Thursday, November 15, 2012

The greatest college football coach ... ever

Bill Snyder (Kansas State photo)
        I say this unequivocally: Bill Snyder is the greatest coach in the history of college football.
       His Kansas State team might win the national championship this season. It might not. Doesn't matter. He's my man.
        Name 'em: Fielding Yost, Knute Rockne, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Paul "Bear" Bryant, Bud Wilkinson, Frank Leahy, Woody Hayes, Ara Parseghian, Bo Schembechler, Joe Paterno, Darrell Royal, Frank Broyles, Bobby Bowden, Eddie Robinson, Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban, Les Miles (just kidding).
         I'll take Bill Snyder.
         No one has ever done what he's done, at the place where's he done it, with the history of that program. And he's done it twice.
         It's in Manhattan, Kansas, for God's sake. I always kid my Oklahoma State friends that Stillwater is in the middle of nowhere. Manhattan, Kansas, is beyond nowhere.
         And beyond nowhere is where Kansas State football lived for as long as most of older folks have been alive. Imagine: four winning seasons in 56 years, nothing better a 7-3 record.
         Here are some BS (Before Snyder) facts:
         -- Eight zero-win seasons, seven one-win seasons, eight 2-win seasons.
         -- A 10-year period (1943-52) with a 9-82-3 record, another 10-year period (1958-67) with a 14-84 record.
        -- Losing streaks of 28, 18 and 17 games.
        -- No conference titles since 1934.
        -- The first major school to lose 500 games; at one point, a 299-509-41 record.
        -- One bowl trip, thanks to Shreveport and a benevolent Independence Bowl offer in 1982 (more on this in the next blog).
        Bill Snyder is 73, and he looks more like a college professor than a college football coach. From all I've read and heard, he's totally dedicated to his job and his school -- and his family, when he has time. He's, well, boring.
        He doesn't seem to be a great speaker, certainly not a media favorite. I suspect he tolerates the media, but if you read his quotes, he seems to be self-effacing and has a dry wit. He doesn't seem to lecture the media (hello, Nick Saban) or use the media to send messages to his team (TCU's Gary Patterson).
        His recruiting at Kansas State has never been considered to be among the nation's best classes. But that's the beauty of the coaching job done by Snyder and his staff. They don't have great athletes, blue-chippers, all over the field. They don't use, or feel the need, to resort to a bunch of gimmicks or trick plays or formations.
        Here's the kind of thing they do. Collin Klein came to K-State to play wide receiver. He winds up at quarterback, a heckuva runner and, now a much improved passer, and he could be this year's Heisman Trophy winner.
        The Wildcats -- like the head coach -- are fundamentally sound. You know those teams have been well-drilled, well-conditioned. They block and they tackle, and they just beat opponents down. And they don't beat themselves very often.
        This season, for example, they have six turnovers in 10 wins. Two of them came last week when they came to Fort Worth and beat TCU, and it is my belief that Patterson and his staff -- like Snyder -- have done a tremendous job over the past decade.
        What the K-S staff, under Snyder, has done better than anyone else is -- as Steve Spurrier would say -- "coach them up."
        At this writing, K-State is No. 1 in the BCS standings and sits two wins (at Baylor on Saturday, home against Texas on Dec. 1) from playing for the national championship.
        Kansas State, national championship. It sounds unreal. It seems impossible. It is incredible.
        Snyder was unknown to most of the country when he came to K-State just after the 1988 season ended. He had been on Hayden Fry's staff for 13 years, three at North Texas and 10 at Iowa (as offensive coordinator). K-State had gone 0-26-1 when he was hired.
        He began changing the whole culture -- improving the facilities (with the financial backing of the school and boosters), changing the uniforms and even going to a darker shade of purple, the discipline within the team, etc. Here's a link to a story that details the changes:
        His team won one game its first season ... on a last-second pass to beat North Texas. But he widened the recruiting net, upped the talent level ... and his staff coached like no K-State staff ever had.
        By his third season, the Wildcats had a winning record (7-4). In his fifth season, K-State went to a bowl game for the first time since 1982, and earned its first bowl victory in history. That started a streak of 11 bowls in a row.
        Here are the Snyder highlights:
        -- At least nine wins in 12 seasons; 11 wins in six of seven years (1997-2000, 2002-03).
        -- 13 bowl trips (6-7 record)
        -- In 1998, K-State was 11-0 and appeared headed for the national championship game. But it was upset (yes, K-State was upset) by Texas A&M 36-33, double overtime, in the Big 12 Championship Game.
        -- In 2003, K-State won its first conference title since 1934 (69 seasons) by beating Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.
        -- Four national Coach of the Year honors (1991, '94, '98 and last year).
        He retired after the 2005 season, after two so-so seasons. He was 66, and he was tired. The day after he retired, K-State renamed its stadium Bill Snyder Stadium. He asked that it be changed to Bill Snyder Family Stadium because, he said, family is everything to him. Done.
        But when the Wildcats' program declined even more the next three years, his successor was fired. The K-State people wanted one man to coach their team ... again. The Professor came back -- and, look, he's done it again.
       You can argue that K-State has never played a top-notch nonconference schedule, and you'd be correct. Sure, that's helped boost the Snyder record some. But the Wildcats have more than held their own against the nation's best programs for much of the past 20 years. I think the man has proven himself.
       Barry Switzer, a pretty successful coach at Oklahoma and a Super Bowl winner with the Dallas Cowboys (thank you, Jimmy Johnson), said this:
       "Bill Snyder isn't the coach of the year, and he isn't the coach of the decade. He's the coach of the century."
       That's on the Kansas State football web site, and I've seen the quote in other places. Barry Switzer and I thinking alike? Scary.


  1. From Ken Sins: I covered North Texas football in the late '70s. Hayden Fry was a force of nature, the face of the program, etc. and Bill Snyder was a quiet, behind-the-scenes guy who, like you said, reminded me of a history prof. But as it turns out, he was learning how to be a great head coach.

  2. From Teri Netterville: This would be a great movie!

  3. From Teddy Allen: Hard to argue when you put it like that! He be knowing some football, coach. … I can’t wait to see them play. Saw them for just a half this year …

  4. From Bud Dean: Something to think about, a different perspective.

  5. Nicholas....You make a great argument for "Professor" Snyder. Covered a couple of their games against Louisiana Tech and, yes, K-State located in a zip code that might very well end in fractions. But oh man, can he get the most out of his teams. Good blog and something for a lot of us sports history buffs and folks who love the college game to think about. From O.K. "Buddy" Davis

  6. From Sandi Tison Atkinson: Hear! Hear! Well written and right on target. Worked with him several years at the American Football Coaches Association and he's a nice person from start to ending. Always soft-spoken but with an air of authority that commands respect. I like him very much. One of the "white hat guys!"

  7. From Chuck Baker: I guess before you can decide on a “Greatest Coach," you must first decide on parameters. Do we choose the Coach based on wins, winning percentage, bowl victories, championships? Apparently, you chose a lesser known qualifier: nice guys. That’s the only explanation for choosing Snyder over other candidates far more qualified to be termed “Greatest College Football Coach.”
    In the spirit of the Christmas (or Hanukkah) season, let’s do some comparison shopping. I’ll take a coach from the coaching cradle of south Arkansas (which produced Barry Switzer – Crossett, Tommy Tuberville – Camden, Larry Lacewell, Red Parker and a guy named Bear Bryant – all from Fordyce).
    You base much of your argument for Snyder on K-State’s ineptness before his arrival. You even compare his record to those from 40 years before. All schools have their dark periods of little or no football success. A more accurate measure is how did the Coach do compared to immediate predecessors. And while Snyder does have far more success than the K-State hires just before his arrival (and rearrival), he still doesn’t compare to Bear. And he doesn’t even enter the argument when you look at other (more persuasive) factors like those mentioned above.
    Compare these numbers:
    National Championships -- Bear 6 or 7; Snyder 0
    Conference Championships -- Bear 17; Snyder 1
    9-win seasons (your stat) -- Bear 19, Snyder 12
    Bowls -- Bear 34, Snyder 13
    Bowl Wins -- Bear 18, Snyder 6
    Look at Bear’s comparison to his immediate predecessor(s):
    Maryland: Predecessor 5-12-1 (029), Bear 6-2-1 (.750)
    Kentucky: Predecessor 26-36-4 (.410), Bear 60-23-6 (.720), first Bowl win; first SEC title; Sagarin National Champs
    A&M: Predecessor 12-14-4 (.460), Bear 25-14-2 (640)
    Bama: Predecessor won 4 games in 3 years; Bear 328-85-17 (.760) 6 National Championships
    So, unless you are basing your decision on Snyder’s character, this one isn’t even close. In the law, we’d say I won by Summary Judgment. And if you do want to use character to decide, remember Bear fought unsuccessfully for integrating the team at A&M and did integrate it at Bama.
    And one other factor that probably only matters to me. Bear was offered the Arkansas job but turned it down to enter the Army during World War II.

  8. From Kirby Ramsey: A great blog!!! I hope his team makes it to the National Championship game!!!