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December 3, 2008He made his presence felt even before he arrived. From a note attached to the double doors that asked visitors to "please wipe your feet before entering," to the hatless football player who yanked out his diamond studs in the hallway, a certain familiarity fell upon the Vanier Football Complex even before Bill Snyder climbed those limestone steps on Tuesday. To nobody's surprise, he capped his whirlwind day by reaching his final destination just as predicted. Five minutes early.
Across his right arm, he carried a beige trench coat, which for all anyone knew was the same one he wore at some of those pre-bowl pep rallies years ago. His left hand held a cell phone and black leather briefcase. Some teams will prepare for a conference championship game this week. Others await a bowl game. But for Snyder, hired just eight days ago as the new old head coach at Kansas State, the time was now.
It was time for the winningest coach in K-State history to take a day and visit his "family," as he calls it.
"You're the heart and soul of Kansas State University and I thank you so very, very much for all that you have done in the past and all that you will do," he said. "We'll work at it. Somehow, someway, we'll try to get this thing so that it really works the way that you were accustomed to it working.
"Thank you so very much."
He had offered similar sentiments at five other stops across the state. The tour started with an estimated 90 gatherers in a Garden City hotel at 8 a.m., grew to a couple hundred in Wichita and became standing-room only among 350-or-so purple-clad fans in Kansas City at around noon before the tour hit Topeka and Salina. Between 100-150 fans filled the Vanier team meeting room well before Snyder's expected arrival at 4:30 p.m.
The wristwatch read 4:25 p.m. when Snyder, in his dark suit and purple tie, hurried down the hallway and to his office, where he dropped off a few items.
"It's been a real re-bonding between Bill Snyder and the family, as he talks about," said assistant athletics director Lon Floyd, the head of the Catbacker Clubs, who accompanied Snyder. "We couldn't have asked for more."
"This has been a very good day, a very special day," he said. "Coach is in a good mood today. He's a little bit on a tight schedule. He's got recruits on the phone. He's been on the phone since we left and has filled about half a notebook with notes today.
"Bill is Bill. He's back at work."
Snyder tried to wave off the standing ovation as he headed toward the podium, then looked across the crowd and said with a wink, "Here we go again."
Snyder addressed several people in the crowd by name, because that's what you do when you're family. He made a point to mention several projects that had become important to him during his three years away from the sideline. There's the Governor's Mentoring Initiative, the Kansas Leadership Center and the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, which fans will assuredly learn more about next fall. Finally, Snyder reflected and focused on family.
"It's been kind of a fun day," he said. "It's been an enjoyable time and it's allowed me an opportunity to talk about what the Kansas State family is all about. Obviously, it's been about a lot of very, very special things and I appreciate you because you are an immense part of the Kansas State family."
Snyder said there would be a time for questions. The 69-year-old Snyder poked fun at his own age and at Manhattan resident Ron Cochran, a season-ticket holder since 1971, who sat near the back of the room.
"Not now, Ron," Snyder said. "I know what you're question is going to be, 'What's a gray-haired old fogy like me doing up here?'"
Snyder admitted that he wouldn't say anything fans hadn't already heard.
"We're back right here standing where I am right now," he said, "because of the people."
Then Snyder repeated his mission statement, of sorts, which he announced at his re-introductory news conference last Monday. Fans can expect to hear it time and time again during summer speaking engagements and into next fall, but it's one worth repeating.
"You've heard me say probably that the waves are getting kind of high and the water is a little rough right now and the Kansas State family has kind of been riding the waves. But there are waves," Snyder said. "It was my intent to come back to hope I could smooth the water a little bit and to try and get us back to where we need to be -- a family, a caring family, a family that embraces its people and cares about its people and cares about the right things. That's what Kansas State people have meant to me all of these years."
K-State has gone to a bowl just once in the last five years, second fewest in the Big 12 only to Baylor, which hasn't reached a bowl game since 1994. K-State ranks 10th in the Big 12 in total wins (26) and Big 12 wins (13) during that span as well. Ron Prince left his third season with a 17-20 record and the Wildcats' 26 total wins since 2004 are the fewest in a five-year span since the program had 26 between 1989 and 1993.
Questions? There were many.
Cochran, a 65-year-old who retired five years ago after serving as vice president at Kansas State Bank, prides himself on witnessing all 136 Snyder victories. He missed only one game and that was when K-State played Nebraska in Japan in 1992. Cochran told Snyder, "This year, when we were at Louisville and trotted out in those purple pants, I had nightmares of those Stan Parrish days, those God-awful looking uniforms. Are you going to be the Bill Snyder of old?"
"I'm not smart enough to be anything other than what I've always been," Snyder said.
Snyder added, "To answer your question, our uniforms will be back as soon as I can get Nike -- they've done their thing and we're there (with the uniforms) for a year. We won't be purple, but we're there for a year. And that's not being critical at all. I just have my way. And I'm kind of stubborn."
As for Snyder's assistant coaches?
"I can tell you that I won't give you any names right now," Snyder said. "I can tell you that we might be somewhere in the vicinity of two-thirds complete as far as the staff is concerned. I can tell you that it's a far different animal today than it was 20 years ago."
Twenty years ago, Snyder sat in his office. He wrote down a list of names, coaches who were either out of work or who were at lower collegiate levels. He said he probably made 15 phone calls, had a staff in place in two or three days, then they went to work.
"It doesn't work that way now," he said. "Contracts are so much more different. There are so many extenuating circumstances within contracts that need to be dealt with and it's sensitive. Contracts and transitions are sensitive. It just takes more time. And because of contracts, some are multi-year contracts and they have to work through the settlement of terms with those and to put their names out there becomes very disruptive to that process.
"It's a different time in that respect. We do it as rapidly as we can and we will share it as soon as we possibly can."
Oh, there was more. Snyder talked about his broad-based offense and how he must utilize segments of the offense that will best fit a player's skills.
"That's exactly the way we'll do it," he said. "There's nothing you can do that's not in our offense. The offenses of today that you see in the Big 12 Conference might be unique to other offenses in the country, but those are things that, if you paid attention, we had in our offense over the years and utilized them from time to time when we had that particular type of personnel that fit that isolated system.
"I don't know our players right now. I don't know their true capabilities and I have to find that out before we settle on exactly what we'll do. But rest assured that whatever a young person does extremely well, we will do that in our offense. The same thing is true on defense."
Snyder called recruiting "utter chaos."
"I don't really have a great feel about it," he said. "I'm trying to get indoctrinated for what has taken place, what's been done, who's out there, who they are, where they are and what they're all about. That's a monumental task. I'm not doing it alone. There are others working with me to do that. It will gradually come together, I'm quite certain. But to give you a sensitivity to where we are, I'd be pulling a straw out of the air. I really don't have a true collective idea. I know what's going on, but to really have it in place the way I like to have it in place, no, not at all."
But here's something that is in place: Assuming the coaching landscape remains the same entering 2009, Snyder, with a 17-year record of 136-68-1, will return no lower than No. 9 in career victories among active BCS coaches, trailing Joe Paterno (383), Bobby Bowden (381), Frank Beamer (217), Jim Tressel (218), Mack Brown (200), Steve Spurrier (170), Dennis Erickson (163) and bowl-bound Mike Bellotti, who currently has 136 victories.
Snyder will enter his 11th season in the Big 12, second only behind Mack Brown's 12 seasons in the league and will be tied for 10th in total experience among all active BCS coaches with at least 135 victories.
Snyder didn't mention either of those marks, of course. But he did rehash the journey along the way to reaching 11 wins in six of seven seasons. He recalled the average attendance of 13,000 at K-State games in 1988 and the gentleman from Goodland who paid him a visit following the 1993 Copper Bowl victory. He reused the adage he used 20 years ago, "If you build it, they will come," and how it works exactly the opposite at K-State: If you come, they will build it.
"It is significant that we draw together, which is so vital and so important, just as you did 20 years ago," Snyder said. "You came together and allowed these young people to understand what they meant to the program."
Snyder reviewed the virtues of his program -- the importance of faith, family, and being the best person, student and football player you can be.
"You've heard it over a 17-year period of time; they are hearing that," Snyder said. "They probably don't understand it yet but they're hearing it now and they're hearing how important it is to find ways to make themselves a little bit better every day in each one of those priorities. They're hearing it. Eventually, it will settle in. I know it will.
"The post important thing is that you care about them and really allow them to understand that you care about them no matter what. When they see that in the support base and in those around them, they will be better. They will be better."
Judging from the smiles and applause, Snyder struck a mighty chord in Manhattan on Tuesday.
However, support hasn't come in short supply during Snyder's preparation for a comeback. On the afternoon of his hiring, he said he had 470 messages, either via e-mail or text message. Why, even before his tour of Kansas, he found support in Dallas.
He visited with Terence Newman on the field at Texas Stadium last Friday.
"A couple of things Terence said come to mind," Snyder said, "which I think are significant. Terence said, 'You know coach, as soon as our season is over, I want to be in Manhattan and I want to come visit and spend time with our football team and share some things that they really need to understand.'"
Snyder concluded, "Wait until (Newman) gets in this room in front of those players."
That time will come. Meanwhile, fans understood Tuesday just as they did 20 years ago that time is precious.
Snyder still had recruits to call. Meetings to keep. Entrenched in remembering fond memories and discussing challenges ahead, Snyder actually lost track of the time.
Standing in the back of the team meeting room, Floyd informed Snyder, "You've got a meeting in seven minutes."
"I do," Snyder beamed. "I've got to meet with some players."
So, following departing standing ovation, Snyder made his way past well-wishers and old friends. He shook hands as he made his way down the hallway and to his office.
Two minutes later, Brandon Banks and Deon Murphy entered the double doors and headed down the hallway.
No earrings. No hats.
No doubting the return of an era.