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Bob Lutz: It's always smart to never doubt Bill Snyder

  • Published Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012, at 6:25 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Jan. 6, 2012, at 2:44 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — Can we be honest here, K-Staters? Raise your right hands and tell me you had no doubts about Bill Snyder being able to work his second "Miracle in Manhattan" as the Wildcats' football coach.

Tell the truth now.

As amazing as Snyder's first Miracle was — and no one has done a better coaching job in college football history — there are not usually second acts.

Especially when it ends as it did for Snyder in 2005, when he announced his retirement before K-State's final regular-season game against Missouri, a game the Wildcats won to preserve a 5-6 season.

That was on the heels of a 4-7 record in 2004. To make matters worse, K-State was 4-12 in Big 12 games during Snyder's last two years before retirement.

As surprised as everyone was by Snyder's decision to leave, no one could blame him. And I don't think there were many who tried to convince him to change his mind.

It felt like a time to turn the page. It was time to see what Kansas State football was going to be post-Snyder.

Well, it wasn't much.

We're still scratching our heads about the short-sighted decision to hire Ron Prince, whose three seasons were spent rubbing together two sticks of wood without producing a spark.

With a 17-20 record, Prince was fired before the end of the 2008 season. And without so much as talking to another candidate — even though TCU's Gary Patterson was out there to be talked to — the old K-State brain trust of president Jon Wefald and athletic director Bob Krause brought Snyder back.

They didn't talk about the 9-13 record during Snyder's final two seasons at Snyder's second introductory news conference. They talked about the six 11-win seasons during a seven-year span from 1997-2003; about the 44-7 record from 1997- 2000.

They talked about the glory years.

Only this time, Snyder was 69. Not 49, as he was when he was plucked off Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa in 1988 in either one of the most astute or luckiest coaching hires in history.

No one has ever doubted Snyder's energy and commitment, but don't we lose some of that as we get older?

Apparently Snyder hasn't. Because in his third season after his surprising return, he has the Wildcats playing in the Cotton Bowl against Arkansas. K-State is ranked No. 8 with a 10-2 record. Except for a bad second half against Oklahoma, the Wildcats have been consistently good and one of the most over-achieving teams of Snyder's career if you judge them by the preseason Big 12 poll, which had the Cats at No. 8 out of 10.

If Snyder ever misplaced his ability to coach, he had a successful trip to the lost and found. This K-State team ranks with the best of the Snyder era and it might be the most enjoyable of all of his teams to watch. It's definitely the most nerve- racking with all its high-wire finishes.

Considering K-State's 39-45 record over the past seven seasons, it was legitimate to wonder whether Snyder — or anyone else, for that matter — would ever lead the Wildcats to another double-digit win season.

I wonder if there were times over those years when Snyder doubted himself. When he decided to return to replace Prince, prodded by his old cohort, Wefald, was he 100-percent sure he was doing the right thing?

Snyder isn't going to introspectively address such questions, at least not while he's still coaching. But he was asked during a Cotton Bowl coaches news conference Wednesday whether he ever doubted he could get K-State back to an elite level.

"I never thought about that,'' he said, even though it's almost dead certain he did. How could he not? Deciding to retire was a difficult-enough decision. But deciding to come back, to take that gamble with his legacy, was a decision on a completely different level.

Yet Snyder has supreme confidence. You don't coach football players or mentor young people without confidence and the ability to instill confidence into those you're working with.

Snyder surely was flattered to be asked back after Prince's three mediocre seasons, but he also had to know — 100-percent know — that he still had what it takes.

That he was still willing to put in the unbelievable hours that he put in to achieve Miracle 1. That he could still get 18- to 21-year-olds to buy in to a work regimen unlike any they had seen, all in the name of winning football games.

But as much as he undoubtedly believed in himself, there had to be that little voice inside his head asking if he was sure. Didn't there?

"You've heard me say this so many times, but I'm not very good at making projections or guessing what might take place,'' Snyder said Wednesday. "It truly is the same as it's always been. My goal in coming back was to find a way to get a little bit better on a regular basis and that's what we've attempted to do.''

If it were only that simple. It isn't, of course, and as those words were coming out of Snyder's mouth, I would love to know the words that were entering his brain.

When Kansas State started this season by eking out a win over supposedly-overmatched Eastern Kentucky thanks to last-minute heroics, I would love to know what Snyder was thinking.

What if K-State had not been able to pull that one out? How would the season have gone? Would Snyder, whose record since his return would have dropped to 13-13, have been able to right that ship?

We'll never know. Kansas State beat Eastern Kentucky and kept right on winning until a home loss to Oklahoma. A week later, the Wildcats pushed then-unbeaten Oklahoma State to the finish in Stillwater in a game that was followed by an earthquake.

Snyder knows a little something about shaking things up. He moved mountains to attain Miracle in Manhattan I. And as he has proven again this season, he demolishes anything in his path.

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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