September 5, 2013
By Mark Janssen
Del Miller laughs as he tells the story on accepting the position of offensive coordinator at Kansas State as head coach Bill Snyder's first assistant prior to the 1989 season.
K-State and Snyder/Miller's Iowa program had played in 1987 and 1988 with the Hawkeyes, first winning in Iowa City, 38-13, stretching the Wildcats' losing streak to eight games, followed by a 45-10 thrashing of the Cats the next year before a crowd of 25,000-ish at KSU Stadium, which was loss No. 18 in a row.
"I remember telling Fred Mims (Iowa assistant athletic director), 'You know, if I ever think about coaching in a place like Kansas State, you kick me right in the butt,' " Miller reflected.
No one could predict Snyder's miraculous story at Kansas State, but Miller did know this: "I knew of nobody who could stay as focused to a task for such a long period of time as Bill could. I mean nobody! That made me believe he could get the job done at Kansas State. No, not to the level that he did, but I knew he would make a difference."
Out of respect to Iowa coach Hayden Fry, Miller would be Snyder's only direct hire from the Hawkeye staff. But what Snyder did do with his first collection of assistants was turn to individuals that he knew about from Iowa:
- Bob Stoops as an All-American defensive back at Iowa, who was coaching at Kent State.
- Nick Quartaro was a former Iowa place kicker and graduate assistant, who was the head coach at Drake.
- Tom Grogan had been assistant quarterbacks coach and recruiting coordinator at Iowa. He joined the staff from the Black and Veatch Architecture firm in Kansas City where he was in the human resources department.
Other first-year assistant coaches in 1989 were Bob Cope, head coach at University of Pacific; Charlie Coe, a former K-Stater who was at Missouri; John Latina, an assistant at Temple; Mike Nelson of San Diego State's staff; Kevin Ramsey, a holdover from the Stan Parrish staff; and former Wildcat player and graduate assistant coach Dana Dimel.
All were individuals that Snyder said, "...some were without a job, and this job was better than no job. With others, it was accepting a title (coordinator) that they did not have at their previous school."
In the next couple years, Snyder dipped back into the Iowa family by hiring Jim Leavitt from the Hawkeye staff where he had served as linebacker coach in 1990, and in 1991 added former Iowa standout Mike Stoops, who was a Hawkeye assistant.
Whether the first ties came at Iowa, or now selecting former Wildcat players, Dimel, who played at K-State in 1985-86 and is now co-offensive coordinator, understands the importance of hiring someone that you've worked with before.
"Every head coach is looking for a comfort zone," said Dimel, who left K-State to be the head coach at Wyoming from 1997-99 and Houston from 2000-02. "It's taken time, but with Bill's consistency, there are times when we know what he wants done before he asks us to do it."
"Kansas State is a program you have to experience over a period of time," said Snyder of hiring former players as assistant coaches. "Those who invested in it as a player, and understand the demands of it, have such an advantage. They have been a part of the university and the program. They understand it."
Miller was Snyder's quarterback coach at Iowa before following him to K-State in 1989 and has since had two other stints at K-State. Other stops included being head coach at Missouri State, an assistant at Oklahoma State and an assistant at San Diego State.
Through those years, Miller said, "Bill has a system in place in dealing with young people that doesn't change. He tweaks it some to keep up with the times, but the message is the same. If you're a former player, you already know of the discipline involved in the program. There's a loyalty that former players have for the program."
Mo Latimore, who starred for the Cats in 1970-71, added of coaching at a school where you once played, "We love the place and what it stands for. We know about the people. These are die-hard Wildcat fans who care about their football. Former players feel the same way."
Two of those ex-players this year are first-year coaches Blake Seiler and Andre Coleman, who are taking the place of two other former Wildcats in Michael Smith, who is now coaching at Arkansas, and Joe Bob Clements, who is on the Oklahoma State staff.
Seiler, who served two years as a Wildcat graduate assistant, said, "As former players, we know the system Coach Snyder has and what it takes to be a Wildcat. As a former player, you already know how hard you're going to work and that you're in a position of discipline."
Coleman, who made the move from Youngstown State, adds, "You already understand the work ethic and the commitment that Coach Snyder expects. I've been a witness to that."
EX-CATS WHO HAVE COACHED UNDER SNYDER
** Joe Bob Clements, 2003-2005; 2009-2012
Charlie Coe, 1989
** Andre Coleman, 2013
Dana Dimel, 1989-1996; 2009-2013
Vic Koening, 2009
Mo Latimore, 1994-2013
** Matt Miller, 1999-2005
** Blake Seiler, 2013
** Michael Smith, 1997-2005; 2009-2012
** Sean Snyder, 2011-2013
** Brent Venables, 1996-1998
** Played for Snyder