DALLAS -- Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder is good at math, so says his wife Sharon -- a former math teacher. You wouldn’t know that Friday as Sharon ribbed her husband for only mentioning four of their five children at the College Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 announcement.
It was a light-hearted moment for the Snyders following the official announcement that 75-year old Bill was one of 17 members of the 2015 class, and only the fourth active head coach to get the call, joining Bobby Bowden, John Gagliardi and Joe Paterno.
For Snyder, it may take him a little while to add up all of his 187 wins. But that would be just fine with him considering how it all started back in 1989.
He had friends and colleagues telling him to run as fast as he could away from Manhattan, Kansas, following his first season as head coach of the Wildcats. That team went just 1-10, including 0-7 in the Big Eight. No one could’ve blamed him at the time if he had left. That was one more win than the program had in the prior two years combined (0-21-1) under the direction of Stan Parrish. No player had ever won a collegiate football game at K-State when they took the field that first season.
He remained. He stayed despite the fact the school had just two winning seasons since 1954.
“There had been some talented coaches there before -- I don’t think it was a coaching thing,” Snyder said. “We only had 47 [players] on scholarship, which was less than 50 percent of what we were allowed and the lowest number in the country. It was an investment of a lot of people who said we can be better than this.”
It’s those horrible seasons that led to a non-exaggerated nickname: “the architect of the greatest turnaround in the history of college football.”
None of the 5.06 million who have played or coached in college football in the past 146 years can say he’s done what Snyder has. And you can make an argument that he’s had to lead not one, but two turnarounds in Manhattan.
In recognition of his rebuilding work, Hall of Fame football coach Barry Switzer once stated, "He's not the coach of the year, he's not the coach of the decade, he's the coach of the century."
It wasn’t about wins and losses for Snyder. He told his team “the scoreboard doesn’t matter.” He was going to judge his team on how they got better. And they did. The Wildcats finished the 1993 season ranked in the Associated Press Poll for the first time at No. 20.
Kansas State won the Fiesta Bowl and finished 11-1 in 1997 and then won 11 more games in 1999 to finish No. 6 in the nation. Six of seven seasons saw the Wildcats win 11 games from 1998-2003.
Just how beloved is Snyder in the Little Apple?
He called it quits following the 2005 season. The very next day, the football stadium was named after him and his family.
But he wasn’t done. After floundering through three seasons and 19 losses under Ron Prince, the architect returned to the sidelines in 2009 to guide the Wildcats to five winning seasons in the past six with the only a 6-6 record in his first year back as the only blemish.
He’s now part of a fraternity that represents less than two ten-thousandths of one percent (.0002) of the individuals who have played the game have been deemed worthy of being a hall of famer.
“This is an individual honor, but I don’t think any of us think of it that way,” Snyder said. “Everyone has to make sacrifices. I’ve had so many wonderful coaches and players, the administrations both past and present and of course our fanbase. Those were the first thoughts when I received the call that I had made it. It’s very humbling and none of it would’ve happened without all of those people.”
Let’s put things into perspective: Snyder has 187 wins in 23 seasons as the K-State head coach. The program didn’t have 187 wins from 1924 until Snyder arrived in 1989.
Snyder was the 14th fastest coach in college football history to win 100 games and has led Kansas State to two Big 12 titles and 16 of the school’s 18 bowl appearances, including 11 consecutive from 1993-2003. He even has a statue in front of the school’s stadium.
A guy who has only held one head coaching job at the collegiate level turned one of the worst programs in college football history into a national brand and a perennial contender, not only in the Big 12 but on a national level.
“I was told by all of my friends that something bad was going to happen if I didn’t leave [after the first season],” Snyder said. “I said it then publically and I’ll say it again, I had never been more convinced that Kansas State University could be a successful program based on the fact that we had made gradual improvement.”
Now, Snyder will always be known as Hall of Fame coach Bill Snyder, even if the math gets a little fuzzy as he approaches win No. 200.