Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Check out Bill Snyder, working his 69-year-old fingers over a keypad, taking a trip into cyberspace.
"Yes, I text," Snyder says. "And I e-mail, too, more than I did before. I think some of the younger generation depends too much on communicating like that. I still prefer face to face. But I am more up to speed with technology now."
Don't expect Snyder to launch a Facebook page anytime soon. But he is rested and ready – and tech-savvy – after a three-year "retirement" that was more like a sabbatical. The roar to win still burns in his inner core as he begins his second stint as Kansas State coach.
"We need every hour in every day to get better," Snyder says. "We have a lot of development we need to do. That's why we have pushed back the start of spring practice to the second week of April."
Typical Snyder, a quintessential work-a-day drone whose answer to every problem is the same: work longer, work harder. But will he be able to lift K-State to the tremendous heights it enjoyed during his first run from 1989-2005?
Snyder says he got to the office on this February day at around 6 a.m. and planned to leave "whenever the work is done." The job this time around isn't a total rehab project, as it was when he took over the first time. However, there's still heavy lifting to do for a program that went 17-20 during Ron Prince's three-year stint. With a freshly minted recruiting class that was met with a collective shrug by national pundits, Snyder's mind races toward the next task: winter conditioning.
"Speed, quickness, agility, strength," Snyder says. "We need it all."
Snyder loves this. You can sense it in his voice. Retirement clothes didn't fit. Snyder tried. He went to the grandkids' Little League games, the equestrian events, the school plays. He filled leadership roles on various boards at the behest of the governor. And more than anything, Snyder played the role of royalty, a Sunflower State deity and author of perhaps the greatest rebuilding job in college football history.
But something was missing and he knew what it was: his team. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why he's back.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Bill Snyder isn't the first coach to enjoy non-consecutive stints at the same school. Some other notables since 1970:
Chris Ault, Nevada
1976-1992; 1994-95; 2004-present
Dennis Erickson, Idaho
Don Fambrough, Kansas
Johnny Majors, Pitt
John Robinson, USC
Mike Riley, Oregon State
Bill Snyder, Kansas State
Jim Sweeney, Fresno State
Bill Walsh, Stanford
NOTE: Bo Pelini served as Nebraska's interim coach in the 2003 Alamo Bowl before landing the full-time job in 2008.
"Nothing has changed as far as I'm concerned other than maybe it's a little different environment than it was 20 years ago," says Snyder, who signed a five-year contract that will pay him $1.8 million per year. "You're probably wondering why in the devil I want to do this again."
Snyder already has cemented his legacy. An exit off Interstate 70 in Manhattan is for the "Bill Snyder Highway" and the football stadium bears his name, so his sainthood isn't in peril even if K-State struggles. But he sure as heck can tarnish his accomplishments if he belly-flops in what is known as "Bill Snyder, Part 2."
Sequels are famous for being failures. Other coaches have attempted to return to their old job, and the results have been mixed. One of the most high-profile coaches who tried to reprise a former role is John Robinson. He enjoyed a tremendous run at USC from 1976-82, posting a 67-14-2 record and winning the '78 national championship. He left to coach the Los Angeles Rams from 1983-91 and returned to USC in 1993. But it wasn't the same. Robinson's Trojans went 37-21-2 in five seasons, missing the postseason his final two years with a combined 12-11 record.
"I may have made an error in not thinking much had changed in the college scene," says Robinson, who had 10 years between stints at USC. "You need to be careful not to assume everything will be the same as when you left. And you also can't hire a staff that all has the same experience as you.
"But I don't know if Bill will have much of an adjustment. He wasn't out as long as I was. I think he paid attention to his program [while he was gone]. If he can do it again, it really will be something."
The first go-round
Bill Snyder was Iowa's offensive coordinator when he was hired to coach Kansas State after the 1988 season. K-State had won six games total the previous five seasons and had a winless streak of 27 games when he took over. The Wildcats had been to one bowl in their history – the 1982 Independence Bowl − and hadn't had a winning conference record since 1970. Here's a look at K-State's won-loss record under Snyder:
NOTE: * – denotes played for Big 12 title; & – denotes won Big 12 title.
Mike Riley has proven you can return to a former job – and thrive. He coached Oregon State in 1997 and '98 before becoming coach of the San Diego Chargers. Riley jumped at the chance to return to Corvallis in 2003. But unlike Snyder's current redo, Riley walked into a blooming program that had begun to take off under Dennis Erickson.
Still, there are reasons to wonder if Snyder's second run will be successful. The last time we saw Snyder prowling the sideline in Manhattan in a purple windbreaker, the Wildcats weren't exactly tearing it up. After K-State won the Big 12 title in 2003, the Wildcats were an aggregate 9-13, including 4-12 in the Big 12, in Snyder's final two campaigns.
No matter how hard and fast you chug the purple Kool-Aid, it was impossible to deny that the program was on the wane.
"I think the coaching staff had declined," says a former K-State staffer who asked to remain anonymous. "Coach Snyder still had it. But the school stopped paying good money to assistants. And you usually get what you pay for. Guys were on Kansas State's staff because they had nowhere else to go. And I also think recruiting started to slide his last few years there."
The talent level still appears low in Manhattan, so low, in fact, that many K-State fans are bracing for the worst. If Snyder can deliver a bowl – any bowl – in 2009, his debut will be viewed as a huge success.
The fans love this rerun, of course. The players? We only can guess, as Snyder has made them off-limits to the media until the start of spring practice April 6. That's classic Snyder, the ultimate control freak who can't help but micromanage. It's all he knows, but it has served him well.
"I'm going to do what we can to put the K-State family together again in such a way that they are comfortable and that we can get back to the K-State way," Snyder says.