I was delighted and honored to be the first speaker at the Celebration Dinner on July 11 to honor our first-rate football coach from 1988-2005 and 2009-18.
In front of an excellent crowd at Bramlage Coliseum, I started my speech with just how bad our football team and our football facilities were in the fall of 1989 and how incredibly negative and pessimistic both the academic and athletic leaders of KSU were on just about everything from declining enrollment and a bad library to our horrible football team in 1986, 1987 and 1988.
Most K-Staters did not think my new Wefald team could do much of anything about all of these challenges. For example, when I stated publicly in 1986 and 1987 that our football team would soon be winning five or six games a year in the near future, I doubt that there were even a dozen K-Staters in the entire world that believed this would ever happen.
From 1986 to our hire of Coach Bill Snyder in December of 1988, the word that I heard from K-State alums and from top level leadership at the university was this word: Impossible.
Whether I talked about turning enrollment around, building a new library and a new art museum, or transforming the KSU football team, all I ever heard from the leaders in Anderson Hall was: “No, it cannot be done.” “No one can seriously increase enrollment at K-State because we have tried since 1980 and it simply is an impossible job.” “You must be crazy to think that the school’s football team can ever be competitive.”
But our fans did not realize that K-State had hired an eternal optimist and problem solver as its next president.
In terms of football, a Sports Illustrated article by senior football writer Doug Looney came out on Sept. 4, 1989. Looney did me no favors because his article played into the hands of the school’s leading pessimists. His first paragraph was incredibly depressing when he wrote this devastating sentence:
“When it comes to college football, nobody does it worse than Kansas State University. After 93 years of trying to play the game, the Wildcats’ record is 299 wins and 509 losses. It is dead last among the 106 school’s in Division I-A football.”
When Bill Snyder started as our new head coach in December of 1988, he was totally realistic. He knew we needed new facilities and excellent new assistant coaches. Our new academic and athletic team, headed by Steve Miller and Bob Krause, soon found a way to build a new press box, a new turf, a new brilliant indoor facility, a renovated football office, and three new practice fields — and we transformed the awful gravel parking lots into paved parking lots. Our team provided the additional football salaries so Coach Snyder could hire Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops, Mark Mangino, Jim Leavitt, Ron Hudson, Brent Venables, Del Miller, Ron Hudson, and Mo Lattimore — and many more.
Coach Snyder believed deeply in getting better every day. By 1992 and 1993, Snyder’s coaches were recruiting great players. We went to the Copper Bowl in 1993. From 1993 to 2003, Coach Snyder had 214 All-Americans. Fifty-six of those players were drafted by the NFL.
Many of our fans forget that KSU beat Kansas 11 times in a row from 1993 to 2003. Many forget that we beat Missouri 14 times in a row from 1993 to 2005. Snyder’s teams won the Big 12 championships in 2003 and 2012. From the start of the Big 12 in 1996 to 2017, K-State was third in the Big 12 with an amazing 110 Big 12 victories.
From 1997 to 2003, Coach Snyder’s teams won 11 games in six out of seven years. Few Power 5 football teams have ever accomplished that kind of record. And his 16 Commandments posted everywhere in the football complex helped focus our players and coaches.
K-State was blessed by God when Bill Snyder became our new football coach in 1988. I know that there was no other football coach anywhere in America that could have transformed the worst football Division I-A football program to a Top 20 football team year in and year out from 1988 to 2018.
Here is what I forgot to say at Snyder’s celebration night: I was going to ask this question at the end of my speech and I ran out of time. The question is this? How great a football coach was Snyder from 1988 to 2018?
My answer is this:
In the next generation, Snyder will be ranked alongside Barry Switzer, Knute Rockne, Bud Wilkinson, Darrell Royal, Frank Leahy, Bear Bryant, Tom Osborne, Urban Meyer, Dabo Sweeney and Nick Saban as one of the truly great football coaches of all time.
From 1988 to forever, Snyder will always be my great friend, my great partner, and one of the truly legendary and great football coaches in America of all time.