Manhattan After a restless retirement, coach Bill Snyder is ready to turn Kansas State into a winner again.
Three years after handing off a successful Wildcats program to Ron Prince, the 69-year-old and wispy-haired Snyder was hired to take charge of the school he transformed from college football’s biggest losers to national championship contenders. Prince was fired this month but is completing the season.
“The Kansas State family is in flux right now,” Snyder said at a news conference Monday. “I want to be able to help. I want to be able to soothe the waters. I’ve learned some lessons and there are some things I will do to encompass my family.”
He is returning to the sidelines at a school where his name is much in evidence. Turn off Interstate 70 and there is Bill Snyder Highway. About 20 minutes later, there is Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Snyder signed a five-year contract for a base salary of $250,000 and a total compensation of about $1.85 million annually, athletic director Bob Krause said. Krause said he had made no offers to anyone else.
“We anticipate he will coach as long as he is able to coach and is successful in coaching,” he said.
Kansas State president Jon Wefald, who approved the hiring of Snyder in 1988 after the school had gone 0-21-1 its two previous years, is certain the winningest coach in school history still has the “fire in his belly.”
“He’s in great physical shape, his mind is sharp as a tack,” Wefald said. “He’s ready to roll.”
Snyder said another aging coaching legend — 81-year-old Joe Paterno of Penn State — warned that he might not like retirement.
“He told me I’d get awful sick and tired of seeing Little League baseball games,” he said.
From 1989-05, Snyder compiled a 136-68-1 record. While that may not turn heads at Alabama or USC, it sure did at a university that had won only 130 games the previous 51 years. The 12 head coaches who preceded Snyder from 1945-88 had only 116 victories among them.
When the Wildcats were slapped with severe NCAA penalties in the mid-1970s, former Nebraska coach and athletic director Bob Devaney said it might be time to “put Kansas State on a slow boat to the Missouri Valley (Conference).”
One reason for the urgency in firing Prince with three games left was widespread fan apathy. Empty seats seemed to multiply at every game the past two seasons. But Snyder’s return seems certain to energize the fan base, particularly among older K-Staters.
“So far, we’ve had a very positive reaction,” Krause said.
Many believe that without Snyder, Kansas State might not be a member of the Big 12 Conference today. When he arrived, Kansas State was 299-510, the only major college with 500 losses. The Wildcats, derisively referred to as “Mildcats” by rivals, had enjoyed only two winning seasons in 34 years.
But by 1997, Snyder’s Wildcats were contending for national as well as conference honors. They hit their high point in 2003, beating Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer once said Snyder’s achievements at Kansas State made him the “coach of the century.”
Snyder said that before taking the job he consulted with his large family, which he acknowledges got too little of his time during his first coaching stint.
“This is not just a Bill Snyder thing,” he said. “This is a family thing, and a Wildcat family thing. We need everybody to be involved in caring, and in a genuine and a real way. I’m just pleased to be here with them again.”
This time he will not be so neglectful.
“My deal is my family and this university,” he said. “Yeah, I think I can manipulate the time in such a way I can do both. I may not get to see every one of those 500 Little League baseball games. But I’ll still get to see some.”