The 2009 season saw one of the greatest legends in college football return to the sidelines in hopes of revitalizing a program that he once built, piece by piece, into a national force. And, after three seasons back in charge, Bill Snyder is well on his way to doing just that.
The architect of the “greatest turnaround in the history of college football” Bill Snyder returned to lead the Kansas State football program in 2009 after 17 ultra-successful seasons as the head coach from 1989-2005. And, following a 7-5 campaign in 2010 and a berth in the inaugural Pinstripe Bowl, the Wildcats climbed to heights only previously seen under Snyder as the Wildcats went 10-3 in 2011, finished No. 8 in the final BCS standings and earned their first Cotton Bowl invitation since 2001.
In 2011, Snyder’s Wildcats jumped out to a 7-0 start – the best in 12 years – which included big wins at Miami, against 15th-ranked Baylor and at Texas Tech. Following a two-game skid to a pair of nationally-ranked teams, the Wildcats got back into the win column with a thrilling four-overtime victory over Texas A&M before ending the year with wins at Texas and against Iowa State.
For his efforts in 2011, Snyder was named the Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year, as well as picking up national coaching honors from Sporting News, Rivals.com and CBSSports.com, and the Big 12 Coach of the Year by the AP and Big 12 Coaches. He also tutored 11 players to All-Big 12 honors, including Defensive Newcomer of the Year Arthur Brown and Offensive Freshman of the Year and Walter Camp All-Americans Tyler Lockett and Nigel Malone.
Named the 32nd head football coach at K-State on Nov. 30, 1988, and again as the 34th on Nov. 24, 2008, Snyder has amassed a 159-82-1 (.662) record during his tenure with the Wildcats, including an 89-64-1 (.581) mark in Big 8/12 games. His 159 victories are the 11th-most among active FBS coaches and are more than triple the man in second place on K-State’s all-time coaching victories list.
In 2010, Snyder’s Wildcats jumped out to a 5-1 start, which included big wins over UCLA, Conference USA Champion UCF and Iowa State, behind All-Big 12 running back Daniel Thomas, who became the fastest Wildcat in school history (in terms of games) to rush for 1,000 yards.
K-State would then dominate rival Kansas and close out the home schedule with a convincing 39-14 win over Texas to become bowl-eligible.
Eight Wildcats earned All-Big 12 status in 2010 with Thomas, the Big 12’s leading rusher, and William Powell, who led the nation in kick returns, taking first team honors.
In his first season back as the head man of the Wildcat program, Snyder led the Wildcats to a 6-6 record in 2009 and a second place finish in the Big 12 North. In fact, K-State was just one win away from advancing to the Big 12 Championship game as the Wildcats played at Nebraska in the season finale with a championship game berth on the line. Not bad for a program that was picked by most preseason publications to finish fifth or even sixth in the 2009 Big 12 North race.
K-State claimed more First Team All-Big 12 selections on offense than any other school with four last season. Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Daniel Thomas led the league in rushing in his first year at the position, while Nick Stringer, Jeron Mastrud and Brandon Banks also garnered first team accolades.
But to fully understand the turnaround ushered in by Snyder at Kansas State one must only consider that the Wildcats were in the midst of an 0-26-1 run when he was hired. It also took K-State 51 seasons (1938-1988) to total just 130 wins, while the 12 head coaches prior to Snyder’s arrival in Manhattan combined to win just 116 games from 1945-1988.
Snyder led Kansas State to 11 straight bowl berths between the 1993 and 2003 seasons, making K-State one of only seven programs in the nation to appear in the postseason every year during that stretch. During that span, Snyder’s Wildcats won nearly 80 percent of their games, chalking up 109 victories – a staggering average of nearly 10 wins per season – and making Kansas State the nation’s second-winningest program over that period.
And Snyder continued to break new ground with the Wildcats. Kansas State’s 35-7 victory over top-ranked Oklahoma in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game lifted K-State to its first conference championship since Pappy Waldorf’s 1934 squad and secured the school’s first BCS bowl berth in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
With an 11-4 record in 2003, K-State was the only team in the country to win 11 games in six of the previous seven years and just the second program in the history of college football to win 11 games six times in a seven-year stretch.
Snyder’s unprecedented success in 19 years at Kansas State has not gone unnoticed. He was named the National Coach of the Year on three occasions (1991, 1994 and 1998). He has been a finalist for the prestigious Bear Bryant/FWAA National Coach of the Year Award in 1993 and 1995 before winning in 1998; a finalist for the Football News National Coach of the Year Award in 1995 and 1998; and a finalist for the Kodak/AFCA National Coach of the Year Award in 1993 and 1998.
In 1993, he joined legendary Nebraska head coach Bob Devaney as the only head coaches in Big Eight history to be named Associated Press Big Eight Coach of the Year three times in a four-year period (1990, 1991 and 1993). The Houston Chronicle named him the 1996 Big 12 Coach of the Year, while he earned 1997 and 1998 Big 12 Coach of the Year honors from the Kansas City Star. Snyder also was the 1998 Big 12 Coach of the Year by the AP and by a vote of league coaches before earning the league coaches’ support again in 2002. The 2003 season brought more honors, including Big 12 Coach of the Year accolades from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and ESPN.com.
Since the inception of the Big 12 Conference, Snyder’s Wildcats truly became a dominant force in the league, ranking in the top three in overall Big 12 wins during his first tenure. Kansas State also won more Big 12 road games than any team in the league and advanced to the championship game three times.
Those facts alone demonstrate the continuing evolution of a power in the Big 12 Conference and with it the recognition that Snyder is truly one of the finest coaches in college football today.
The list of accomplishments Snyder has amassed in his 19 years is as endless as the time most people thought it would take for the Wildcats to be a consistent threat in the Big Eight, and now, Big 12 Conference.
Like so many in recent history, the 2003 campaign was a dramatically successful one for K-State, which ended the regular season with seven straight wins, a fourth Big 12 North title, its first Big 12 Championship and another top-20 finish.
But the 2003 season was not without its bumps in the road as the Wildcats overcame their share of adversity to produce perhaps the greatest season in school history. Ranked as high as No. 6 nationally in the early going, a key injury to quarterback Ell Roberson precipitated a three-game slide that threatened to wipe out a promising season.
The three losses all but erased K-State from the national consciousness, as the Wildcats slipped out of the both polls for the first time since the second game of the 2002 season. But Snyder was not about to allow the year to spiral out of control. He constantly reminded his players that they still controlled their own destiny, and if they could just go 1-0 each week the season would take care of itself and the team would ultimately achieve its goals.
And like everything Snyder seems to touch, this strategy too worked, as the Wildcats rode their 1-0 mantra week after week all the way to a berth in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Along the way, five different Wildcats were lauded for their efforts with All-America honors, including K-State’s first Associated Press first team All-American running back, Darren Sproles, who finished fifth in voting for the Heisman Trophy, was the Doak Walker Award runner-up and finished third on the AP’s Player of the Year ballot.
But Sproles was the lone player with star power that returned for the 2004 campaign. And though the little tank produced yet another record-breaking season capped by his third-straight selection to an All-Big 12 team, the lack of experience was one reason K-State struggled through a 4-7 rebuilding campaign.
The 2002 season was one of the best in Kansas State history, witnessed by the Wildcats’ five-victory turnaround from the previous year’s 6-6 team to a win in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl and an 11-2 overall record.
In addition, the 2002 Wildcats set or tied 45 school records, including tying the mark for wins in a season.
Snyder’s Wildcats finished the season with six consecutive victories, including the biggest wins in the history of the series in each of a three-week span against Kansas, Iowa State and Nebraska.
The Wildcats’ dominant play down the stretch of the 2002 season earned Snyder the recognition of his peers as the Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year.
In 2001, Snyder directed one of the best in-season turnarounds in school history. Despite losing four straight in the middle of the year and facing the fourth-toughest schedule in the nation, the Wildcats recovered to win four of their last five games to end the regular season with a 6-5 record and a berth in the Insight.com Bowl.
Despite the record, the quality of players produced by the Snyder-led coaching staff continued to attract national attention from those who best know the game.
Six Kansas State players were selected in the 2002 NFL Draft, the most of any team in the Big 12 Conference, with only six schools in the country having more players picked in the draft.
The Wildcats started the 2000 season ranked in the Top 10 for just the second time in school history and made a four-week run into the Top 5 that saw K-State climb as high as No. 2 in the nation. K-State won the Big 12 North Division for the second time in three years and earned at least a share of the title for the third consecutive season. K-State had six players named first team All-Big 12 by the coaches, and PK Jamie Rheem, DT Mario Fatafehi and WR Quincy Morgan were All-Americans.
The 1999 season saw the Wildcats climb from No. 20 in the preseason poll to finish at No. 6, after starting the season with nine straight victories, and win 11 games for the third straight year. K-State tied Nebraska for the Wildcats’ second consecutive Big 12 North Division Championship. All this came in what many thought would be a rebuilding season. K-State led the conference in first team picks with seven.
In 1998, Snyder led K-State to its second straight 11-win season and a No. 4 ranking in the final regular season polls. In November, K-State occupied a No. 1 ranking in a national poll for the first time in school history. The Wildcats won the Big 12 Conference North Division and advanced to a bowl game for the sixth year in a row. K-State won its first 11 games of the season and ran its winning streak to a school-record 20 games before falling to Texas A&M in the Big 12 Championship game.Quarterback Michael Bishop became the first Wildcat to be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, and a total of six K-Staters earned All-America honors.
Snyder earned National Coach of the Year honors from the Walter Camp Foundation, the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Foundation, the Associated Press, the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award and the Schutt Sports Group.
In 1997, Snyder led the Wildcats to their first 11-win season in school history, a No. 7 final ranking and the first 10-win regular season since 1910. It was just the third 10-win season in 102 years of K-State football. Kansas State won a school-record seven conference games, finishing second in the North to undefeated and national champion Nebraska.
The Wildcats defeated South Division champion Texas A&M, 36-17. The season ended with a 35-18 win over Big East Conference champion Syracuse in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, with an estimated 50,000 K-State fans attending K-State’s first-ever Alliance Bowl.
The 1996 season saw K-State finish with a 9-3 record, while more than 45,000 Wildcat fans painted Dallas purple for the Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl, K-State’s first-ever New Year’s Day Bowl. Despite a 19-15 loss to No. 5 BYU, the support and respect for the K-State program grew to unprecedented heights.
In 1995, Snyder guided K-State to a 10-2 record, including a 5-2 Big Eight mark to tie for second place behind national champion Nebraska. Following a 54-21 blitzing of WAC champion Colorado State in the 1995 Holiday Bowl, the Wildcats finished the season ranked sixth in the USA Today/CNN coaches poll and seventh in the Associated Press poll. Both rankings were the highest ever attained by a Kansas State football team to that point.
In 1995, the Wildcats finished tied for second in the Big Eight and their 5-2 league mark gave K-State two consecutive 5-2 Big Eight seasons. In the last three years of the Big Eight, the Wildcats defeated or tied every team in the league except Nebraska. Since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, K-State is 53-27 in league games under Snyder (10 seasons).
In 1993, Snyder guided K-State to its first bowl win in school history and, in 1994, the Wildcats cracked the Top 10 for the first time in school history. In 1998, the K-State achieved a No. 1 national ranking in one of the major polls for the first time in the program’s history.
Individually, Snyder produced 45 different All-Americans during his 17 years as head coach, including nine consensus first-team All-Americans: in 1992 (P Sean Snyder), 1993 (FS Jaime Mendez), 1995 (CB Chris Canty), 1996 (Canty), 1997 (PK Martin Gramatica), 1998 (PR David Allen), 1999 (LB Mark Simoneau) and 2002 (CB Terence Newman).
Newman became the third Wildcat to win a national award when he was voted the 2002 Thorpe Award, given to the top collegiate defensive back. Gramatica was the 1997 Lou Groza Award winner, the first major award winner in Kansas State history. Quarterback Michael Bishop became the first K-State player to be named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy (finishing as runner-up) while winning the Davey O’Brien Award.
The foundation for K-State’s turnaround was laid in 1989 during Snyder’s first season in Manhattan. Although the season yielded just a 1-10 record, it became evident to everyone involved in the program that something special was happening. Most important, Snyder instilled a winning attitude and a healthy dose of self-respect and enthusiasm to a program that had been given up for dead.
In 1990, K-State was one of just four teams in the country to improve its record by four games with a 5-6 mark, including its first Big Eight Conference wins in four seasons with victories over Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Snyder again beat those two schools in 1991, while adding Kansas and Missouri to the list of his Big Eight victims to finish at 7-4 for K-State’s first winning season since the Independence Bowl season of 1982. Heavy graduation losses on the offensive side of the ball resulted in a 5-6 mark in 1992, but the Cats were still able to hang their hats on their first perfect home season since 1934.
Of course, it should come as no surprise that Snyder would be this kind of architect for a building program. At Iowa, he played a key role in the renaissance of a Hawkeye program that went from 17 consecutive losing seasons to eight straight bowls. Snyder was the mind behind Iowa’s potent offensive attack. The Hawkeye offense ranked first in passing efficiency and third in passing yardage nationally in Snyder’s last five years of direction. In his final Iowa season, the Peach Bowl team led the Big Ten, and ranked seventh nationally, with 277 passing yards per game. That team was second in the Big Ten with 416 yards of offense per game. Snyder also served as quarterback coach at Iowa and helped develop some of the best quarterbacks in NCAA history, including NFL players Chuck Long (second in Heisman voting), Mark Vlasic and Chuck Hartlieb, who wrapped up his career as the first Hawkeye to throw for 3,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.
Snyder began his full-time coaching career in 1964 as an assistant at Indio High School in California. In 1966 he served as a graduate assistant at USC under John McKay before returning to become head coach at Indio High School in 1967. He accepted the same position at Santa Ana Foothill High School in 1969, where he stayed until 1973.
In 1974, Snyder became the offensive coordinator on the football staff and head swimming coach at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He joined the University of North Texas staff in 1976 and helped author an impressive turnaround with a three-year record of 26-7. He left UNT for Iowa in 1979.
During his three-year hiatus, Snyder remained involved with the university and is currently a member of the Missouri and Kansas Halls of Fame, the K-State and Austin College Athletics Halls of Fame while also being inducted into the Holiday Bowl Hall of Fame. The long-time mentor also is the Chairman of the Kansas Mentors Council and the Kansas Leadership Council, a member of the Board of Directors for Kansas Leadership Center, the Board of Trustees for the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, the KSU Leadership Studies Advancement Council, the Terry C. Johnson Cancer Research Center Advisory Council, the Manhattan Community Foundation Board of Trustees, the KSU Foundation Board of Trustees and is the Honorary Co-Chairman of the Kansas Masonic Partnership for Life. Snyder, 71, received his B.A. from William Jewell in 1963. He earned his M.A. from Eastern New Mexico in 1965. As a player, he was a three-year letterwinner as a defensive back at William Jewell. Snyder and his wife, Sharon, have two sons (Sean and Ross) and three daughters (Shannon, Meredith and Whitney). They also have eight grandchildren, Sydney, Katherine, Tate, Matthew, Alexis, Gavin, Kadin and Tylin, and one great-grandson, D.J.