Bill Snyder is a miracle worker. It's been more than 20 years since he first took over as head coach at Kansas State, so it’s faded a little from memory, but in 1989 when he arrived in Manhattan there was no greater dead-end place in all of college football. There were three coaches in four years before he arrived in 1989, and they had a combined record of 3-40-1. The Wildcats didn't win a game in 1987 or 1988.
Bill Snyder is a miracle worker.
It's been more than 20 years since he first took over as head coach at Kansas State, so it’s faded a little from memory, but in 1989 when he arrived in Manhattan there was no greater dead-end place in all of college football. There were three coaches in four years before he arrived in 1989, and they had a combined record of 3-40-1. The Wildcats didn't win a game in 1987 or 1988.
There had been four winning seasons since 1934.
At the time Snyder was hired, only one program in the entire sport had lost 500 games, and of course it was K-State.
His team went 1-10 in 1989. But then came 5-6 and 7-4, and beginning in 1993 Kansas State won nine or more games for eight straight years and 10 of 11. Included in that string were four straight 11-win seasons from 1997-2000, plus two more in 2002 and 2003, and wins in the Fiesta Bowl in 1997 and the Cotton Bowl in 2000.
Yes, included in those remarkable years were some weak nonconference schedules, but Snyder’s Wildcats have owned Missouri, Iowa State and Kansas, have beaten Oklahoma seven times, hold a 4-2 record against Texas, and though losing 14 times to Nebraska did beat the Cornhuskers five times before they bolted for the Big Ten.
Barry Switzer, the legendary coach of Oklahoma, once said of Snyder, “He’s not the coach of the year, he’s not the coach of the decade, he’s the coach of the century.”
After the run of 11-win seasons, however, came a slide, and after losing seasons in 2004 and 2005 Snyder stepped down. The game, seemingly, had passed Snyder by.
Ron Prince was hired as his replacement, and the Wildcats had three mediocre seasons. He was fired in November 2008.
Enter Snyder. Again. Proving the game had not passed him by.
First came 6-6, then 7-6. But last year the Wildcats went 10-3. This year, they’re 4-0, and it’s not a hollow 4-0.
On Saturday night, perhaps lost a little bit as LSU, the nation’s No. 2 team struggled, fabled Notre Dame delivered a defensive smackdown on Michigan, and Florida State proved mighty once again, the miracle worker delivered one of his masterpieces.
Kansas State went on the road and beat Oklahoma. The Sooners started the season on the short list of teams with a chance to win the national championship, and last year throttled Kansas State by 41 points. But with another year to develop his team, Snyder went to Norman and got revenge. His Wildcats not only knocked the Sooners from title contention, but showed that they’re ready to be taken with the same seriousness his teams a decade ago merited.
And they did it the old fashioned way, by ramming the ball down their opponents’ throats. Kansas State gained 213 rushing yards, led by John Hubert's 130. Meanwhile, they allowed Oklahoma just 88 yards on the ground, and while Landry Jones gained yardage through the air Kansas State limited the Sooners’ one-time Heisman hopeful to just one touchdown pass.
“We had a chip on our shoulder,” said Hubert. “They came to my house (last year) and they kind of embarrassed us. We just wanted to come out and stay on them and keep pounding them, keep pounding them, keep pounding them until the best team won.”
What Snyder has done, building Kansas State into a consistent power once, and putting the program in position to be powerful again, is the stuff of legend.
Snyder, who didn't become a head coach until he was 49 years old, will never amass the gaudy win totals of coaches who started at a much younger age, the 300-plus of men like Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson and Joe Paterno. But what he’s done is in some respects more impressive.
None, not even Bowden at Florida State, had to deal with what Snyder faced. None of them had to deal with decades of disastrous losing leading to such apathy that, according to a 1989 article in Sports Illustrated, less than 3,000 of Kansas State’s nearly 20,000 students bought season tickets at the time.
None of them had to deal with the humiliation that being associated with such ineptitude brings.
And none of them had to deal with the fact that their school is located in Kansas, a state that not only doesn’t produce anywhere near the high school talent of the South, Rust Belt, Southwest and West, but doesn’t hold nearly the attraction to high school seniors of four years living, well, just about anywhere else.
Bill Snyder did one of the toughest things a coach can ever do, building something from nothing. And he did it in a place as difficult to build that something as any.
The man, in coaching terms, is a miracle worker.
What We Learned
There was a lot to digest on Saturday night, almost all of it happening at once.
Oklahoma proved unworthy of its preseason billing. LSU showed surprising vulnerability in a two-point win over Auburn. Florida State garnered its most meaningful win in a while, meaning it should be among the unbeatens for quite a while. Notre Dame demonstrated the kind of defense in whipping Michigan that makes a team competitive against just about anyone, and in the process announced it was putting its longtime rivalry with the Wolverines on hold. And Oregon was flat-out scary good against Arizona, on both sides of the ball.
But what stands out above it all is the absolute horror show that’s happening at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks are a disaster.
Once on the short list of teams capable of challenging LSU and Alabama in the SEC, Arkansas lost at home to Rutgers on Saturday. Taken on its own, the defeat wasn’t catastrophic - the Scarlet Knights have actually shown that they’re pretty good, sitting at 4-0 and ranked 23rd in the AP poll.
But the loss can’t be taken on its own.
It came a week after the Razorbacks, expected to pose a threat to top-ranked ’Bama, laid down in a 52-0 loss to the Crimson Tide. And that came a week after Arkansas lost to Louisiana-Monroe.
That’s three losses in three weeks, all at home, by a team that was ranked as high as No. 3 late last season and reached No. 8 this season after its opening week win over Jacksonville State.
“Do I feel that we, at times, gave up out there? Absolutely,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, who missed the game with a head injury, said after the loss to Alabama. “As a leader, it sucks to see people not do their jobs.”
Amid it all, leadership has proven to be a mess. Not necessarily the leadership Wilson alluded to - from the players - but from above.
First there was the Bobby Petrino fiasco, which played out last April and doesn’t need to be rehashed. Suffice it to say, the man lied about an affair, and paid for it with his job. When he was fired, John L. Smith was brought in on an interim basis, and Smith has been nothing but a disaster.
The week of the Alabama game, he filed for bankruptcy. Last week he gave a bizarre press conference in which he implored the gathered media to smile before he took any questions - it’s since been reported that Smith’s brother died that morning.
And this week, during a speech to boosters on Monday, he said, “I’m asking you as fans, don’t give up on those players, don’t give up on us. It’s our program, it’s a state of Alabama program. It’s not one individual's program, so hang in there, we’re all part of it.”
Yes, he said Alabama. Not Arkansas.
On top of the off-field gaffes, the results speak for themselves regarding his on-field work.
Arkansas is a program that had lots of promise this autumn. Instead, it’s in free-fall.
Game of the Week
There’s no titanic clash, nothing that features a team chasing the crystal football against even another ranked team.
The only game featuring two ranked team is Michigan State at Ohio State, which essentially features one team that got whipped by Notre Dame against one that’s struggled against mediocre opponents and is barred from postseason participation.
There are potential road traps for South Carolina and Florida State, but the game with the most intrigue features seemingly revitalized Texas traveling north to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State.
It’s an opportunity for the Longhorns to demonstrate that they merit the national attention they mysteriously lost after Colt McCoy & Crew fell to Alabama in the BCS title game at the end of the 2009 season.
Texas is 3-0 so far, and ranked 12th in the AP poll. The ’Horns throttled Ole Miss in Oxford, and their 49.3 points per game ranks seventh nationally. But Ole Miss is bad, as are Wyoming and New Mexico.
Oklahoma State, though its loss at Arizona showed is not nearly the team it was last year, is a different level of competition. The Cowboys lead the country with 62.3 points per game, and their 686.7 yards per game are also tops in the country, meaning the Texas defense will be tested.
If the Longhorns are able to get a quality road victory, it will make the next two weeks - home against West Virginia and in Dallas to play Oklahoma - pretty interesting. If Texas loses, however, the conclusion will be that they’re still not ready to return to prime time.
“I thought we did some really positive and good things that should give us a view of who we want to be in the future at Ole Miss,” Texas coach Mack Brown said on Monday. “That’s why I'm so excited about this weekend - to see if that’s for real.”
Oklahoma State, meanwhile, can begin to show that the loss to Arizona was an aberration, like its loss at Iowa State was last year. By beating Texas, the Cowboys can creep back into the rankings, and with games against TCU, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma ahead demonstrate that it’s them and not Texas that’s worthy of the spotlight.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good football team,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken said on Monday. “I don’t know where we will end up when the year is over, but I think we have got a pretty good team.”
My Top 10
1. Alabama (4-0): Merrily, they roll along.
2. LSU (4-0): The Tigers get a mulligan, but only one.
3. Oregon (4-0): Unbelievably, the Ducks were out of sync in a 54-0 win.
4. Florida State (4-0): All that stands between the ’Noles and 11-0 is a letdown.
5. Georgia (4-0): Oct. 6 at South Carolina is shaping up as a monster game.
6. South Carolina (4-0): See above.
7. West Virginia (3-0): The first real test is next week at Texas.
8. Stanford (3-0): An extra week after beating USC will help against Washington.
9. Kansas State (4-0): The real deal.
10. Notre Dame (4-0): The defense makes the Irish legit.
Eric Avidon can be reached at 508-626-3809 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericavidon.