Bill Snyder turns the intangible into tangible
Bill Snyder is a magician. How else can you explain turning a program that went 0-for-the season in the two years prior to his arrival into an 11-win machine that has twice come within one game of playing for a national title?
His true magical abilities don't solely come from winning games, however. They come from Snyder's gift for turning intangible merits, what he terms as intrinsic values, into results on the field.
Snyder's coaching career started five decades ago making $3,600 a year coaching football, basketball, baseball, track and field, teaching Spanish and driving the bus. "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven," said Snyder.
He climbed the coaching ladder from there, eventually landing at Kansas State in December 1988. One of the first things Snyder did was call in 22 seniors, a group that had gone 0-21-1 in the past two seasons, for a group exit interview, where he learned that losing had a cumulative impact on not only their on-field performance, but also in the classroom. According to Snyder, the players felt losing had put a limitation on their success as people.
So, while friends called Snyder, imploring imploring him to leave Manhattan, he refused.
"Every friend I had in college football called me and said 'You'd better get out of there.' I said I'd never been more convinced that we were about to have success," Snyder explained.
That success came from focusing on the players' off-the-field well-being. "We started programs to help build leadership and help them be better students."
As a result, the team started winning. The Wildcats went 1-10 in Snyder's first year, then 5-6 in 1990, 7-4 in 1991, a 5-6 dip in 1992 and then, in 1993, Kansas State went on a tear, winning nine or more games in 10 of the next 11 seasons.
The rising win totals also came hand-in-hand with a jump in the team's GPA. "It was incremental," said Snyder. "We didn't grow out of the sand like Las Vegas."
Now four seasons into his second stint at Kansas State, Snyder picked up exactly where he left off, winning on the field (10-3 in 2011, 11-2 with a Big 12 title this season) through focusing on intrinsic values in football and in life - faith, family, being the best student and football athlete that his players can be. "We talk every day about improving. Improve every single day of your life," he added.
So, to explain how he does what he does, winning the Big 12 at age 73 in a place that once thought 11 wins constituted a good half-decade, Snyder magically turns back into the 23-year-old do-it-all high school coach, driving a bus and teaching Spanish. "I'm a strong believer in having a process in what we really have a job to do, have an impact on the lives of young people."