Senior College Football Columnist

Despite all his success, Snyder hasn't lost hunger to win


MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Just off Bill Snyder Highway, in a place overlooking Bill Snyder Family Stadium, in the Holy Church of Bill Snyder, Tuesday services begin.

Thirty-eight respectful souls gathered this week in a place so ancient it is called "The Big Eight Room." They range from the lowly student assistant to the lowly cameraman to the lowly columnist. They ask questions quickly because this dignitary doesn't hold court, he holds an internal stopwatch. Thirty minutes, once a week, that's all you get of Bill Snyder, the man, the coach, the high priest of Manhattan.

"Gotta go quickly," Kansas State's coach says when cornered briefly by a couple of reporters outside his office following the ceremony otherwise known as his weekly press conference. "I've got a staff meeting."

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Snyder always has a coaches meeting or a practice or some thing that occupies his time so completely that he has taught his body not to eat. Or at least not to eat as much as a normal human. Fact morphed into fiction, and back long ago so it's worth revisiting the quirky aspect of this freak of nature -- and coaching.

So, how many meals is it a day?

"One," Snyder says, "Late."

The coach determined long ago that the best, quietest times to get work done was during lunch and dinner. Breakfast was already a no go. Food, you see, got in the way. Eating was wasted time. It might distract from diagramming that jump pass that helped beat Miami (Fla.) or the kickoff return that deflated Texas Tech or taking another phone call from another dispirited transfer who wanted a home in the Little Apple.

And there have been plenty of those occurrences in Kansas State's 7-0 start. A conservative, silver-haired man from St. Joseph, Mo., has spent two decades here bucking nature's laws and college football tradition. They’re calling this season Miracle in Manhattan II or Snyder 2.0 because they've seen it before, but never quite like this.

The Wildcats are one of eight undefeated teams remaining and no one really can explain why. They were underdogs in four consecutive games. They're gutty, little 'Cats again this week with Oklahoma coming to town as a 13½-point favorite.

Kansas State is last in Big 12 passing, 110th nationally. The junior quarterback behind that attack spent his freshman season also backing up at receiver and playing special teams. The destructive force at defensive end was a walk on -- at tight end. The preseason All-Big 12 tailback may never see the field again.

But the offense leads the country in time of possession, and that's huge. Even when his teams aren't outgunned, Snyder has conditioned his offense like he has conditioned his body, to run more efficiently with less. Less plays. Less pressure on his defense. Shorten the game.

That quarterback, Collin Klein, will run the play clock down to a few precious seconds before the snap. It's a strategy Snyder was using 20 years ago in 1991 when his Wildcats posted the program's second winning season in 21 years. More success, as you might have heard, followed.

A couple of weeks ago, the Wildcats were outgained 580-339, but blocked two Texas Tech field goals, returned a kick for a touchdown and got four turnovers in a 41-34 win. Even the man who shaped this phenomenon is surprised at his latest transcendent accomplishment.

"Under the circumstances," Snyder says, "you'd probably have to say that."

The circumstances being that basic tenets of college football have been violated. Teams may win with 18 junior college players in the two-deep, eight of them starters, but not for long. Teams don't even attempt such an infusion of "temps" because of the dangerous fallout. Hoarding JUCOs is among the riskiest propositions in the sport. There is no guarantee they will pan out. And even if they do, there is the resulting hole in the roster after two years.

For some reason it works at Kansas State. Snyder might be the best procurer and developer of junior college talent in the sport's history. Those JUCO transfers have gone on to become All-Americans (Heisman runner-up Michael Bishop) and pros (Super Bowl-winning offensive lineman Ryan Lilja).

"There are no secrets," Snyder says when asked about that JUCO backbone. "I can assure you that."

There are, actually. He just won't share them.

The circumstances being that the secondary looks like the athletic equivalent of Ellis Island. Calling these huddled masses wretched refuse might be a compliment. The nation's No. 87 pass defense has been called worse.

"I don't know if we've matched up with anybody's wide receivers," Snyder says.

Five-foot-eight cornerback David Garrett hears all the short jokes, then turns them into determination. His pick-six against Kent State was the first by a K-State defensive back in three years. Cornerback Nigel Malone, fresh from City College of San Francisco, is tied for the Big 12 lead in interceptions (four).

Strong safety Ty Zimmerman grayshirted as a quarterback from nearby Junction City (Kan.) High. Free safety Tysyn Hartman has seen as many positions as head coaches. After spending 1½ seasons as a quarterback, Hartman was called in by former coach Ron Prince to switch to defense. If he had known that, Hartman says, "I might not have come." He stayed. On Wednesday, Hartman was named one of 16 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes. The circumstances being that Miami transfer Arthur Brown is having an All-American season. That after making exactly 17 tackles in two seasons with the Hurricanes. His brother Bryce was expected to be an impact tailback after transferring from Tennessee. After that preseason Big 12 honor, he has three carries this season while dealing with personal issues.

The circumstances being the play of D-end Jordan Voelker -- that former walk-on tight end -- who is another product from nearby juco power Butler County Community College.

The circumstances being Klein, who averages less than 150 passing yards per game, but is second only to Denard Robinson in rushing yards by a quarterback.

"I didn't know that until you just told me," Klein says.

The Wildcats wear it well. Players put on K-State-logoed blazers for those weekly services, er, press conferences. That Big Eight Room is a conference space that reminds Kansas State it was once part of a stable conference. There is no outward clue how a senior-citizen coach relates to kids. Snyder is old enough to call his 50-year-old former assistant "Bobby." That would be Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.

"We’re in our own world," says Jonathan Truman, a backup linebacker from Wichita.

Naming a highway and stadium after a sure College Football Hall of Famer is supposed to salute a legacy. This one is still under construction. From 1989-2005 Snyder took Kansas State from the nation's worst program to national contender. He then returned in 2009 after Prince ran the program into the ground.

Make that a rescue more than a return. Kansas State has always seemed to teeter on a fine line. It can't outspend Texas, but it can beat the Longhorns (the last three in a row). Conference realignment threatened to cast a school located in the distant Flint Hills adrift into a non-BCS league. Snyder might literally be the difference in K-State the school in the big time.

His disciples all buy in to a plains-simple list of 16 core values that sound as corny as the stalks of the stuff that surround this city.

"If you believe in discipline, if you believe in hard work, if you believe in doing things right, if you believe in caring about people and you believe in accountability, we will never have a problem," Snyder says, sounding more like a fairy godmother.

There is the odd mind game. The trophy case that previously held the Governor's Cup earned for beating Kansas has been replaced this week by the 2003 Big 12 championship trophy. The victim that year: Oklahoma and Bobby Stoops.

"When I got here [this morning], the lights were out, so I have no clue what's in the trophy case," Snyder says smiling.

And with that, the services are concluded. Snyder is back in his office, in the middle of another 16-hour day. This inexplicable start (the best since 1999) will be tested on the back end of the schedule. Following Oklahoma, K-State plays Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas. Who, then, has time to eat? Snyder doesn't until the dead of night when the work day is over -- between 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m.

"It used to be [a big meal]," Snyder said, "but it's not anymore."

And no, his doctors are not OK with it. It's been three decades since Snyder began training his body not to eat. That was 10 years before he came here for Miracle in Manhattan I.

"It works for me. I certainly wouldn't encourage it for anybody."

The high priest of Manhattan is talking about his diet, not the job's degree of difficulty.

Don't you think?

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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