MANHATTAN — The last time Kansas State and Massachusetts met on the football field, a celebration was taking place. It was 2009 and Bill Snyder was returning to the sideline after three years of retirement. The Wildcats were coming off back-to-back losing seasons, but fans were optimistic about the future with Snyder once again wearing the headset.
For many, it didn’t matter that K-State was mediocre that day, with all of its points coming in the second quarter in a 21-17 victory. A sellout crowd cheered until the end and players celebrated a satisfactory, if unspectacular, result in the locker room.
Then Snyder gave his postgame speech, and the mood changed.
“I can’t remember specifically what he said, but I guarantee it was along these lines: You played terrible,” said former safety Tysyn Hartman, who made two interceptions against Massachusetts. “His speech sounded like we didn’t win. He wanted us to realize there was a lot of room for improvement. That set in real fast.”
A few days later, Snyder decided to share that message publicly in a rare digital letter to K-State fans.
“Our second-half performance was not what we all had hoped for and as you can see, we have a lot of work to do,” Snyder wrote. “But, as was the case from 1989 on, your continued and loyal support through the difficult times is vital to the development and continued improvement of your program.
“Our players and coaches truly felt your presence, emotion and passion from the outset on Saturday. Please continue that same caring passion for future home games. We are family and together we will get there.”
Snyder barely remembers that letter and says he has “no earthly clue” why he sent it. But he has owned up to his words. K-State has done nothing but improve since he returned four years ago. It went 6-6 in his first year back, then 7-6, then 10-3 and 11-2. Along the way, the Wildcats won a Big 12 championship and played in two major bowl games.
Hartman, a NFL free agent who played for the Kansas City Chiefs last season, isn’t surprised. He could tell K-State was headed in the right direction quickly into Snyder’s comeback.
“The biggest thing was his consistency,” Hartman said. “He was the same game to game. Obviously, that was our first game experience with him, but he had the same consistent demeanor about him that we saw all through practice. He is not a roller-coaster type coach with lots of emotions. He can be that rock for us. You get the same Coach Snyder whether it is practice, the first game or a championship game.
“Nothing has changed. He hasn’t let the guys get complacent, which is one of the toughest things to do once you find success.”
K-State will meet Massachusetts again at 6 p.m. Saturday. It is hardly a bookend game for Snyder — he signed a new contract in the offseason that will keep him at K-State until he decides to retire for good — and you won’t catch him reminiscing about how far the program has come since his last encounter with the Minutemen.
“I think we have made steady improvement up to this point in time,” is all he said about it earlier this week.
Still, that game was a turning point for the Wildcats.
“We have improved, but it starts with the foundation that that team laid, getting back to Snyder-era teams,” junior center B.J. Finney said, “and just being hard-nosed and physical and tough and grinding the ball and playing tough defense. They bring in new guys and recruits that they think are going to fit this system and keep this thing going. That is what they have done and that’s one thing we have to continue to do. We have to continue to build on the foundation that team laid for us.”