This season was Bill Snyder’s masterpiece
Oh, there were better teams, no question. The 1998 Kansas State bunch that rolled to 11 victories before the wheels came off is the first that springs to mind; between 1999-2001, the Wildcats saw a whopping 17 players taken in the NFL Draft. The 2003 Big 12 champions, another 11-win giant, own a spot on Mount Rushmore after crushing a previously unbeaten Oklahoma team in the league title game.
“But what these guys accomplished was a better accomplishment than anything we did. We never won a Big 12 title,” offers Grant Reves, a backup tackle on those elite K-State teams between 1996-2000, the cream of the cream. “For him to leave, and come back, and do it again? And the fact they had to play everybody, every team in the league… I think this is his greatest accomplishment, for sure.”
Elvis Presley didn’t do encores. Saint Patrick only had to chase the snakes out of Ireland once. Bill Snyder won 11 games at Kansas State six times, rode off into the sunset, galloped back into town and — in just three seasons — did it again.
Are the 11-1 Big 12 champs of 2012 his best team? Ask us after Thursday’s Fiesta Bowl date with Oregon. Is it his best, single-season coaching job, the apex of a glorious career? Let’s just say this: It’s awfully hard to make a compelling case the other way.
“He’s had so many,” says Kansas City Chiefs safety and K-State alum Tysyn Hartman. “He’s had (a) Heisman Trophy finalist this year (quarterback Collin Klein). He’s been ranked No. 1 in the country. It’s definitely up there. He made the tradition years ago and now he’s brought it back.”
Making it? Tough. Maintaining it? Tougher still. Bringing it back? Good luck, pal.
Elvis didn’t do encores. And yet here’s Snyder, 73 years young, honored as The Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year — an award he last won some 14 years earlier.
“It’s pretty impressive how he’s so competitive, year-in and year-out,” notes another Wildcat alum, former Chiefs lineman Ryan Lilja. “He doesn’t get the hottest recruits every year but he always makes the most out of what he’s got. That’s a Bill Snyder trademark right there.
“I hope he’ll come back for more seasons. Who knows? He obviously came back for a good reason the last time he came back.”
There were several. Mainly, Snyder no longer recognized what he’d worked so blasted hard to build in the first place.
In 2008, in the third season since the coach’s first retirement, K-State ranked among the bottom third of the Big 12 in turnover margin (ninth, -0.58); punting (10th, 32.2 net); third-down conversions (ninth, a success rate of 41.2 percent); and time of possession (11th, 27:40 per game).
Snyder’s best teams had controlled the clock, owned the line of scrimmage, and rarely, if ever, beat themselves. For the locals, it was a disconcerting contrast.
All of which was made more disconcerting, of course, by the fact that the Wildcats were 5-7 and, in consecutive November weekends, lost to Kansas by 31 and to Missouri by 17. In three seasons, K-State coach Ron Prince had never beaten the rival Jayhawks, a cardinal sin in Manhattan circles.
There were whispers about a lack of discipline and focus, of a ship drifting into the murky waters of mediocrity. When the Wildcats were right, they veered toward the predictable, but they were also fundamentally sound, tighter than the skin of a snare drum. The new-look K-State was flashier, but agonizingly inconsistent.
So as Snyder took the reins again in the winter of 2008, he insisted on kicking it old school. He instituted 16 goals for success, a set of firm commandments, and had them plastered all over the football complex.
Goal No. 5: Be tough.
“The off-season workouts were — I’m trying to remember — he didn’t call them, ‘horrific,’ but he said they (were) pretty darn hard,” Kyle Klein says of his older brother Collin’s initial reflections on the regime change. “When Snyder first came in, a lot of guys quit, which is part of the deal. I remember (Collin) specifying that mental toughness is a new cornerstone.”
Toughness. Accountability. Responsibility. Try to get a little better, every day, in everything that you do.
Players would greet the media in matching team blazers. Those who’d missed class would spend the following Wednesday morning sentenced to running stadium steps.
“That always helps, that little threat there,” linebacker Arthur Brown says. “But Coach Snyder does a great job of emphasizing where our heads should be.”
And where the head goes, the heart usually follows.
They’re all-in. All-in to the last man. Whether it’s Brown directing the defense, or Collin Klein parroting his head coach, word for word, that’s what has most impressed former Wildcats, what speaks most to this being Snyder’s masterwork.
“I feel like this team really has bought into that maybe moreso than we did,” says Brice Libel, a receiver on that ’98 squad. “I don’t know if they’re more mature. I don’t know if it’s from a leadership standpoint with Collin Klein (on offense) and Arthur Brown on the defensive side.
“Certainly from the outside looking in, they’ve bought into him. Even when reporters are talking to them, they’re all (saying) the same line.”
Goal No. 3: Unity.
“You know, it’s pretty cool being a former player, that when my kid is 20, or when he’s 40, I can say, ‘I played for Bill Snyder,'” Reves says. “Guys who played for Glen Mason or Terry Allen, they don’t have anything to brag about. So it’s pretty special in that regard.”
Elvis didn’t do encores. Bill Snyder hasn’t even left the building yet.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org