Kansas State University

Bill Snyder, who led K-State’s football turnaround, retires after Hall of Fame career

The Bill Snyder era came to an end at Kansas State on a frigid Sunday afternoon with almost as little fanfare as the day it began three decades ago.

Snyder informed K-State football players of his retirement plans during a short team meeting, then the school followed with an official announcement. There was no press conference or meeting with reporters. Just like that, the man responsible for one of the greatest turnarounds in college football history was done coaching forever.

Athletic director Gene Taylor and university president Richard Myers thanked Snyder for his tireless work in prepared statements, but Snyder didn’t say anything at all. The moment was too fresh for him, according to a team representative, so Snyder requested more time to collect his thoughts and put things in perspective. He is expected to make a statement at a later time.

He has much to reflect on. His time at K-State was as long as it was successful.

“Coach Snyder has had an immeasurable impact on our football program, Kansas State University, the Manhattan community and the entire state of Kansas, and it has been an honor and a privilege to get to know and work with him the past two years,” K-State athletic director Gene Taylor said. “He and his family have touched the lives of so many people, from student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, and he is truly one of the greatest coaches and leaders in college football history. His impact on college football is unmatched and legacy is one that will last a lifetime.”

Snyder’s storied career comes to an end after guiding the Wildcats to 215 victories, 19 bowl games and two conference championships. None of that seemed imaginable when he coached his first game in 1989. Back then, K-State was an afterthought in football and one of the worst teams in the country.

He coached for 27 seasons and transformed a football team, a university and a town along the way.

It’s hard to fathom what Manhattan would look like today without him.

The highway leading into town is named after him. So is K-State’s football stadium. You can find a statue of him at the west entrance.

“This university, this community and this state are deeply indebted to Coach Bill Snyder. Since arriving on campus in 1989, coach has delivered on all his promises — and more. He brought Kansas State University football to the national stage and built a program on the bedrock of integrity, honor and his famed 16 goals for success,” K-State president Richard Myers said. “Bill Snyder is a legend and his legacy is one that K-Staters for generations will value and cherish.”

Snyder, 79, is calling it quits a week after the conclusion of a disappointing season. Many thought the Wildcats would push for a high finish in the Big 12 and contend for a quality bowl game when the year began. Instead, K-State (5-7, 3-6) produced its worst record in a decade, finished seventh in the league standings and missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2009.

Taylor will begin a national search to find Snyder’s replacement immediately. K-State will use Ventura Partners to assist with the search.

Under terms of his contract, Snyder will become a special ambassador to the university at a yearly salary of $250,000. He can hold that job for as long as he is “physically and mentally able.” He will also be given “appropriate input” regarding the selection of his successor.

What will “appropriate input” mean in K-State’s search for a new coach? That answer appears to be entirely up to Taylor.

K-State football players didn’t show many emotions after they learned their coach was stepping down. Quarterback Alex Delton shuffled in and out of the football complex without saying a word. So did running back Alex Barnes. Some players waved at a group of assembled reporters and cracked jokes on their way out. A few huddled together in the parking lot before loading into their cars and heading home.

Snyder slipped out a side door and prepared to fly to New York for the annual college football Hall of Fame festivities and the presentation of the Campbell Trophy, for which senior right tackle Dalton Risner is a finalist. Taylor and other athletic department employees were already in New York when Snyder’s retirement was announced.

There is no word when Taylor might hold a news conference to address the future of the football program.

Snyder was the nation’s oldest active coach. He leaves behind an impressive legacy, even if it ended on a sour note. A living Hall of Famer, he became a Manhattan icon by transforming the Wildcats from a once moribund football team into a consistent winner. He arrived at K-State in 1989 and quickly guided the program to new heights, including regular appearances in the top 25, seven different 11-win seasons and the occasional No. 1 ranking.

To put that in perspective, K-State had only been to one bowl game in its history before Snyder.

When Snyder first arrived in Manhattan, he took over a team that was on a 27-game winless streak. His first victory, a 20-17 win on the final play against North Texas in 1989, was met with happy tears from K-State fans of all ages. His first postseason trip, to the Copper Bowl in 1993, was a 52-17 thumping of Wyoming that turned out to be a sign of things to come.

The Wildcats went on to win at least 10 games seven different times over the next decade. That stretch featured some of the best teams in K-State history, including the 1998 squad that rose to No. 1 behind quarterback Michael Bishop. That team won its first 11 games and fell just short of playing for a BCS championship, losing 36-33 in double overtime of the Big 12 championship game.

Snyder led K-State to its first Big 12 title five years later when the Wildcats upset then No. 1 Oklahoma 35-7 in the conference championship game behind an electric effort from former running back Darren Sproles. That capped an 11-win season and earned the team a trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

That set up the Wildcats with expectations they couldn’t live up to the next two seasons and Snyder decided to briefly retire in 2005, the last time one of his K-State teams finished the regular season with a losing record.

K-State re-branded its football stadium as Bill Snyder Family Stadium before its final game that season, a 36-28 victory over Missouri, and players triumphantly carried their coach off the field in celebration.

Snyder seemed content in retirement, but the Wildcats struggled without him. K-State brought in Ron Prince as his replacement and he only lasted three seasons, going 17-20 with one bowl trip.

After Prince was fired, Snyder expressed interest in coming back to the sideline and returned as coach in 2009. Much like his first few years in Manhattan, success was a slow process but he eventually achieved great heights.

In 2010, the team returned to a bowl. A year later, the Wildcats won 10 games and reached the Cotton Bowl. A year after that, behind Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein, they won 11 games and claimed a Big 12 championship.

The Wildcats haven’t matched that kind of success since, but did manage to advance to five more bowl games and regularly finish in the top half of the Big 12 standings. His 16 goals for success, used to guide K-State football players throughout each season, have become popular across the state.

Snyder was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015 and signed a new five-year contract in August that increased his salary to $3.2 million and his buyout to $3 million.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, considering Snyder had guided K-State to eight straight bowl games and returned a team that looked capable of another solid season.

But the Wildcats failed to meet expectations. They started 3-6 and were unable to compete with the best teams on their schedule. Blowout losses to Mississippi State (31-10), West Virginia (35-6) and Oklahoma (51-14) were hard to watch. At times, the gap between K-State and the Big 12’s best teams seemed as wide as it did during Snyder’s early years.

K-State fought back from a slow start and nearly reached a bowl by defeating Kansas and Texas Tech at home. It then built a 17-point lead over Iowa State in the final game of the season, but was unable to hang on.

When Snyder returned to the job in 2009, he said he was doing so to “calm the waters.” And he did exactly that for many years. But this season has featured previously unseen levels of fan unrest. With nearly 30 players leaving the program the past two years for reasons other than graduation and a string of poor recruiting classes, there are concerns about the long-term direction of K-State football.

It’s possible Snyder could have turned things around. He’s done it twice before, after all. But a third act is not in the cards.

The most iconic coach in K-State history has chosen to move on to the next stage of his life.

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