If someone were to compile a list of the greatest college football coaches of all time, it would include the likes of Nick Saban, Paul Bryant, Tom Osborne, Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg to name a few. All of these coaches have multiple national championships and had tremendous success (or still having that success with Saban marching toward another title). As great as all of these coaches are, one can make the argument that a coach who never won a national title might be the greatest of them all for what he did to a program. That man is Bill Snyder.
Snyder just announced that he is retiring for the second time at Kansas State after his 10th season in his second tenure with the Wildcats and 27th overall.
Snyder took over arguably the worst college football program in the 1980s. The Wildcats were 299-510-41 in their first 93 years of existence. They had only been to one bowl game in team history, had not won a conference title since 1934 and only had four winning seasons in the previous 44 years, with only two coming in the previous 34 years. The team had not won a game since October 1986 and were 0-26-1 in that span. Snyder arrived in 1989 and soon turned them into a consistent winner. He turned a program that didn’t win a game in the 27 matches before he arrived to being a play away from a national championship appearance. Snyder won five games in his second year, which was only the third time the team had won at least five games since 1973 to win his first of seven coach of the year honors. The 1991 team finished 7-4, giving the Wildcats their second winning season since 1970. The season was also only the third time the team had a winning conference record since 1934. The 1993 team gave the school a bowl bid at the Copper Bowl, which was also the first bowl win in program history during the team’s second nine-win season in program history and the first time the team was ranked in the final polls at the end of the year. The 1993 season kicked off an incredible run for any college football team, let alone Kansas State.
From 1993-2003, Kansas State won nine games or more in 10 of the 11 seasons, including four straight 11-win seasons from 1997-2000. The team achieved the first 10-win season in 1995 and the 41-7 victory over then-No. 6 Kansas was the first time the two rivals were both ranked in the matchup. The victory over the Jayhawks was also his 40th win, which made him the winningest coach in school history. Snyder also did something that no coach since Vince Gibson did – he beat Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were a juggernaut in college football since the 1970s. Kansas State had not won against the Cornhuskers since a 12-0 victory at Nebraska in 1968. Snyder and the Wildcats finally got Nebraska in their incredible 1998 season. The Wildcats would snag four more victories between 2000-2004, giving Snyder five of the 15 Wildcat victories in the 95 meetings between the two former conference members. Snyder initially retired after the 2005 season, but his replacement in Ron Prince provided lackluster results for a program that had established itself as a consistent winner and Prince was let go after the 2008 season. Snyder returned to the sidelines in 2009. By 2011, he got the Wildcats back to 10 wins and in 2012, Snyder won his second Big 12 title. The Wildcats fell back a little failing to reach double-digit wins again but had eight wins or more in four of the next six seasons. The team fell to 5-7 in 2018, only the sixth time the team had a losing record in the regular season under Snyder. It was only the third losing regular season since 1993. Snyder announced his retirement and left the Wildcats with a record of 215-117-1. A reminder that the team only had 299 wins when he took over. Snyder owns 40 percent of the team’s wins, 20 of the 22 bowl appearances, two of the five conference titles and is the only coach to win at least 40 games. Even if the team fell to average at the end, the job Snyder did was simply incredible. He did it without highly ranked recruiting classes or the best facilities in the nation. He got kids to come to secluded Manhattan, Kansas. Just looking at the rest of the Big 12, including the former members, and Manhattan would be the least desirable location to go to. Sure Lubbock, Texas, is also like Manhattan and secluded, but you are in a warmer climate. Schools like Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas A&M already had decades of tradition. Colorado, Kansas, Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma State and West Virginia are all close to large metropolitan areas. The closest comparison is Missouri, but Missouri is still more than double the size of Manhattan. What he did was incredible and should go down as one of the greatest coaching jobs in sports history.
But how does the team replace a legend? Well, do not hire Ron Prince. That is the first goal, but in looking around the college landscape, there are a few names that stand out. First is Seth Littrell. Littrell is the head coach at North Texas. Littrell played for Oklahoma in the Big 12 under Bob Stoops, a Snyder disciple. So he knows the conference. He also coached under others in the Snyder tree. He is 23-16 as head coach of the Mean Green through three seasons, including back-to-back nine-win campaigns. The team was 1-11 before he took over. Plus, there are just a lot of ties between North Texas and Kansas State so this seems fitting. Snyder’s first full-time coaching gig was at North Texas under Hayden Fry before Fry and Snyder went to Iowa. When Snyder went to Kansas State, his first win was against North Texas. Littrell’s success coupled with the connections would make a great fit.
Another name to look for is Bret Bielema. He was the co-defensive coordinator for Kansas State 2002-2003. He had success at Wisconsin before fizzling out at Arkansas. He does seem to enjoy his time as a consultant for the New England Patriots, but a team that helped put him on the coaching map could call.
Another former defensive coordinator to look at is Jim Leavitt. The Oregon defensive coordinator has been one of the best in the country. He also has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave for Kansas State without having to pay a buy-out. Leavitt is 62 though and his departure from South Florida was met with controversy after investigations found he struck a player and was not truthful in his investigation.
Another name that will get thrown out is Brent Venables. He played linebacker at Kansas State from 1991-1992 before serving as an assistant from 1993-1998 at Kansas State. Venues followed Bob Stoops to Oklahoma where he coached the defense and linebackers until 2011. He’s been the defensive coordinator at Clemson since 2012 and is one of the highest paid assistant coaches. It is just unknown. He has a son on the Clemson team and his high salary could keep the former Wildcat a Tiger as Clemson continues to be one of the most successful football programs in college football.
Regardless of who is hired, the next coach does have big shoes to fill at Kansas State and it doesn’t look like we would see Snyder return again if his second successor fails to live up to expectations like Prince did.
Luke Peterson is the sports editor of the Leavenworth Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org