Kansas State University

Bob Lutz: Bill Snyder keeps us guessing

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder talks with quarterback Jake Waters as he is introduced on Senior Day on Nov. 29 in Manhattan before a game against Kansas.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder talks with quarterback Jake Waters as he is introduced on Senior Day on Nov. 29 in Manhattan before a game against Kansas. The Wichita Eagle

The best conversation I ever had with Bill Snyder came shortly after he retired as Kansas State’s football coach, in late August of 2006. Snyder’s replacement, Ron Prince, hadn’t yet coached his first game when I met Snyder inside Suite 301, his personal suite inside the stadium named after him and his family less than a year earlier.

Snyder was relaxed that day and gracious with his time. He noticed a framed picture on a wall was slightly crooked and excused himself to get up from his chair and fix that problem. It was a telling sign into Snyder’s relentless pursuit of perfection, one I suspect has driven him to coach all of these years.

The 75-year-old Snyder, who leads Kansas State into the Alamo Bowl tonight against UCLA in San Antonio, returned to the K-State sidelines three years after his retirement. The Prince Experiment failed and the Wildcats turned the keys to the football program back over to Snyder, one of the most successful coaches in college football history.

Snyder’s Act II, concluding its sixth season, hasn’t made anyone sorry about that decision.

Despite some evidence to the contrary, Snyder can’t coach forever. He won’t coach forever. He’ll step down again someday and because he’s square in his golden years, it’s interesting to speculate when that might be.

Some who follow the program closely believe Snyder might be coaching his final game with Kansas State tonight. I think they’re reacting more to a gut feeling than anything of substance because Snyder certainly hasn’t given any indication that he’s on the verge of stepping down.

He was asked directly about his plans during Thursday’s coaches news conference in San Antonio.

Question: How many more years do you plan on being head coach at Kansas State?

Answer: I have no idea.

Kansas State football fans get a rash when this subject arises, and it’s understandable why. The last time Snyder retired, even after two sub-par seasons, things got worse. Much worse. Prince was the wrong guy at the wrong time and the notion of trying to replace Snyder now is compounded by the epic failure in how K-State went about replacing him in 2005.

Snyder doesn’t play the media’s game when it comes to his possible retirement. He dodges the question, which isn’t exactly reassuring to the Kansas State masses. Nor is it cause for panic. It is what it is.

Snyder, though, offered a hint about retirement in our conversation more than eight years ago. He said a few times that it was important to him to step down at a time when expectations for a new coach – in this case, Prince – wouldn’t be quite as staggering.

At the time, the Wildcats were coming off 4-7 and 5-6 seasons, an indication, perhaps, that Snyder was at the end of the line.

Addressing the expectations for Prince, Snyder said: “You don’t have to feel like all of a sudden you have to be a conference champion or a Top 10 team. But I also wouldn’t have left if (the next coach) had no chance. That wouldn’t have been fair to the program.”

Kansas State has returned to high ground during Snyder’s second go-around with a 51-25 record, including 38-13 since 2011. His special formula for success works and expectations for a new coach – whenever there is a need for a new coach – will be high, regardless of when he retires. That’s especially true as football facilities continue to expand at K-State.

Snyder has created a monster, one only he has been able to feed.

It’s also true that the Wildcats will be losing a bunch of key seniors after the Alamo Bowl, including quarterback Jake Waters, receivers Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton, offensive lineman B.J. Finney, defensive end Ryan Mueller and linebacker Jonathan Truman.

I suspect Kansas State will be picked to finish somewhere in the middle of the pack of the Big 12 next season. That doesn’t mean Snyder wouldn’t defy prognosticators and lead the Wildcats to a more successful season than expected. It simply means more rebuilding than usual be required.

And none of that means anything, really, when it comes to figuring out when Snyder might finally retire for good. You can point to just as many reasons whey he’ll stay as you can as to why he’ll leave.

He doesn’t drop hints. There is nobody in his loop, presumably, who knows any more than the rest of us. Perhaps he confides his intentions to his family and closest friends, but not without assurances that they say nothing.

Snyder is in great shape – mind and body – and the job clearly isn’t too much for him. But he has always poured himself into the job, admittedly to the detriment of family. In Snyder’s view, there’s only one way to be a college football coach and that’s to spent countless hours making sure he’s not missing something.

He’s said numerous times that he wouldn’t advise young people to go into coaching football, yet he’s made it known that he hopes his son, Sean, gets a crack at his job when he steps down. Sean, a former punter at Kansas State, is the Wildcats’ special teams coach.

Snyder has made personal sacrifices for his professional success, no doubt about it. That’s the case with many decorated people, but it’s accentuated with Snyder because of how hard he had to toil to lift Kansas State from the lowest depths of college football to a place in which the Wildcats had five 11-win seasons during a six-season span from 1997-2003.

If Snyder were to retire tonight, after the Alamo Bowl, his legacy is monumental. In fact, there is a monument of Snyder outside the west entrance of the stadium that bears his name.

This is a man with nothing left to prove. But also a man with plenty left to give.

Let me change what I said earlier. Snyder might coach forever.

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