Tom Dienhart Rivals.com College Football Senior Writer
Bill Snyder proved to be a master builder during his first stint as coach at Kansas State. Now in his second tour with the Wildcats, Snyder is proving to be a master rebuilder.
Snyder orchestrated one of the most remarkable turnarounds in college football history during his first stint at a place that had been dubbed "Futility U." He inherited a program that had a 299-510 all-time record, with just one bowl appearance. K-State had not won a league title since 1934, had had only two winning records in the previous 34 seasons and was in the midst of a 27-game losing skid when Snyder took over in 1989.
Snyder, 70, changed all of that over the next 17 seasons in forging a 136-68-1 record. He made K-State a national program, winning four Big 12 North titles and the 2003 conference championship. Snyder had the Wildcats one win from playing for the national title in 1998, but a loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game killed those hopes. Still, his body of work at what had been a college football graveyard was miraculous.
Snyder retired after the 2005 season, giving way to Ron Prince, who arrived from Virginia. But the program struggled under Prince, who was let go after going 17-20 with one bowl appearance in three seasons.
Re-enter Snyder, who began Act 2 of his K-State career in 2009. He showed instant results in finishing 6-6 and second in the North Division. This season, Snyder and K-State are one of the nation's biggest surprises, with the Wildcats owning a 4-0 record that includes a season-opening triumph over UCLA.
The Wildcats will play their biggest game since Snyder's first stint in Manhattan on Thursday, when 4-0 Nebraska comes to Manhattan in a battle of unbeatens. Rivals.com caught up with Snyder as he prepped for the Huskers.
Kansas State is off to its first 4-0 start since 2003. Are you surprised?
"I'm not surprised because I don't make those kinds of projections in regards to where we will be in three to four ballgames. It's all about playing as well as we can and can we get better next time. And we haven't done that. If we were 0-4, I probably wouldn't be surprised, either."
What areas of the team have been the strongest so far?
"Our ability on offense to run the football. [Running back] Daniel [Thomas] is a very, very fine player, but it has been a team effort, as well. I think we have been stable in the kicking game; we've had some ups and downs. We haven't really shot ourselves in the foot too much in that respect. And we have made some plays, particularly in the kickoff-return game. Defensively, we have been able to pull the trigger when we need to. When we have had our backs against the wall, our youngsters have played reasonably well. That's probably one area where we haven't continued to improve. We have a long ways to go. We understand that. When push comes to shove, they have been stable."
Thomas leads the Big 12 in rushing with 628 yards. Is he the best running back you ever have had?
"It's hard to say that he isn't. There is nobody right now that I could put in front of him. It would be pretty hard to say that anybody would be any better than [Darren] Sproles when he was here. He accomplished a great deal. [They are] two completely different running backs. But doing what Daniel does, probably not anyone that we have had plays the game as physical as Daniel does, although Darren for being a little toot was a physical ballplayer."
What kind of shape was the program in when you replaced Ron Prince?
"That's not anything for me to comment on. We have a long ways to go. And when I left, we did [too]."
Why do you think things didn't work out for Prince?
"I couldn't tell you why. Ron is a good guy. I thought he was a good coach. I couldn't tell you."
Do you think you can get K-State back to the heights it enjoyed during your first run in Manhattan?
"You are asking questions that I don't have the answer to. My intent when coming back was to try to help to calm the water among our constituents. Hopefully, we can move in the right direction to improve the program and get better. Where that goes, I can't tell you. I'm just focused on today."
How are you a different coach than you were during your first stint in Manhattan?
"When you become 70 years old, you don't change a whole heck of a lot. I don't think I have changed. Someone else might see it differently. And they may be accurate. But I don't see myself as different."
Are still working those famously long days?
"That just goes with being a coach. I think most successful programs do that."
Do you sleep in the office?
"No, but I never did. I live 2 minutes and 45 seconds from the office, so I can get here pretty quickly."
What do you think of the direction of the Big 12?
"I still think it will be a strong league. ... I can't see any reason why it wouldn't be. It was strong in previous years, and I can't see that changing. My projection. When you look at the top 25 now, you see a lot of Big 12 schools."
What did you enjoy the most about retirement?
"I enjoyed a lot of things. I enjoyed spending time with my children; four of the five live in the Manhattan area. Sean is associate head coach here now. I see him more now than I did when I was retired. We have eight grandkids. I got to see them more. And I got to be active in a lot of things that are important to me. I was involved with some projects with the government. I was part of the Kansas Leadership Center, among other things."
"I only eat one meal a day, and that is late, late at night. But I always have done that. It upsets my doctor. But it is the way I have done it. When I first coached, I ate a lot of vegetables. My wife wasn't going to stay up that late to cook for me, so I found you could put water in the microwave and steam vegetables in a heartbeat. I have gotten away from that.
"I used to work the StairMaster while I watched tape. Now they have this newfangled system and I can't get it wired the way I want it wired. So, until that happens, I have slowed down my exercise routine. But I will try to get back into it."
You have built an impressive coaching tree that has produced the likes of Bob and Mike Stoops, Jim Leavitt, Mark Mangino and Bret Bielema. Do you stay in touch with them?
"We stay in touch. We don't talk every day or every week, but we are in touch at various times. But everybody is busy. They are doing their thing and I'm doing mine. We are truly very, very proud of those guys and the others above and beyond those."
Do you have any good friends in the coaching business who you talk with often?
"Not really. I may visit with [Texas coach] Mack Brown more than anyone else, but for a variety of different reasons. I talk to [former Iowa coach] Hayden Fry to check up and see that he is doing well on a semi-regular basis. But by and large, coaches get too busy to sit around and be able to do what I am doing now."
Was the fan base fractured when you came back?
"Yes, there were some problems. Some of the problems I wasn't aware of and never really asked about. When they came to me, that is what they were asking."
How much longer do you think you'll coach?
"I have no idea. I just want to try to get the program headed in the right direction, to get the people of Kansas State back to where they were. When that happens, I'll go and enjoy my grandkids again."