IRVING, Texas — Bill Snyder returned to coaching three years ago to “calm the waters” at Kansas State.
The Wildcats football program was in a bad place at the time coming off back-to-back losing seasons under former coach Ron Prince.
Snyder walked away from the game following the 2005 season to spend more time with his family. When K-State needed its coach back, there was Snyder, willing to rebuild this program from the bottom up all over again.
The Wildcats were 6-6 his first season back and 7-6 a year ago with a bowl game. And this season, K-State is back in the top 10 with a 10-2 record, finished second in the Big 12 and now is getting ready to face Arkansas (10-2) in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night at 7 in Cowboys Stadium.
But now 72-years-old and the oldest coach in Division-I football, one has to begin to wonder just how long Snyder intends to stay this time.
Are the waters finally calm after showing gradual improvement in each of his three years back, culminating with a top 10-matchup in the Cotton Bowl?
“It’s day-by-day — when you’re my age, who knows what tomorrow will bring,” Snyder said this week. “I don’t know how long this will go… I came back to Kansas State because of the people and hoped to be able to smooth the waters at Kansas State University with the tremendous alumni base that we have.
“And hopefully, we’re closing in on that.”
And if Snyder’s first masterpiece in Manhattan wasn’t known before, it certainly is now, because he’s done the impossible twice.
“I’ve followed him as a fan from afar and you have to have unbelievable respect for what he’s done,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Monday. “He did such a great job — look at how successful they were — and then he steps down and feels like it wasn’t where the program should have been, so he decides to come back and do it all over again.”
Though Petrino said his path never crossed with Snyder before, directly, he does recall losing to Snyder once on a certain recruit that got away.
“The biggest thing I remember from way back then was when he beat me on a recruit when I was at Louisville,” he said. “I thought I had Quincy Morgan and then he took him from me.”
Petrino, like Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes, said the discipline K-State has played with this season is a reflection of its head coach.
“I’m a big fan of his because from afar, he’s all about discipline and doing things right and that’s what we stand for here,” Petrino said.
“I have the utmost respect for him because of what he’s done in college football,” Haynes said. “From afar, you see the job he’s done, what he did in the past, and being able to step away from it and then to come back and win again. They’re a very disciplined football team and that starts at the top with the head coach.
Haynes, who just recently joined the Razorbacks’ staff after spending the last seven years at Ohio State, met Snyder for the first time on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium.
“That was a special moment for me because of what he means to college football,” he said.
It’s the discipline that K-State receiver Chris Harper said has returned the Wildcats to glory this season, starting with every nuance of the game in which Snyder has been known to nitpick to the nth degree.
“Everything he does is for a reason,” the junior receiver said. “When we get to the games, things like not getting penalties, little things — because he’s all about the minor details — means so much.
“Coach walks around with his little tape-recorder, saying things into it, stuff we need to work on. I mean, how many people do that? But it’s those kinds of things that change the game. And when we’re winning, you can’t complain about anything. You understand why he is the way he is.”
That attention to detail has taken on another meaning for junior linebacker Arthur Brown, who leads the Wildcats with 95 tackles this season.
“He’s definitely a father figure and he is to a lot of players on this team,” Brown said. “He treats us as such. He cares a lot more about us as people than he does as players.”
Brown, who transferred to K-State from Miami two years ago, credits Snyder with helping change his life, off the football field.
“As a player, being able to be under his leadership and being able to watch him, how he handles his business, has made me implement a lot of what he does into my life,” he said. “He’s changed me dramatically.”
Brown believes the example Snyder sets, even at his age and a leader of much younger men, has filtered down to everyone on the team.
“He’s a man of character and he instills that in his players,” Brown said. “That’s why we’ve been so successful.”
Former LB Bryan Hickman dies
Former K-State linebacker Bryan Hickman died Tuesday. The cause of death has not been released.
Hickman, who was a member of the Wildcats’ 2003 Big 12 championship team, collected 200 tackles during his career at K-State. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder from Mesquite, Texas was part of a linebacker trio that came to K-State together from Texas, including Josh Buhl and Terry Pierce. Hickman enjoyed his best season as a senior when he totaled 107 tackles to rank second on the team behind Buhl in 2003.
Snyder said he learned of Hickman’s death from a text message he received during practice on Tuesday from former K-State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who coached the linebacker in Manhattan.
“He was a wonderful young person who performed for us quite well in a lot of different ways at Kansas State,” Snyder said Wednesday morning. “It was a real tragic event and I feel awfully bad about it for his family, who are still here in the Dallas area.
“Bryan was a young guy who wasn’t heavily recruited at all and came to us with three young guys — he and Josh Buhl and Terry Pierce… and I know they are in pain right now over the passing of Bryan.”