Bill Snyder means every bit as much to Kansas State football as Bobby Bowden did to Florida State and Joe Paterno to Penn State. Actually, that may even be an understatement. The Wizard owns nearly 40 percent of Kansas State’s all-time wins despite coaching roughly a quarter of the program’s total games. The Wildcats appeared in all of one bowl game before Snyder’s 1989 arrival; they’ve now reached the postseason in 18 of his last 21 seasons. K-State has spent 208 weeks in the AP Top 25 poll, and Snyder is responsible for 200 of them.
It’s tough to imagine Kansas State football without him — and it’s downright impossible to close your eyes and remember a successful K-State program without Snyder. Heck, considering the state of the program when the Wildcats hired him, Kansas State football may not even exist at this point without him.
So, yes, there’s a reason Paterno and Bowden are the appropriate examples when understanding the dynamic between Snyder and Kansas State. Those three coaches are the only three of the four men to actively coach as members of the College Football Hall of Fame’s coaches wing, and each built his respective program from fringe activity into a cultural and civic institution. Paterno and Bowden also saw their tenures meet horrifically ugly ends, and it’s possible Snyder’s story ends the same way in Manhattan.
It’s no secret that Snyder would prefer his son Sean take over as head coach after him. It’s also no secret that many in purple want to shop the eventual vacancy on the open market. Bill’s argument is that Sean, the Wildcats’ special teams coordinator and associate head coach, knows the program better than anyone (himself included) and manages the day-to-day operations of all things Wildcat football already. Others argue there are a plethora of qualified and connected candidates Kansas State should explore first: Jim Leavitt has head coaching experience and has seen his stock soar after a successful stint as Colorado’s defensive coordinator (and has a contractual provision at Oregon that lets him leave for K-State without a buyout); Dana Dimel represents in-house continuity and owns head coaching experience; and Brent Venables, an alum, is now the hottest assistant on the market after winning the Broyles Award and helping lead Clemson to a national championship.
CBS Sports’s Dennis Dodd has a deeply reported dispatch on the dynamics of the situation in Manhattan out today. Here’s the money section:
Following Currie’s departure, interim AD Laird Veatch was thought to have a better than even chance of getting the full-time AD gig. But sources say part of the reason he didn’t is that even Veatch — a member of Snyder’s first recruiting class — didn’t support the Sean succession plan.
“Now that Currie is gone, [Bill has] got the guy [Taylor] he wants there,” said longtime friend and former K-State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. “He’s got the new president [Gen. Richard Myers].
“Sean will be the head coach. I think it’s in order.”
Others have advised against it, apparently at their peril. There is a battle inside the walls of the K-State administrative and football offices that has raged for years, according to several sources.
More than one person familiar with the situation termed the climate inside those walls as “toxic.”
“A lot of people have a lot of opinions, I’ll say that,” Taylor admitted.
The complicating factor here, of course, is that Snyder is recovering from throat cancer. Snyder has admitted in interviews the treatments imposed a level of exhaustion upon him beyond what he anticipated. And that was without the pressure of an opponent waiting for him every Saturday.
Snyder is now cleared from his treatments, but he’s still a 77-year-old man recovering from cancer. This is a man who famously pushes himself to put in levels of work that stand as extraordinary even in a profession of workaholics. You don’t have to squint hard to see a future where August arrives and Snyder decides the rigors of the season are too much for him at this stage of life and hands the reigns to Sean to coach the 2017 season.
And that could be totally legitimate. It’s entirely possible and completely understandable Snyder could fully intend on coaching this season only to realize his age and health have combined to rob him of the ability to coach at the level he’s accustomed. How many people even work at all at his age?
The thorny aspect of this scenario would be that Snyder completely forces his boss’s hand. How likely would it be that new AD Gene Taylor, whom Phil Bennett argued above was essentially hired by Snyder, would overrule Snyder and say, “No, Bill, we’re going to name Dana Dimel the head coach for this season?”
Kansas State returns 14 starters off a team that went 9-4 last season, finished the year winning six of its final seven games and plays in the perpetually wide open Big 12. What does Taylor do if the Wildcats go 8-4 with a lot of close games? (K-State has played 17 games decided by a touchdown or less in the past three seasons.) What if they go 10-2? The situation could easily spiral out of Taylor’s hands at that point.
Kansas State has worked for years to prepare itself for the post-Snyder handoff. But this is a man whose name is on K-State’s stadium and whose statue stands in front of that stadium. History says he’ll either get his way or make life difficult who don’t let him. Everyone involved hopes Kansas State doesn’t turn into Penn State/Florida State Part III, but it’s impossible to deny that the dynamics are in place.