Bill Snyder guesses it would take days to share every meaningful memory of his lengthy career. He thinks it would take weeks to thank every assistant and player that helped him become the most successful football coach in Kansas State history. Throw in family and he thinks it would take months.
In that sense, he hated being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Accepting an individual award without the proper time to acknowledge the people who helped him earn it felt wrong.
“This is not a Bill Snyder award,” he said. “It doesn’t happen without my family, all of them, and the wonderful Kansas State people who genuinely care about the program and mean so much to me. This doesn’t happen without them.”
Snyder tried his best to share the honor, fighting back tears at multiple functions during several speeches, and he savored the moment with the massive traveling party on hand. His extended family was at his side and his friends flew into town. Some of the biggest names in college football were there, too — Tom Osborne, Mack Brown, Steve Spurrier, Bret Bielema to name a few.
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” said Brown, who was also there to support running back Ricky Williams. “Bill, to me, was the most fundamentally sound coach I ever coached against. His teams were always motivated, always in the right place, they never turned the ball over and they never got penalties. He would beat you to death in the kicking game. You won’t find a better coach.”
This was a lifelong goal for Snyder. He was so honored that he put off preparing for Arkansas, K-State’s opponent in the Liberty Bowl, to celebrate for three days.
As the fourth active coach to earn induction into the prestigious club, he realized this was a week to reflect. The events took him all the way back to the beginning, before he even knew K-State was in need of a coach in 1989.
His life was about to change forever. Funny thing is, he didn’t want it to. Snyder remembers advising the Wildcats to hire someone else – repeatedly.
As the story goes, he was offensive coordinator at Iowa in 1988 when then K-State athletic director Steve Miller called and asked him to interview for the vacant job of head coach. Snyder turned him down.
Miller called back and urged him to reconsider. He thought Snyder would be a great head coach. At the least, he should interview. Again Snyder said no. There were several games remaining on the Hawkeyes’ schedule, including a bowl, and he wasn’t about to leave his players midseason.
“I told him to stop calling,” Snyder said.
K-State finally got his attention when Miller said he didn’t even need to interview. The job was his. Still, Snyder wasn’t sure.
Coaching the Wildcats wasn’t exactly a desirable task. They had lost more games than any other team at the time, and attendance was so low there were rumblings of dropping the program or downgrading the athletic department to a lower division.
“I told Steve, you don’t really want to wait that long, because if you do you are going to miss the opportunity to hire a lot of more qualified people,” Snyder said. “I urged him to look elsewhere. Finally, they called and said we will wait until the end of the year and you can come see the place. If you like it well enough the job is yours.
“It was a hard sell for Steve — a very hard sell. But he is a pretty persistent guy.”
That patience paid off in a big way.
Snyder arrived in Manhattan for the interview and decided to take the job after speaking with strangers on campus. He wanted a feel for the university and he wanted to know how the football team was perceived within the community, so he randomly stopped people on a chilly afternoon and peppered them with questions.
When they all obliged, treating him like an old friend, he was sold. The rest is history. He accepted the job, moved to Manhattan and never left. He has coached at K-State for 24 years, winning 193 games, advancing to 17 bowls and winning two conference championships.
“That man means the world to me,” said former K-State receiver and assistant Michael Smith, now with Arkansas. “He was like a father. He built K-State up from nothing. I know. I was on his first teams. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Snyder had fun along the way. He says his first win – a last-second thriller over North Texas that ended the nation’s longest losing streak in 1989 – was the most meaningful. He chuckles at the thought of asking as son, Sean, to punt 12 times into the wind during an early loss to Oklahoma State. The conference championships were great. Falling short of the national championship in 1998 and 2012 still hurts.
He wouldn’t do anything different. He says he turned down countless jobs from other college football programs and NFL teams once he turned moribund K-State into a consistent winner.
“I haven’t interviewed for a single job since 1989,” Snyder said. “My answer to every job offer has been simply: Thank you, but no. I am staying at Kansas State.”
He retired for three years and came back, winning all over again. He is leaning toward returning for at least another season, saying he has no reason to call it quits.
It’s wild to think the crowning achievement and the passion of his life might not have happened without those metaphorical dominoes falling 26 years ago.
“I mean it when I said I came to Kansas State because of the people and stayed at Kansas State because of the people,” Snyder said. “I will never forget those people I spoke to on campus before I took the job. I didn’t talk specifically about football, because I was trying to stay anonymous.
“It was cold, well below freezing, and they had no reason to stop and talk to me, but they were so nice and I could tell they cared deeply about the university. That meant everything to me.
“Those are the people I want to share this with. I hope all the great Kansas State people out there know that when I say ‘thank you’ I genuinely mean it.”
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett