MANHATTAN, Kan. — Bill Snyder was already was considered the architect of the greatest turnaround in college football history before he decided to return from a three-year retirement to resurrect Kansas State again. Now, at 79, he is heading back into retirement.
Snyder decided to step away Sunday after 27 seasons on the sideline, ending a Hall of Fame tenure in Manhattan that began in the Big Eight and weathered seismic shifts in college football. Along the way, he overcame throat cancer, sent dozens of players to the N.F.L. and gave countless more an opportunity to succeed not only on the field but also in life.
“His impact on college football is unmatched, and his legacy is one that will last a lifetime,” the athletic director Gene Taylor said.
The Wildcats fell apart during a season-ending loss to Iowa State, leaving them 5-7 and at home for the bowl season. Snyder finishes with a record of 215-117-1, 19 bowl appearances and two Big 12 championships.
The highway leading into town already has been renamed in his honor, leading fans from Interstate 70 to the stadium that bears the name of his family. A large bronze statue of Snyder stands outside.
Taylor said the search for a new coach will begin immediately, and a clause in Snyder’s contract indicates he will have input in the decision. Taylor added that Snyder would exercise a clause that allowed him to become a special ambassador to the university at a yearly salary of $250,000 for “as long as he is physically and mentally able.”
Snyder arrived at Kansas State in late 1988, a nondescript offensive coordinator from Iowa who once coached high school swimming before learning football under the longtime Hawkeyes coach Hayden Fry.
The Wildcats had just four winning seasons the previous 44 years, and they were on a 27-game winless streak. Dozens of confidants implored Snyder not to take over what Sports Illustrated called Futility U, certain that it was a coaching dead end.
Snyder was still mulling his decision when he walked the campus one cold morning, and was smitten by the friendliness of the people, their earnestness and work ethic, and he accepted the job for the 1989 season.
“I think the opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football exists here today,” he said at his introductory news conference, “and it’s not one to be taken lightly.”
Snyder introduced a new logo to distance the Wildcats from their losing past, and he began to heavily recruit junior colleges. He steadily improved the roster, beat North Texas that first year to end the long winless streak and slowly won over skeptical fans.
The wins began to pile up: The Wildcats went 5-6 in Year 2, won seven games the next season and went 9-2-1 in 1993 for its second bowl berth ever. It began a streak of 11 postseason trips, highlighted by two Cotton Bowls and two trips to the Fiesta Bowl.
He was famous for eating once a day, lest he waste time dining. He once consulted a sleep expert to divine a way to get by on four hours a night. He also demanded a rigorous schedule of his assistants, a group that included the future coaches Bob Stoops, Bret Bielema, Dan McCarney and Jim Leavitt.
Kansas State started to slip in 2004 and 2005, a pair of losing seasons that appeared to take their toll on Snyder. And he surprised many by announcing his retirement, telling a packed room that he wanted to spend more time with his family.
He said he wanted a break. It did not last very long. After watching the program slide under Ron Prince, Snyder was lured out of retirement in 2009 for another rebuilding job. Two seasons later, the Wildcats were back in a bowl game; a season after that, they rose to No. 1 in the nation before playing in the Cotton Bowl, and a year after that, they won Snyder his second Big 12 championship and landed in the Fiesta Bowl.
Five more bowl games followed, even though the Wildcats never reached the same heights. It was a period marked by sustained success, if not the excellence of Snyder’s earlier years.
The biggest scare of his career came two years ago, when Snyder was found to have throat cancer. He went through grueling rounds of chemotherapy and radiation while rarely missing a spring practice, and he was back last season to lead the Wildcats to the Cactus Bowl.
But with a depleted roster and a young, rebuilt coaching staff, Kansas State never got on track this season. The Wildcats barely beat South Dakota, were routed by Mississippi State and struggled to live up to expectations as they barreled toward their worst season in more than a decade.
Along the way, cracks began to show: There was the rare outburst at a reporter during a news conference and the even rarer sight of Snyder calling out individual players for poor play. By the time Kansas State struggled to beat Kansas, it appeared Snyder had made up his mind.
The secretive Snyder kept the decision to himself, and the Wildcats handily beat Texas Tech to keep their bowl hopes alive. But when they blew a big fourth-quarter lead against Iowa State to end their season, Snyder looked exhausted and defeated.
He looked as if he was ready for another break.
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