the “Miracle in Manhattan” documentary. “Iowa had won the Big Ten the previous season in 1987 so my expectation was I’d get at best a no thank you and at worst, a who are you and what do you want?”
Luckily, Snyder didn’t turn Miller down, but said he wouldn’t speak with them until the end of the season. Following the final game of the season, Miller and assistant athletic director Chris Peterson traveled to Snyder’s home and met him.
“He interviewed us as much as we interviewed him,” said Peterson. “He had a whole lot of questions.”
Following a few hours of conversation, Miller told Peterson that he had his guy.
“This is our guy,” said Miller. “And when Chris [Peterson] asked me my strategy to get him, I said that no matter what he asks me, I’ll say yes until he couldn’t ask me any more questions.”
On Nov. 24, 1988, the announcement was made. Forty-nine year old William Dean Snyder would be the new head football coach at Kansas State University. From that day forward, the K-State football program would never be the same.