Coaching Consumes Snyder ; Manic Work Ethic Helps K-State Narrow Gap, Join Football's Elite
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
Just what is it with this Bill Snyder?
At some point, wouldn't a guy want to send out the secretary for a double-cheeseburger, dripping with onions?
Wouldn't he ever want to hop a flight for Cancun, hit the beach and knock back a couple of Dos Equis? Or score one of those coaches' shoe-sponsored trips to Bermuda for a clinic?
No, no and no, Bill Snyder would tell you, if you could ever get him away from his videotape long enough to respond. The Kansas State football coach obviously doesn't buy into Lenny Kravitz's commercialized tune: "I want to get away, I want to fly away . . . "
All Bill Snyder wants to do is get away to his office at K-State, there to study more game film and talk quietly into his ubiquitous tape recorder, noting every niggling tendency of the right guard as he pulls on the counter-trey.
He is doing this as you're reading. In fact, he is doing this as you open Christmas presents, and also as you fetch the mail, shop at Costco, pick up the kids at school, watch the news, fix breakfast or any of a thousand other humanly activities.
"Nebraska is our biggest nemesis right now," says Ron Hudson, offensive coordinator for Snyder. "His preparation for Nebraska has already started for next year. He's constantly looking at film, talking to his recorder, looking at notes. Constantly."
Don't take that to mean Snyder, 60, is overlooking the Washington Huskies, K-State's opponent in the Holiday Bowl Wednesday in San Diego. That probably means Snyder has already put in his requisite round-the-clock study of the opponent.
"His work ethic is unique," says Hudson. "If we lose a game, it's because we're not good enough."
Snyder's work ethic is not only unique, it's borderline pathological. If this is what it takes to turn around the worst college football program in the nation, a lot of coaches would say: You can have it.
His hours probably cost him his first wife. But she has said Snyder stood tall several years ago when a daughter, one of their three children, was seriously injured in an auto accident.
When the Missouri-reared Snyder arrived from an assistant's job at Iowa in 1989, K-State had had four winning seasons since 1945. The Wildcats won a mere 90 games from 1955 to 1988, and they've won 87 in 11 years under Snyder. They very nearly played in the national-championship game last season.
You don't do this by taking a lot of naps. Snyder's routine is diabolical.
Some people skip breakfast. Snyder not only does that during the season, he blows off lunch and dinner, too. His sole concession to sustenance is a meal he eats at home after midnight, when he finally unhinges himself from the video.
"It's just a habit," he says. "I'm not averse to eating. It's not 365 days a year. My doctor doesn't like it.
"But I never was a breakfast eater, and I learned that by working over the lunch hour, you could get a lot more done. That was so good, I did it during dinner."
It's logic like that that must have persuaded Snyder to think he could turn around the Chernobyl of college-football programs.
To say Snyder is a detail guy is to say Bogart could act a little. He is renowned for fussing over every last bit of minutiae.
This is a man who:
-- Once requested that a hotel restaurant exchange the butter pats it provided for a team meal in favor of whipped butter, because he wanted the players to have less fat.
-- Has asked at least one right-handed player to learn to eat and write left-handed so as to become more versatile as a blocker.
-- Insisted his players be seated on the side of an airplane away from the sun so they could sleep better on a trip to Japan in 1992.
Bill Snyder thinks of everything.
"Bill Snyder is what you call a true perfectionist," says Hayden Fry, the longtime former coach, for whom Snyder was a successful offensive aide at North Texas State and Iowa. "I'd have to tell him in practice, just let the quarterback throw the ball one time without correcting him."
Don Patterson, coach at Western Illinois, was on those Iowa staffs. A West Point graduate, Patterson thought he was anal-retentive until he knew Snyder.
"When Coach Fry referred to a pass list (a rundown of pass plays), you could guarantee that pass list was 100-percent accurate," Patterson said. "That didn't mean the secretaries were infallible. That just means the list was proofed and reproofed."
As Fry says, the tireless attention to detail was one way for a traditional have-not school to narrow the gap. Snyder has parlayed an indefatigable lifestyle with a willingness to recruit some players other schools consider marginal and has K-State running with the nation's elite.
While Washington was massing for a run at the national championship as the '80s closed, K-State was ending the decade with a 1-36-1 record. Patterson remembers looking at Snyder with bemusement when he was considering leaving Iowa for Manhattan, Kan.
Says Patterson, "A lot of people wondered, has he lost his mind, to take on the Manhattan Project?"
Snyder left, and talked about getting better little by little, even in increments most considered imperceptible. His 1991 team lost 56-3 to the Huskies' national-title club, but K-State, playing its customary soft nonleague schedule, went 7-4 that year and has mostly been winning ever since.
Others have called this the mother of all rebuilding efforts. Barry Switzer, the former coach, once said Snyder "is the coach of the century."
Naturally, Snyder has become a demigod at Kansas State. He rules the athletic department there, having overseen facilities improvements that include a stadium expansion.
Some believe the sway he holds has its downside. He is considered death on media people, because his passion for detail includes withholding information - much of it harmless - and sometimes shielding players from the press.
"The first thing you have to know about him is, everything is a secret," says a writer who covers the Big 12 Conference.
At least one Wildcat, injured during a game, has been walled off from TV cameras by players wielding towels so as not to allow the enemy any advantage in intelligence. Snyder has a weekly, half-hour press briefing on Tuesdays, and that's the final appearance he makes before the media until the postgame. Practices, of course, are closed, and so is access to him after it.
"Bloodlines run deep," said Fry. "He learned that from me. When I was at SMU, we had open practices, and the alumni and news media could come into the locker room.
"When I left SMU, I made a commitment: Never again."
Snyder's regimen means his coaches must be similarly committed. While most staffs routinely take July off, K-State's gets two weeks. Its coaches are often at work on summer nights until 9 o'clock.
"My mother was a very hard-working woman," Snyder says of the one who raised him alone after a divorce. "I probably took on some of her traits."
Next year, the season begins early. Perhaps responding to waves of criticism about scheduling, Snyder has agreed to put the Wildcats in the Eddie Robinson Kickoff Classic against Iowa on Aug. 26.
"That two weeks of summer?" Hudson laughed. "Down to one.
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