A battle rages at Kansas State over whether Bill Snyder's son will be his successor
Sean Snyder has spent more time with the Wildcats than his father, but his elevation is not a given
PHOENIX -- Bill Snyder is fond of saying that, even at age 77, he's not the senior member of Kansas State's football staff.
That honor would go to Snyder's son, Sean, whose service to the program has been nearly unending since 1989. As a player, All-American, assistant coach and special teams coordinator, Sean has been a Wildcat for all but a couple of years of his adult life.
But it's that family tie where the future of Kansas State football pivots into the unknown.
It's hard to recall a more vulnerable major-college program that has hinged on such a contentious line of succession. Bill is the oldest coach in the FBS. His son is dad's hand-picked successor.
That would complete the longest coach-in-waiting saga in the sport's history.
Bill has not wavered in his burning desire for Sean, 47, to take over. This despite Sean never being so much as an offensive or defensive coordinator.
"I have a strong belief and my preference is Sean," Bill Snyder told ESPN last year. "He knows more about our football program than anyone. He runs our program."
We're at this point because Bill is nearing 80 and just beat throat cancer. It's logical to assume the end of his Hall of Fame career is near. That's not heresy. Even for the indestructible Snyder, change is inevitable.
But can the purple kingdom be trusted to his son, who has never called an offensive or defensive play? Sean, who has coached Kansas State special teams since 2011, is also associate head coach. He accompanies his father to meetings at times. Sean spoke to the media during his father's absence.
"I've seen it," said new athletic director Gene Taylor, referring to a coach-in-waiting arrangement. "I've never had one. I'm not sure it's something I'm a big fan of."
Taylor wasn't speaking specifically of Bill and Sean, but the 60-year-old veteran with 32 years in athletic administration wants to at least believe he knows what he's getting into.
Taylor was once an Arizona State team manager for the irascible Frank Kush. As a senior associate AD at Iowa, he oversaw football. Before that, at North Dakota State, he nurtured a championship FCS program. In Fargo, North Dakota, he was the man.
In Manhattan? Taylor will be running an athletic department with a budget ($72 million) that is only a bit larger than Nick Saban's latest extension ($65 million).
"We're very efficient; we're lean," he said. "We're not cash flush."
But Kansas State is the House That Bill Built. In a college climate rife with realignment, K-State can't afford to fall behind.
While in Phoenix for the Big 12 spring meetings, Taylor shared a significant Snyder anecdote. There was no face-to-face meeting with the coach during the athletic director interview process.
Instead, Taylor was driving with his daughter to Fargo when he got a call from the coach. Snyder asked two questions: What do you know of Kansas State? Will you be a good fit?
Taylor must have provided the right answers.
"It wasn't a couple of hours later the [K-State] president called me and offered me the job," Taylor said.
At its worst, the son's succession would smack of nepotism. At its best, Sean would carry on his father's incredible legacy. Dad is right about the longevity. Because of Bill's three-year retirement (2006-08), Sean has his father beat in years of K-State service, 26-25.
Into this drama walks Taylor, the man likely responsible for hiring the replacement of one of the most iconic coaches in history.
Along with the likes of Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, a couple of years ago Snyder became one of the four active coaches ever inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
"I read an article. One of the reasons they have a regional airport in Manhattan is because of him," Taylor said.
"His statue is out in front of the stadium. It's a little different."
Taylor was hired last month to replace John Currie, who left to become athletic director at Tennessee.
The Currie-Snyder battles are now legend. Currie spent nine years on the job building world-class facilities in hopes of attracting a top coach for the day Snyder wasn't around.
According to several sources, it's no secret Currie was dead set against Sean succeeding his father. Lines have been drawn within Kansas State ranks: Some stand in support of the Sean Plan, others against it.
A recruit caused a major stir last fall when he tweeted how he was looking forward to playing for, "future #kstate head coach @seansnyder."
At stake could be the program itself. For all the glory Snyder brought to Manhattan, it's still a middle-of-nowhere spot that makes for difficult recruiting.
It will take someone beyond special to replace Snyder, winner of 202 games and two Big 12 titles.
When he arrived from Iowa in 1988, it was a question whether the program could even continue. Snyder then pulled off what has been called the Manhattan Miracle without ever landing a five-star recruit while mining junior college talent expertly and squeezing every last ounce of effort out of his roster.
The program is run with such precision, K-State color commentator Stan Weber told CBS Sports that -- aside from games -- Kansas State football could run itself for two years in Snyder's absence.
That's not a shot at Snyder. It's a salute to his down-to-the-second planning savvy.
There's a question whether there is another person on the planet -- much less the same family -- who could follow Snyder.
There are definitely more qualified candidates than Sean out there. Former Wildcats assistant Jim Leavitt, who is now the defensive coordinator at Oregon, has a clause in his current contract that would allow him to take the K-State job without a buyout.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables -- another former Snyder assistant -- is close to being the .
At age 45, it's curious why Venables has never been a head coach. Is he respectfully holding out for the day Snyder steps down?
Following Currie's departure, interim AD Laird Veatch was thought to have a better than even chance of getting the full-time AD gig. But sources say part of the reason he didn't is that even Veatch -- a member of Snyder's first recruiting class -- didn't support the Sean succession plan.
"Now that Currie is gone, [Bill has] got the guy [Taylor] he wants there," said longtime friend and former K-State defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. "He's got the new president [Gen. Richard Myers].
"Sean will be the head coach. I think it's in order."
Others have advised against it, apparently at their peril. There is a battle inside the walls of the K-State administrative and football offices that has raged for years, according to several sources.
More than one person familiar with the situation termed the climate inside those walls as "toxic."
"A lot of people have a lot of opinions, I'll say that," Taylor admitted.
Snyder emerged briefly here Friday following the Big 12 coaches' meeting. He looked frail, which is to be expected for someone who has undergone cancer treatment.
Snyder battled cancer with his typical tenacity. According to sources, the coach on some days drove two hours to Kansas City for treatment, then turned right around, driving back to finish the work day in his office.
"I was able to do everything," he told a small gathering of reporters Friday. "I probably didn't do everything exactly the same. I still got in the office every day. The hours weren't as long. The aftereffects catch up with you.
"Most of the things that I didn't do at the office, I did at home. It worked out. It still, according to the doctors, takes some time."
Like any coach in his position, Snyder has acquired power. Does pushing his son as his successor abuse it?
On Friday, he didn't sound like a coach who might leverage his position -- as some have speculated -- by retiring in August or September to force the administration's hand. Supposedly, in that scenario, they would have no choice but to elevate Sean, at least in the short term.
But shouldn't Snyder's new boss have some say in the new coach?
"I hope I have a lot. I plan to have a lot," Taylor said. "Bill's going to have some thoughts."
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