Kansas State was one of the worst teams in college football when Bill Snyder arrived in Manhattan back in 1989. Today, the Wildcats are consistent winners.
How did Snyder lead such a drastic turnaround?
There are many answers, and Snyder touched on several of them in a lengthy first-person article he wrote for The Players’ Tribune on Wednesday. But if he had to zero in on one specific area, he would credit K-State’s recruiting strategy for the program’s steady improvement.
“We didn’t get there by having the flashiest facilities or fanciest uniforms,” Snyder wrote in The Players’ Tribune. “We didn’t get better by recruiting the best players -- only the right ones.”
“As many know, we’re known for recruiting a variety of players from all over,” Snyder wrote. “We specialize in getting the most out of young men who many thought were too small, too slow or who had made a mistake in the past that cost them dearly. The process for finding these players hasn’t deviated too much since we started here. Our coaches go out and talk with people who know these young men to get a sense of what kind of person they really are. When they aren’t anywhere near a football field, what are their values? That’s the most important thing, even before athletic ability, because if you have the desire to challenge yourself to be your best, the stuff that needs to be done on the field is pretty simple by comparison.”
Of all the great players Snyder has coached through the years at K-State, he singled out one player as an example of what the Wildcats look for in recruits.
That player was Darren Sproles, a former star running back who still holds the school record for rushing yards in a game (292), a season (1,986) and a career (4,979). The Olathe product is currently playing in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles.
He was small for his position, but he found a way to use that to his advantage.
“I can’t think of a better representative for what this program is about,” Snyder said. “He’s just a good young man, one of the many, many young men I’m very proud of.”
Much of what Snyder wrote for The Players’ Tribune is similar to what you might hear him say at a K-State pep rally. He opens with a story about meeting K-State players for the first time in 1989 and how they were low on confidence. He mentions how close the K-State athletic department was to dropping out of the old Big Eight. He explains why he came to K-State for the people more than the job.
But he also touches on some subjects he doesn’t regularly share, including the time he prevented a player from committing suicide. He didn’t name the player, but said he went on to become a great person and productive player at K-State.
When he recalls his first victory with the Wildcats, a come-from-behind thriller against North Texas, he described the moment with positive emotions.
“Christmas came to Manhattan three months early,” he wrote.
Snyder also recalled his humble beginnings, growing up in a one-room apartment with his mother in St. Joseph, Mo. He wrote that he got into coaching, because he wanted to be involved with sports but wasn’t good enough to play them at a high level.
He also had some humorous stories of his earliest coaching jobs, including coaching swimming at the YMCA and teaching Spanish without knowing all that much about the language.
Snyder closed his first-person essay by explaining why, after winning 202 games, reaching 18 bowls and claiming two Big 12 championships, he is still driven to coach at the age of 77.
His answer was simple: “We still have work to do.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett