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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Bob Lutz: Former K-State Wildcats offer thoughts to Bill Snyder's success as a coach

BY BOB LUTZ
The Wichita Eagle

Bill Snyder has worked another one of those football miracles he's so famous for this season in Manhattan.

Kansas State, picked to finish eighth in the Big 12, instead finished second, just behind Oklahoma State.

The Wildcats (10-2) meet Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl on Friday and we thought it would be interesting, and fun, to check with some of Snyder's former players about their thoughts about playing for a miracle worker and, with hindsight, what it meant to them to spend time around the man.

We asked the players to write short essays about Snyder and 12 did so. Some, though, aren't so short.

If there is a common theme running through these Snyder tributes, it concerns how playing football for Snyder was about so much more than playing football.

Brooks Barta

Linebacker, 1989-92

Football coach, Holton High

The first time I met Bill Snyder was when I was a freshman redshirt sitting in the Big 8 room of the Vanier Complex. We were sitting in some cheap plastic chairs that I imagine must have been designed for people under 140 pounds. He spent three or more hours outlining the principles of what it was going to take to make KSU a football program. From that moment on, everything we did had a purpose and none of it was easy. He called it the greatest turnaround in college football history. It became the hardest, but best thing I have ever done.

In my first conference with Coach Snyder, I was assigned two hours of conditioning on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. I had missed a couple weekend training table meals without notifying my position coach beforehand. The little things mattered the most to Coach Snyder. Playing at Kansas State meant that you were asked to practice more, lift harder, watch more film, spend more time in meetings, show more toughness, etc. If there was something that could be done to improve, we were going to do it.

Coach Snyder showed me that I could give more than I ever thought I could give. He made me raise my own expectations and showed me how leaders lead by example. Coach Snyder demonstrates his integrity every time he makes a decision. His decisions are not always popular, nor are they self serving. But they are always made in everyone's best interest. Coach Snyder makes everyone around him better. Coach Snyder's attention to detail forced me to be better.

I still often visit KSU. The chairs, equipment, facilities and trophy rooms are nicer. Players still grumble some, work long and work hard. Coach Snyder still stops individual players and "points his finger" while instructing them on the finer points of the game or life. I imagine it still takes about nine or more hours of thorough explanation on the 14 team goals that I still keep in my wallet. (Now there are 16.) Coach Snyder leaves nothing to chance. The little things still matter. I walked away from KSU knowing that improvement is planned and not often easy. Improvement must happen every day.

I would be afraid to compare my own commitment to Coach Snyder's commitment to KSU's football family. He has an "iron will and patience" that I doubt any of us can match. I am humbled by what he has accomplished and has shared.

Josh Buhl

Linebacker, 2000-03

Best Buy regional distribution warehouse manager, Fresno, Calif.

A good man, role model, motivator, developer, leader. These are just a few words that I would use to start to describe Coach Snyder, my mentor and a man I highly respect.

I remember getting recruited, meeting Coach for the first time, and how my parents really liked him as a person, not just because of his reputation as having a good, very hard and disciplined football program.

As a 30-year-old, I have personally taken a lot of what I learned from Coach Snyder and made it a part of who I am. The things he has done with the football program and with the players at Kansas State have taught me how to be a good leader.

Not so much on what was taught to me on the field, but more off, it has really helped me in life as a man. I have always said the things that coach taught me will be with me for the rest of my life and instilled in my children. I am grateful for the one-on-one conversations we had and for him keeping me on track, and always taking the conversation off of me as a player to me as a young man and how to achieve my goals in life.

I will never forget when Coach and I were on a plane coming back from a Catbacker event before the start of my senior season. We had a conversation about the team and what we wanted to accomplish. He told me that he trusted me in leading the team to a national title. Although we didn't win that title, it showed me another side of coach and how much he believes in his players.

I see him in his second go-round with the Cats and how much he has grown as a coach through the years on and off the field. He is hands down my top pick for coach of the century and someone I would love to work for.

I am excited to see what he does his second tenure and how many other people he helps bring out their best. Whether you're a fan, a coach that has worked under him, a player that has played for him, or a recruit, you will take something from Coach Snyder that will inspire you to be better. We need more people like Bill Snyder in this world.

Brandon Clark

Wide receiver, 1998-2001

Football coach, Derby High

My high school coach at Valley Center, Mike Smith, made me fall in love with the game of football. He taught that football is much bigger than just a game and it's more about the life lessons that can be taught using it.

Coach Snyder taught me how to become successful. Not so much how to become a successful football player, but how to become successful in life. Coach Snyder taught me that if you can apply what he taught us in football to life, that we could be successful in anything we wanted to do.

Coach helped mold me into the person that I am today. I wouldn't be half the husband, half the father, half the teacher and coach that I am today if it wasn't for Coach and what he taught me about my approach to life.

Two of the most important lessons I took away from Coach Snyder: Success does not come easy, it comes through hard work, attention to detail and getting better each day; and that yes, success is fun, but it's nothing without relationships to share it with. All the success in the world is empty without having family, friends and a great relationship with God to share it with.

Martin Gramatica

Kicker, 1994-98

President, Gramatica Structural Insulated Panel System, Tampa, Fla.

I read where Winston Churchill once said: "The finest human art is uplifting others, elevating them to a higher plane than our own."

That is exactly what Coach Snyder did for me, not only as a football player, but also as a person. Coming from a small town in Florida and a close-knit family, Coach Snyder realized I would need a little extra attention while I adapted to a new environment. This is why he had his son, Sean, take me under his wing and show me the work ethic it took to get to the next level.

Coach Snyder has a great ability to see what each one of his players need individually, by doing so he is able to get the best out of everyone. With his leadership and guidance, I was able to leave Kansas State prepared and confident to face anything that the NFL and life would throw at me. Thank you, Coach, for everything you did for me.

Mike Lawrence

Running back, 1994-97

Youth sports coach, Tampa, Fla.

Coach Snyder gave me the opportunity to be a part of a great program with a great tradition.

I can remember back to 1993 when I first met Bill Snyder on my college visit to Manhattan. We spoke about turning the program around and why we should come to K-State. I really did not know what to think at the time. Me being a Miami kid and growing up in Florida, I did not see how I would fit into a small town like Manhattan. It was not until coach Bill Snyder and Bob Stoops came to my home in Carol City, Fla., to talk to me and my foster mother that things began to change.

I ended up going to Kansas State to play football and earned my college degree.

Coach Snyder is a special coach. He has a way of getting the best of out of his players. The one thing that I remember most about coach was how disciplined he was about paying attention to the little things that were going on in practice. He walked around with a little recorder and spoke into it often. I am sure he still has it and uses it to this day.

He knew that with discipline the program would be very successful. He was a very focused man and wanted to know everything about every play that was being made. Whether it was in practice or in a game. He wanted to make sure that we fixed the mistakes that were being made. No matter how big or small, it was going to get corrected.

Coach Snyder is truly deserving of the Coach of the Year, having taken K-state back to where it belongs and he did it in a shorter time than the first time. As well as having less talent than what he has had in resent years. Coach Snyder had already taken the worst program in college history to the top.

Aaron Lockett

Wide receiver, 1998-2001

Financial Analyst in global marketing, Conoco/Phillips, Houston

There is no easy way to describe Bill Snyder. He has accomplished many tasks while preparing many men for the future. He indirectly provides guidance, courage and a sense of responsibility. Whether through direct contact or a simple gesture, Coach Snyder has been a major influence on my life.

It is hard to quantify the impact as there are times I often refer back to some of the simple lessons learned. Time management, or in better terms "Cat Time." If you are 10 minutes early, you are on time and if you are on time, you are late. The ability to handle constructive criticism has been the most valuable lesson of all. This has enabled me to transition from professional sports into the real world.

Coach Snyder is considered one of the best coaches in the country. What most people fail to realize is that he is probably one of the most caring, sensitive individuals that you will come across. He will forever have a place in my heart as he has truly provided guidance and a strong work ethic that will carry me for the rest of my life.

Kevin Lockett

Wide receiver, 1993-96

COO for Urban Entrepreneur Partnership, Leawood

Coach Bill Snyder is considered by many fans as Coach of the Year, but many former players also consider him a fatherly figure during their playing careers.

Most coaches are only interested in winning, but Coach Snyder's greatest desire is to develop men that can contribute to society on and off the football field. Many of the lessons taught during my career so aptly apply to the challenges I face today as a business professional and for that I will be forever grateful.

Bill Snyder will go down in history as one of the greatest coaches to ever live. But in my book, he will rank directly behind my father as one of the most positively influential people in my life. Many won't understand this, but his greatest achievement will never be the games he has won. It will be the impact he has made on so many young men's lives.

Jon McGraw

Free safety, 1998-2001

Safety, Kansas City Chiefs

Coach Snyder commands the respect of his players at all times by his example of hard work and commitment to Kansas State University and the success of its football program.

He demanded more from me then anyone else had before. I had to push myself to my limits and beyond and in the process realized I was capable of so much more than I ever thought.

Looking back on my experience in his program, what stands out the most to me is his consistency. No matter the circumstance, the principles that made up our foundation never changed and neither did he.

Shad Meier

Tight end, 1997-2000

Assistant football coach, Battle Ground Academy, Franklin, Tenn.

As I reminisce on my days as a Wildcat, two things come to mind: Bill Snyder and the Powercat.

To me, the Powercat represents the 16 goals Coach Snyder instilled in us as players. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, those 16 goals were laying a framework for me to maximize my potential as a player and develop my character.

When I arrived at Kansas State in the summer of 1995, I had just torn my ACL in a high school all-star game. I remember when Coach Snyder visited with me shortly after and told me that he believed in me before the injury and would believe in me after. Those meaningful words had a lasting impression.

Knowing that he would stand behind me, he was the kind of coach that inspires you to give it all you've got, one that you respect, one that you honor, one that you look back on and are honored to have played for during your college career. On behalf of my brother (Dylan Meier) and I, thank you, Coach Snyder, for enriching our lives in such a positive way.

Quentin Neujahr

Center, 1990-93

CPA, contractor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

In 1989, a group of young men from vastly different backgrounds assembled in Manhattan to form the worst football program in the country. Many analysts agreed that Kansas State would be a better school if they quit participating in collegiate football. To change this attitude of expected futility would take a group willing to ignore the constant barrage of negative comments directed at this newly formed family.

Like all families, one must sit at the head of the table and make decisions as to the direction the family would pursue. This was Bill Snyder's table.

To be a leader, one must have like-minded people willing to follow the vision of the leader, even if that vision is believed to be impossible. What I learned while I attended Kansas State is if you allow others to dictate what you can achieve, you will surely achieve much less than what is possible. But that if you believed like you did as a child, that anything is possible.

The five teams that I had the pleasure to participate in football with at Kansas State from 1989-93 believed like children. We weren't the most gifted athletes. But we were immensely gifted in the attitude of never giving up and never giving in even when we were told to quit.

A successful leader surrounds themselves with like-minded people that are willing to share that same vision. The success at Kansas State in the area of football was achieved because Coach Snyder surrounded himself with enough like-minded people to turn a simple vision into a reality.

Mitch Running

WR, 1992-95

Detective, Ada Co. (Idaho) Sheriff's Office

In February 1991, I sat in Coach Snyder's office while on a visit to Kansas State. As a walk-on prospect, Coach Snyder had invited me to join the Wildcat program in the fall. Coach said something during that meeting that made Kansas State my instant choice and something that has stuck with me over the last 20 years: "We are building something special here."

That is exactly what Coach Snyder has done over the last two decades. He has always sought perfection for his players, both on and off the field. And holding them to this high standard not only encourages success on the field but also teaches the young men to understand the value of hard work and dedication to everything they do.

I am very fortunate to have played for Coach Snyder and knowing that I'm a part of the Wildcat family gives me great pride.

Blake Seiler

DE, 2004-06

Graduate assistant football coach, Kansas State

As a former player and now graduate assistant coach, I have been associated with Coach Snyder for seven years.

Coach has meant a lot to me and many former players because he showed us the value in hard work and dedication. We all enjoyed success during our time at K-State because he wouldn't let anyone settle for anything less than their best effort.

I really respect Coach Snyder because he practices what he preaches. He expects everyone to work hard all the time and you know that he is going to do the same. Something that sums up what we all take away from our time at K-State under Coach Snyder are the Wildcat's 16 Goals to Success. Coach Snyder held us accountable to these goals every day and we were successful because of it.

The Wildcat's Sixteen Goals for Success: 1. Commitment; 2. Unselfishness; 3. Unity; 4. Improvement; 5. Toughness; 6. Self Discipline; 7. Great effort; 8. Enthusiasm; 9. Eliminate mistakes; 10. Never give up; 11. Don't accept losing; 12. No self-limitations; 13. Expect to win; 14. Consistency; 15. Leadership; 16. Responsibility.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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