Announcing duos traditionally are granted time with coaches the day before the college football games they call. Roughly a quarter-century ago, Gary Bender and Dick Vermeil were in Iowa City in the office of the Hawkeyes’ Hayden Fry. The head coach introduced the duo to his offensive coordinator. They sat down with the assistant for nearly an hour and the words Vermeil said to Bender on their way down the hall remain as fresh to the play-by-play man as if they were spoken yesterday.
“That is the most impressive offensive coordinator I think I have ever interviewed,” Vermeil said to Bender. “Some day, I think he’s going to be a great head coach.”
After Kansas State hired Bill Snyder as its head coach, Bender called Vermeil to share an opinion: “He may be the most impressive offensive coordinator you’ve ever interviewed, but you can’t win at K-State.”
Forgive Bender for such a woeful miscalculation. After all, he was born in 1940. He was too young to remember anything but losing football in Manhattan.
Counting Snyder just once, K-State has hired 15 different coaches since he was born Oct. 7, 1939, in St. Joseph, Mo. Snyder is the only one of the 15 with a winning career record at the school and has won big in both of his tenures.
Snyder (176-90-1) has a .661 winning percentage, including .666 in the first 17 seasons, .645 during this five-year span. The 14 other men who started their K-State careers after Snyder’s birth combined for a career winning percentage of .263. Most of their winning percentages read like batting averages. Pitchers’ batting averages. Snyder’s first predecessor, Stan Parrish, went 2-30-1, a winning pct. of .076.
How does he do it? Snyder’s relentless attention to every detail plays a huge role in his success. And so does the football genius Vermeil noticed way back when and Kansas University coach Charlie Weis referenced Tuesday in his weekly presser.
“One of the things that coach Snyder does not get his just due for, I think he’s a brilliant offensive mind,” Weis said. “People want to talk about him as a head coach and a recruiter and being like the father or the grandfather of the organization. But in reality, he’s a very, very, very bright man when it comes to offensive football and schematics and everything like that, and I think he does a very good job.”
What does he do best?
“Splits with the offensive line,” Weis said, referring to how far apart the offensive lineman are from each other on a given play. “One time the tackle will have a four-foot split. The next time he’ll have a one-and-a-half-foot split.”
That’s what coaches watch on film when most of the rest of us wait for the ball to be snapped so we can follow it. Snyder varying the splits leads to a guessing game. To demonstrate his point, Weis grabbed the table in front of him and wheeled his chair from the spot a tackle lines up on one play to where he might on the next play, widening by a few feet the distance from the guard. Then he put everyone in the defensive lineman’s shoes (oops, there’s that word again).
“Now what are you going to do?” Weis asked on behalf of the imaginary D-lineman. “Are you going to stay on this guy or are you going to try to shoot that gap? Well, maybe the reason why the split’s up there is because that’s what he wants you to do. Or maybe it’s not.”
It leads to indecision, hesitation. It prevents defenders from playing aggressively.
“I think he’s very creative when it comes to that,” Weis said, adding that what Snyder does with designed quarterback runs differs from what most coaches do.
Kansas and Kansas State are tough places to build winning football programs. The state isn’t densely populated and typically has a shortage of Div. I prospects. Winning requires evaluating well in recruiting players and assembling a staff of assistants. It also requires developing players mentally and physically in such a way that they steadily improve. Instilling discipline so that players don’t make mistakes on game day also helps.
On the part of the administration, it requires selecting the right head coach and showing him enough patience that he can establish his way of doing things.
Snyder went 1-10 in his initial season in 1989 and followed that with 5-6 and 7-4 records. His first back-to-back winning records didn’t come until his fifth and sixth seasons. Those were the first two legs of an eight-year stretch in which Snyder posted an 81-17-1 record.
Kansas State brings a 6-5 record to Lawrence for the 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday. Last season, Snyder produced his sixth 11-victory season. Friends and opponents alike marvel at the man’s ability to stay in his prime at the age of 74.
“First of all, if I’m alive at 74, I’m going to be happy,” Weis said. “I’m certainly not going to be coaching. I’ll be happy just to be hanging out with my wife at the time, to be perfectly honest with you.
“It’s just amazing. It isn’t like his energy is any less. He’s still grinding away, there all day, and hitting Taco Bell or whatever it is for his one meal at midnight. It’s amazing the staying power some people have.”
Vermeil, who by the way recommended Andy Reid to the Kansas City Chiefs and the Chiefs to Andy Reid, might want to start a coaching search firm. He saw what was in Snyder based on one conversation.