KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The running joke is actually more of a limping one: Word in the Flint Hills is that Bill Snyder adapted quickly to his new iPad because, after all, he began his career drawing up plays on tablets.
The stone kind.
"The age factor, I can’t negotiate," Kansas State’s venerable football coach, 74 years young — he’ll turn 75 on Oct. 7 — told reporters assembled in Dallas on Tuesday during Big 12 Football Media Days. "It is what it is. And I’m as old as time, and that’s not going to change."
Other than a recent surgery to repair a dangling tendon in his left ankle, Snyder shows about as many signs of slowing down as the Road Runner, wheels always turning, ever prepared, three steps ahead and one step to the side. When a reporter asked the Jedi Master about signs of optimism this summer, especially for a Wildcat squad that returns 10 senior starters — second most in the league — he replied thusly:
"I would share a fairly high degree of optimism for today, but tomorrow’s a new day and we’ll see how that goes. I can’t make projections in regards to what kind of a football team. I know what we have capabilities of being, and whether or not we can reach that level or not is dependent upon a lot of things. And the biggest thing is not taking anything for granted."
"Didn’t tell you anything, did I?"
In 2013, Snyder agreed to a five-year contract extension with an annual rollover clause. He could do this forever. He could do this until either he or St. Peter gets bored, whichever comes first. Snyder is as ageless as his "16 Goals For Success" are timeless.
But the "when," really, is not nearly as important as the "how." And Snyder has earned — more than earned — the right to determine both. The right to plot his exit course.
And, most important, if that day comes, the right to name his successor to the throne.
This is a sensitive topic in EMAW circles, on several fronts. For one, Snyder has implied, both directly and discreetly, that he would recommend his son Sean, the Wildcats’ associate head coach, for the position. For another, the elder Snyder’s contract stipulates that he’ll become a special assistant to the athletic director at the completion of his current deal.
Which means athletic director John Currie might have his own ideas, his own short list, his own agenda, his own vision, but Snyder is not going to stop being part of the final equation.
The shadow is massive, the shoes big enough to make Godzilla blush. The statue in front of the stadium, the building itself and the highway that leads into town from the Kansas Turnpike all bear either Snyder’s name or his likeness. The Joe Paterno saga taught us that no one coach, no one man, should be more powerful than the institution to which he is tethered. And yet without Snyder, without The Miracle In Manhattan, Part I and the equally impressive Part II, there aren’t as many cranes and construction zones and dreams dotting Kimball Avenue.
Lookin’ good! CLICK HERE to check out our gallery of cheerleaders from around the Big 12.
To paraphrase that old line from "Field of Dreams," if he doesn’t build it, they don’t come.
Snyder is not bigger than K-State, but neither is he small enough to politely discount. Through Ron Prince, fans got a taste of what Wildcat football would look like with someone outside "the family" holding the reins; no one is exactly banging down doors clamoring for a sequel. EMAW Nation stared into the abyss of mediocrity. It didn’t like what it saw.
This will take planning and grace and discretion, a tough combination as the NCAA structure as we know it enters the tunnel of inevitable reform. Of late, college football’s elder statesmen have found themselves shoved, shamed, or both. Paterno’s well-documented fall from grace at Penn State cast a pall over what had been one of the proudest institutions in college football. Bobby Bowden told The Associated Press he felt he was "pushed out" after the 2009 season by Florida State, which had already tabbed offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher as his successor. Ol’ Bobby wanted one more year, President T.K. Wetherell wanted to get Fisher rolling, and ne’er the twain.
Snyder is eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame in October, and signs point to a swift admission. Once there, he’ll join a very small, very familiar club ofHall of Famers elected while still active: small-college legend John Gagliardi, Paterno and Bowden. The Road Runner deserves a better final chapter, when that page finally turns, than the latter pair. A happier one, too.