Few K-State legends loom as large as Bill Snyder. While his story has been told countless times in books, newspapers and even a documentary, the autobiography “Bill Snyder: My Football Life and the Rest of the Story” is an opportunity for Snyder to tell the story himself.
Despite some minor flaws and missed opportunities, the book is an enjoyable read that will find a good home on any Wildcat fan’s shelf.
The book is co-written by longtime Go Powercat writer D. Scott Fritchen, who now writes stories for K-State. It begins by telling the tale of Snyder’s childhood and early career and takes a chronological approach for most of the book.
While a lot has been written about Snyder’s time at K-State, his childhood, and especially the influence of his mother, is less known. It demonstrates the origin of his values and work ethic that run as themes throughout the book.
After a few chapters about his early career, Snyder turns his focus to his start at K-State. He captures the dire straits of the Wildcat football program when he arrived. While some coaches get to focus on the field, Snyder essentially became the manager of multiple construction projects, an ambassador for the university, a fashion consultant and a social worker for a small group of players with a shattered morale from years of futility. I doubt many people who read this book will be completely unfamiliar with “the greatest turnaround in college football history,” but it’s still interesting to hear it from Snyder’s perspective, and to see how an adherence to his goals guided the program out of the abyss.
About those goals — Snyder’s famous 16 core values for success — they pop up in nearly every chapter, to the point where it becomes repetitive. Of course, that’s probably on purpose. Snyder didn’t lead a program to success by being flashy or trendy, he did it by strictly adhering to his goals. There are other repetitive aspects to the book as well. Whenever Snyder mentions a coaching award, he takes care to clarify that it represents an effort from the players, the coaching staff, the fans and his family. It doesn’t come across as false modesty, though, and his insistence on recognizing numerous accomplishments of former players and coaches, both on and off the field, shows a generous spirit, even if it sometimes bogs down the narrative. Often chapters feel like they are written in isolation, rather than part of a whole book, with repeated anecdotes from earlier sections. This won’t be as apparent to people who don’t barrel through the book in a weekend as I did, and it’s a minor complaint.
Another quibble is the lack of photos. In multiple instances, Snyder follows a moment by saying he “has a picture of that somewhere.” It would have been nice to see the original sketches of the powercat (he mentions some alternate versions) or a celebration after Snyder’s first win, especially since the photos are specifically mentioned in the text. A Nebraska fan I know also insists that a picture of the uncalled facemask penalty in ‘98 should accompany Snyder’s claim that “it was a call that could have gone either way.”
Throughout, Snyder shows an incredible attention to detail. Minutiae such as the value of a long-lost baseball card collection, specific meals from team trips and a pregame playlist curated for both the messaging and length of each song add life to the story, and they show the doggedness that identified every possible advantage in competition.
Some fans will approach the Snyder years with a sense of nostalgia, and some will be learning the details for the first time. As a student who came to K-State in the fall of 2003, I fall right in the middle of both groups. Of course I was familiar with the high points — the first bowl game and the ‘98 Nebraska victory — but it was exciting to learn the context of the forgotten games along the way. My interest didn’t fade once the narrative reached the games I actually attended, as the context and observations by Snyder helped to keep things more engaging than a simple recap of a few seasons.
Snyder turns his focus off of football in several chapters to tell some more personal stories. Chapters about his favorite film (“Pinocchio”), the importance of mentorship, his battle with cancer and his love of handwritten notes are highlights, and they help keep the focus on Snyder’s greater mission rather than just wins and losses on the field. He also bookends each chapter with a quote from a coach or former player. These testaments to Snyder’s influence are highlights of the book, and help keep his story from sounding self-aggrandizing, even if his accomplishments were nothing short of miraculous.
Snyder also takes some time late in the book to address some current issues with college football. His distaste for the transfer portal and name, image and likeness compensation probably won’t surprise anyone, but it’s interesting to read the justifications for his views.
Serious fans of K-State football will enjoy reliving the glory days, but in some cases the rough times are even more interesting. Snyder reflects on the disappointment of losing the ‘98 Big XII championship the way most would describe the loss of a family member. The process around both of his retirements is also riveting to read. While the first retirement is framed as a personal decision after a couple of difficult seasons, the second retirement was preceded by some clear difficulty with administrators.
Snyder is tactful throughout the book, even when expressing disagreements over hiring decisions or officiating. When he first mentions former athletic director John Currie, he doesn’t shy away from acknowledging conflict, but he does take time to emphasize that their relationship was professional. However, in a later chapter describing the steps apparently taken to set the stage for his dismissal, he only refers to Currie as “the athletic director.” He describes how coach Jerry Kill was brought in to find faults with his program, and how Currie secretly interviewed players and coaches to critique the program and his performance as head coach. He even says Currie had someone lined up to take his position.
When Snyder describes his final days at K-State a season later, he frames it as a personal decision, not a forced departure, and the book ends at the same time as his tenure at K-State. There are still questions regarding his last month at the helm, but Snyder focuses on what he sees as most important: his family, his players and the university.
Snyder’s autobiography, like the man himself, isn’t exactly a tell-all, but it’s an incredibly readable and detailed portrait of a dedicated leader who accomplished the impossible at Kansas State. Fans who are interested in seeing the program through Snyder’s eyes will find a lot to love, and they will learn a lot about how to succeed beyond the football field, as well.