Hundreds of wins. College Football Hall of Fame recognition. More coaching awards than one could count on multiple hands. A stadium named in his honor.
All the things he achieved during 27 seasons as Kansas State’s head football coach, Bill Snyder said earlier this month at a celebration of his career, he “never” fathomed it.
“I truly didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t think, ‘What if we do this? What if we do that?’ That I actually stayed that long and all that goes into it, that wasn’t the case. It was just (focusing) on where we were at the time and how could we get where we wanted to be in the next two, three, four, five years? I never got any further than that.”
Yet the accomplishments that directly tie into football aren’t what Snyder said he’s most proud of upon reflection. Instead, in a nod to the fact that the stadium doesn’t share his name alone — it’s Bill Snyder Family Stadium — he said his “immediate family” is what means the most to him. Except for those in the profession, Snyder said “no one really knows” what a wife, daughter or son really goes through on a daily basis.
“There’s great times for them. There are great things that take place,” Snyder said. “But there’s so much that one wouldn’t recognize unless you actually sat in that seat, to realize how demanding it can be, the kind of sacrifices that a family has to make. Everything out there wasn’t always rosy. So when you guys write about how bad we are and how bad I am, that cuts pretty quick to your family. I can live with it. Coaches can live with it. But families, that’s hard.”
Beyond his family, the second action Snyder views as an unmitigated success is the K-State football program’s academic prowess. Look at the numbers, Snyder said. During his tenure, he pointed out the Wildcats routinely boasted “the best academic record” of any school in the Big 12.
“I’m proud of that. That means something to me,” he said. “That tells me that we’re doing something more than throwing a football out on the field and trying to create rough-and-tumble guys. We’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but my goal had always been to graduate 100% of the players who come through our program. We graduated close to 90% of the players who entered our program.”
That’s why Snyder is so thankful for K-State’s “Second Wind” program. The initiative helps former student-athletes who left school early — for whatever reason — return to complete their bachelor’s degree, working with the school’s academic counselors and advisors. Snyder said any time a player left Manhattan without a degree in hand, he called. He stayed on them, stressing the importance of education.
“(I called) and talked with them every semester,” he said. “If they didn’t come back last semester, I wanted to (talk) with them again.”
A year and a half ago, Snyder received a phone call from a former player, one who was part of Snyder’s earliest teams. The player, who Snyder declined to identify outside of saying he was “in his early 50s” called to inform his former coach he finally earned his degree.
“That made 100% in that class. That’s a pretty special feeling,” Snyder said. “It’s great for him. But it’s pretty special for me as well. I always tried to get all of our young guys commit to doing it. A lot of them (would say),’Well, I don’t want to,’ but if you keep asking, they’ll say, ‘Well, I’m going to do it.’ It’s meaningful for them. So many of them have gone on and already had great successes in their lives, but still came back to get that degree. That’s pretty special.”
It’s every bit as comforting to Snyder that his players rarely made headlines for the wrong reasons. He was quick to say “never” couldn’t be used; yes, the Wildcats did have off-field issues from time to time. But it wasn’t a regular occurrence, much to Snyder’s relief.
“Very seldom did you ever write or did you ever print anything about players getting in trouble,” he said. “Yes, on occasion. But very, very seldom. It was an oddity when that took place. I’m proud of the young people in our program, because they realized the value in that. It wasn’t just representing Kansas State football. It was representing Kansas State and all the people who care about Kansas State football, the community and Kansas State people across our country.”
Those off-field triumphs will be fond memories for Snyder.
“Those were special things to me,” he said. “Not that there aren’t a lot more, but those were (high) up on the list.”