Thirty years ago, I attended the Nov. 30, 1988, news conference where then-Kansas State athletic director Steve Miller introduced Bill Snyder. At the time, no one envisioned a football coaching career that would ultimately place Snyder in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Perhaps there’d be modest success that Vince Gibson and Jim Dickey enjoyed during their respective tenures with the Wildcats? Sure, that couldn’t be ruled out. But no coach dating back to the first year of the program in 1896 could sustain any degree of consistent success, and Snyder’s first season was difficult, a 1-10 record. That — and K-State football — changed.
Snyder and K-State parted ways Sunday, with Snyder taking on a special ambassador role. It deserves a look back, so here are my 10 most notable moments during Snyder’s 27 years with the Wildcats.
1. A near miss
The Wildcats came oh-so-close to playing for a national championship in 1998. For the first time in school history, the Wildcats attained a No. 1 ranking in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. They made it to the Big 12 championship game undefeated, only to see their hopes vanish in a 36-33 double-overtime loss against Texas A&M. Even worse, the Wildcats were snubbed from a New Year’s Day bowl game and ended up losing to the Drew Brees-led Purdue Boilermakers in the Alamo Bowl.
2. Big time in the Big 12
In 2000, the Wildcats were the North Division champions (when the Big 12 actually had 12 teams). It was the third straight year they were either champions or co-champions. And this time, they had the opportunity to play in the conference championship game at Arrowhead Stadium. K-State lost the title game to Oklahoma, 27-24, but Wildcat Nation showed up en masse for K-State’s Cotton Bowl victory over Tennessee.
3. He's back
After stepping away from coaching for three years (2006-08) to take his first crack at retirement life, Snyder had the itch and rebuilt the Wildcats all over again in the Twitter age. K-State’s fortunes had taken a dip during the Ron Prince coaching era, but Snyder guided the Wildcats to a Cotton Bowl bid after the 2011 season and a Fiesta Bowl appearance the next year.
4. Bowl of success
The 1993 Copper Bowl victory over Wyoming, 52-17, was not only K-State’s first bowl game win but also the biggest sign things were going to be different under Snyder.
5. Hall-of-Fame worthy
All of Snyder’s coaching accomplishments were recognized in 2015 when he entered the College Football Hall of Fame — only the fourth coach to garner such an honor while still on the sidelines.
6. New logo, new mojo
With the Powercat logo installed shortly after Snyder’s arrival (stylistically borrowed from the Iowa Hawkeye logo, under which Snyder operated as an assistant coach for Hayden Fry), a new identity was created. It was a brand that K-State created for itself, with millions of dollars spent on K-State merchandise in conjunction with the success of its football team.
7. Economic driver
Under Snyder, the main state highway leading from Interstate 70 to Manhattan turned from two lanes to four lanes. Hotels expanded like crazy in the last 20 years. K-State’s facilities and stadium hardly resemble the appearance of a place that had a difficult time keeping Nebraska fans from the north and Oklahoma fans from the south gobbling up all the tickets on game day.
8. Good at grooming
How about these names who worked under Snyder as assistant coaches: Bob Stoops and Mark Mangino? They carved their own paths of success after leaving Snyder’s nest. Stoops steered the Oklahoma Sooners to a national championship in 2000 and Mangino took the Kansas Jayhawks to unprecedented heights in the 2007 season topped off by a victory, 24-21, over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
9. A bowl begets this season ...
The last major triumph: A 35-17 Cactus Bowl victory over UCLA a year ago in Phoenix. It was one of the reasons why you're reading this recap of Snyder’s career. High expectations for the 2018 season turned into a giant letdown capped by a loss, 42-38, at Iowa State, where the Wildcats surrendered a lead late. It meant staying home this December instead of preparing for a bowl game.
10. Snyder, the man
No coach is immune to off-the-field problems, but with his grandfatherly demeanor, the 79-year-old Snyder drew respect from players who went on to become successful in their own fields such as Dr. Ekwensi Griffith, a family medicine specialist in Topeka and a former K-State defensive lineman from 1989-92.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.