Senior College Football Columnist

Snyder's Plains magic remains a wonder -- and a mystery


We'll never know the real story.

We'll never know how Bill Snyder molded a lineup of 13 junior-college starters into Kansas State's first 10-win season in eight years.

We'll never know how K-State became college football's Ellis Island, with five major-college transfers.

We'll never know exactly how the Wildcats scored the last 10 points against Baylor to defeat the likely Heisman Trophy winner.

We'll never know -- fully -- because Kansas State's coach never lets anyone know fully. It's a mysterious program out there on the Plains. Sports Illustrated once called it the worst in existence. The press box was once so antiquated that we couldn't see the field on cold nights because of condensation. Thank goodness for those napkins on Pork Day.

Snyder arrived in 1989 and things changed. You may have heard. The story has been written a thousand times a thousand different ways and we still haven't cracked the code on the 72-year-old coach.

Nor will we. Somehow, that's OK. Understand the essence of why Snyder is's 2011 national coach of the year. It's because he doesn't let anyone in. We keep wanting to know more. He keeps winning. That's kind of the idea in coaching, know more than the guy across from you.

Snyder has done it 159 times, his number of wins in 20 years at K-State over two different coaching stops. He's done it with juco transfers who won Super Bowl rings. He's done it with quarterbacks who were Tim Tebow before Tim Tebow (Michael Bishop). He's done it with this year's quarterback, Collin Klein, who rushed for more touchdowns (26) than 90 teams.

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He's done it with recruiting busts then made them worthy of all-conference consideration (linebacker Arthur Brown). He's done it with assistants like the Stoops brothers, Mark Mangino, Brent Venables and guys you never heard of. Snyder doesn't let us talk to his assistants, which is a shame. It's their hard work that goes into the Wildcats' success. That's another reason why we'll never know the real story.

Snyder demands long hours of his assistants. The stories are legendary. So why do they keep coming back? Five current assistant coaches have left and returned. Co-offensive coordinator Del Miller is at K-State for the fourth time. Defensive line coach Mo Latimore has been at K-State for 27 of his 35 years in the business, all of them since 1994.

That's loyalty. It suggests stability. Snyder's administrative assistant Joan Friederich has been on the job 38 years, 15 before Snyder arrived.

Fox analyst Charles Davis and I ran into each in the airport the other day. The discussion quickly shifted to Snyder. We're both old enough to remember how the Wildcats stunk out loud. We're also amazed that in his eighth decade of life and second stab at the job, the Cats are as competitive and feisty and amazing as ever.

Snyder gives us just enough to keep coming back. The charming stories about eating once a day, getting by on a few hours of sleep. The last time I interviewed him there was another: Snyder revealed that he had spent one semester as a freshman at Missouri under Don Faurot as the "10th-string quarterback."

The winning makes us pay attention. The aura keeps us interested. There's no logical reason that Kansas State should be able to compete for a national championship (1998) or win the Big 12 (2003). Or finish second in the Big 12 this season after losing 12 starters from a 7-6 team.

So why national coach of the year? Traditionally, the honor goes to a coach whose team overachieves. Kansas State qualifies. The Wildcats won at Miami in September when no one knew how good they were, surviving on a goal-line stand. Robert Griffin III threw his first interception of the season in Manhattan on the first day of October, after tossing five touchdowns. Brown got the pick, then added a sack to seal the 36-35 win. They won at Texas, beating the Longhorns for the fourth straight time.

The Wildcats were picked eighth in the Big 12. They won eight games by a touchdown or less. The finished eighth in the BCS. They became the victims of BCS buffoonery when they weren't chosen for the Sugar Bowl.

The outrage has subsided. The Cats are playing in one of the most attractive bowl games (Cotton, against Arkansas) in a bowl landscape littered with stinkers. Snyder was making the rounds this week in New York, perhaps even celebrating a bit at the annual National Football Foundation dinner.

Maybe the real story is that these Wildcats were the sum of their parts. There were few stars. They just played hard-nosed football out there on the Plains. The mystery of their success, and the legend of their leader, grew.

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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