A Wildcat in Winter: After decades of solutions, Kansas State now has a Bill Snyder problem
Snyder, 79, just signed a five-year extension as rumblings continue that it's time to look to the future
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Just after noon on Tuesday, 79-year-old Bill Snyder settled in behind the microphone the same way he has for 27 seasons on game weeks. The familiar Styrofoam cup of coffee standing sentry in front of him. No small talk offered.
That's the reality. Subjectively, the walls of the team meeting room were closing in on the venerable icon during his media availability.
The message from the oldest coach in major-college football hasn't changed. He's not retiring anytime soon. That creates a possible uncomfortable exit strategy for those who have watched the program slide -- even just a little -- in recent years.
For the second year in a row, Kansas State is scrambling at the end of the season to become bowl eligible. If the Wildcats (5-6) lose at Iowa State this week, they will finish below .500 for only the second time since Snyder returned from retirement in 2009. That's also the last year they missed a bowl game.
It's clear Snyder's future -- more than Saturday's game -- is the No. 1 topic of K-State fans everywhere. The central theme: It has become OK among some of the Wildcats' fiercely loyal fans to criticize their great coach.
At least three publications, including the Kansas City Star, have published columns calling for Snyder to retire.
Some of it is age, some of it is typical fan anxiousness, some of it is watching potential replacements go elsewhere. It's all about moving on from someone who -- at least at one time -- was one of the best coaches in the game.
"He needs to retire. It's time," said Gabe Crews, a K-State defensive lineman who graduated in 2010. "Kansas State needs a new fresh energetic face to bring that youth and spirit and energy to the program."
Crews was recently emboldened to post on YouTube a 90-minute, two-part screed on the state of the program.
In it, he claimed Snyder withheld players' bowl rings and scholarship checks as well as violated the NCAA's 20-hour weekly work limit on athletically related endeavors.
"They were getting evicted out of their apartments," Crews said of his teammates who missed their regularly-scheduled room and board stipend as part of their scholarship. "They would end up staying with a teammate and trying to figure this out. I've heard numerous players say there is a lot collateral damage because … everybody's name is on that lease. If you have two players on that lease and they got evicted, that's messing up credit and everything else for the future."
Snyder was asked at Tuesday's press conference about the allegations. He didn't exactly deny them.
"Anything that we have done in my estimation has been fair," he said. "There are certain things that we do that are relative to discipline and not doing the things you are supposed to do, not taking care of your business, a variety of different things whether it happens to be personal behavior, whether it happens to be not taking care of your financial obligations to the university. There are consequences."
Snyder's power is unquestioned and might be limitless in these parts. He's earned that power taking a program the school was considering dropping to FCS to a national power. The man has won 215 games in 27 seasons, played in two BCS bowls and come within an eyelash of playing for the 1998 national championship.
But all good things must come to an end. Players weren't made available Tuesday prior to the last regular-season game, perhaps because Snyder didn't want sensitive questions asked. Crews said he has been criticized by former K-State players for making his allegations.
"They say, 'We know Bill does this. We know it's messed up. We know it's bad. But this is us. We keep this secret,'" Crews said.
But when Crews asks those players why, they say, "To keep a legacy."
Crews arrived in 2006 under former coach Ron Prince, who he called a "control freak." Prince lasted three seasons before Snyder returned in 2009. By then, Crews saw some of those 2006 Texas Bowl rings handed out, just not to him.
Crews is a Georgia native who currently works in Boston. He said that conditions got so bad that he and other players would tell visiting recruits not to attend Kansas State.
"We would tell them if they had other offers to consider them, unless K-State was your single Division I offer," he said.
CBS Sports checked with a veteran compliance director. In this day and age, scholarship checks are electronically transferred. However, as far back as Crews mentioned, those physical checks could have been stuffed in a drawer somewhere. In that case, that money would simply show up as unspent on the bottom line of the athletic department's balance sheet.
Snyder's excellence has helped build facilities that sustain a program that somehow seems likely to change hands fairly soon. But when the Wildcats were blown out at Oklahoma last month, former radio voice of K-State Mitch Holthus did not hold back.
"It's painful to say it, but unless you're proactive in this move, you could lose 3-5 years," Holthus said on local radio. "I was there before coach got there … that game Saturday was like those days -- just non-competitive -- and you're thinking that's the hope here? If you don't move and you stay put, it could be very, very damaging."
That's the rub. How does Kansas State balance what Snyder has earned against what's best for the future of the football program? Kansas State athletic director Gene Taylor said he has never broached the subject of retirement with Snyder. Taylor probably knows what the answer would be.
"Last year, we talked at the end of the season. This year, we'll probably do it sooner," Taylor said. "I expect him to say he'll think about it and get back to me."
On Tuesday, Snyder said of his future: "Most of you have asked it at some point in time. If I were not wanted and felt like I wasn't having an impact on the lives of young people … I certainly wouldn't [stay on]."
In a sport that is criticized for the tail wagging the dog, Snyder is one of the most powerful persons in the state. That said, Snyder's legacy is teetering a bit. What form that exit could take is troubling and confusing.
The man deserves a long, loving goodbye at some point. But this a program that exists because Snyder coached up three-star prospects into NFL players. The school can't afford to whiff on the successor.
Before the season, Snyder was given a five-year contract extension to 2022 that would take him to age 83. Joe Paterno was forced out in his last season in 2011 at age 84.
"Maybe it seems, it feels, like a lot more [criticism] this year for some reason," Taylor said.
Snyder beating throat cancer last year only added to his legend. He endured the tragic death of his grandson earlier this year. Matt Snyder, son of special teams coach Sean Snyder, was ruled to have died from suicide.
Bill Snyder has been strong from the beginning, literally building this program out of rubble, a new football complex being erected around him when he took the job in 1988. His office actually lacked a fourth wall back then; flies buzzed around while he made phone calls.
A nearby highway is named after him. A statue of Snyder welcomes fans into Bill Snyder Family Stadium. In 2015, he became only the fourth active coach to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
Crews said he was inspired to speak out after reading a 247Sports story alleging Snyder had "regularly withheld" players bowl rings. Crews, a Georgia native now working in Boston, said he was one of those players. The player says he never got his ring for the 2006 Texas Bowl, even he has asked several times.
"It's been eight years, and I think about that year all the time," Crews said. "It's very symbolic; it means a lot to me. Nobody gave me a reason. Those last days up until graduation when I went to [Snyder's] office to ask for it, he told me that he did not know where it was but Sean knew and he would tell Sean and Sean would send it to me."
Sean is that long-time special teams coach.
"I've reached and haven't been able to get hold of anybody," Crews added.
Snyder has made no secret of wanting Sean to succeed him. But he has been told that's not going to happen, multiple sources tell CBS Sports. Sean, the 49-year-old special teams coach, was never made an offensive or defensive coach by his own father. Those are the positions from which aspiring head coaches usually move up.
In portraying his version of what it's like inside Kansas State football, Crews said he was called a "snitch" by former players for posting on YouTube.
"They fully agree with me; they've been hurt the same way," he said. "They don't agree with me going on YouTube and putting it out for people to see. Without that, who's going to know?
"Send [Snyder] out with honor and grace, a ceremony to honor his accomplishments and achievements. Do not take away his accomplishments. Forget about them. He has a statue outside. His name is on the stadium. His name is on a highway. He's done enough. It's time to [go]."
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