Oct. 13, 2011
MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - Bill Snyder lifted Kansas State from the college football morass two decades ago, a non-descript offensive coordinator from Iowa who arrived on campus preaching hard work and family values.
In just a few short years, he had built a perennial contender. What followed was six 11-win seasons, annual pilgrimages to bowl games and a spot in the Top 25 reserved every autumn.
Barry Switzer called him not just the coach of the year or the decade, but of the century.
Now he's doing it again.
After a brief retirement, the 72-year-old Snyder is in the third year of rebuilding a program he placed among the nation's elite. There are a few more wrinkles these days, he walks with a slightly more pronounced stoop, what's left of his hair has long turned silver, but Snyder's message hasn't changed, nor have the results. The No. 17 Wildcats are undefeated.
"After a while, you get tired of hearing about the way it used to be," Snyder said this week. "You want to hear about how it is right now. So I'm a little more focused on that than I am past history. That's what they'll remember in time."
Kansas State was picked to finish eighth in the preseason media poll. That's what happens when you lose your starting quarterback to graduation, one of the top running backs in school history to the NFL draft and several other starters on both sides of the ball.
It's what happens when you have a slew of junior college transfers filling out the two-deep, rely on a quarterback who struggles to throw the ball and your schedule includes trips to Miami, Oklahoma State and Texas along with games against national powers like Oklahoma.
The Wildcats barely got by Eastern Kentucky in their season opener - Snyder said the highlight of that night was his daughter getting engaged, and few could argue. But they've gotten better each week, staying just ahead of the curve. They beat the Hurricanes with a goal-line stand, and then knocked off then-No. 15 Baylor and Missouri in back-to-back weeks.
Naturally, the progress has been attributed to the silver fox.
"I've been friends with Coach Snyder for a long time," Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel said. "The job he's done at Kansas State is just phenomenal. They have their system and it works."
On the field, the system goes like this: The quarterback runs a unique version of the veer in an era of spread offenses, the defense pins its ears back on every snap, and the Wildcats take advantage of turnovers and penalties without any of their own.
Off the field, the system goes like this: Players look out for each other, and the only fingers that get pointed are back at themselves. In an era of college football run amok, the atmosphere inside the Vanier Football Complex is less like a frat house or college dormitory and more like grandma's house, a home-away-from-home where everybody feels comfortable.
"He's so consistent in an inconsistent world," K-State athletic director John Currie said. "Those that chose to listen, it just becomes a snowball effect, and others choose to listen, and all of a sudden it works. And maybe the people who didn't listen think, `Hey, maybe I should.'
"I come to practice every now and then," Currie said, "but I don't have to come here and see if they're coaching football the right way. Football is taught by Coach Snyder and his staff as well or better than anywhere in the country. Period. I think it would be hard to find anyone who argues with that, anybody who knows coaching."
That's part of the reason Chris Harper transferred from Oregon.
The Ducks are undoubtedly a flashy program on the rise, with cool uniforms and a hip coach in Chip Kelly, but Harper said things are done differently at Kansas State.
Not better or worse, just differently.
"Coach Snyder is old school, Coach Kelly out there in Oregon, they're a new generation," Harper said. "But that old-school stuff still holds true today, that hardnosed, blue-collar stuff."
Offseason workouts are grueling, two-a-days in the Kansas heat are enough to make knees buckle, and every in-season practice is scripted down to the second for maximum efficiency.
Hard work never goes out of style.
"Once you work hard, your hard work will pay off," said New Orleans Saints running back Darren Sproles, who helped Kansas State win the Big 12 title in 2003.
Sproles still speaks with Snyder a couple times a month, as do most former players. The topic isn't always football, either, but also education, family and life.
"When I went off to school, it seemed like the reason why I kind of chose K-State was because of him," Sproles said. "He was like a father to all the players. We could always go to his office for anything, so that's the main reason why I chose to go there."
Nowadays, Snyder is more like a grandfather to his players.
In the case of freshman linebacker Tate Snyder, Snyder actually is his grandfather.
It's true, younger coaches have an advantage when it comes to relating to players in an era of Facebook, Twitter and text message. Snyder is more likely to listen to Frank Sinatra than Lil Wayne. But defensive back Tysyn Hartman said none of that stuff really matters.
"Every coach does it his own way," Hartman said. "He does it in a way that works for us, and we're playing in the way that we should be playing right now."
Kansas State is one of only 13 undefeated teams left in the country, and could start 6-0 for the first time since 2000 with a win Saturday night at Texas Tech.
After that comes the Sunflower Showdown against struggling Kansas, and the possibility exists that the Wildcats could still be undefeated when third-ranked Oklahoma comes rolling into town on the final weekend of October.
"I'd like to think you control your own destiny and the better you play, the better your chances are," Snyder said. "Hopefully that's the case."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Metairie, La., contributed to this report.