Bill Snyder retires: Kansas State coach was legendary for more than his on-field accomplishments

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder announced his retirement on Sunday after 27 seasons leading the Wildcats split over two terms (1989-2005, 2009-18). K-State held a team meeting at 3 p.m. ET and announced Snyder's departure. He will remain with the program as a "special ambassador," which was previously outlined in his employment agreement.

"Coach Snyder has had an immeasurable impact on our football program, Kansas State University, the Manhattan community and the entire state of Kansas, and it has been an honor and a privilege to get to know and work with him the past two years," said athletic director Gene Taylor in a release. "He and his family have touched the lives of so many people, from student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans, and he is truly one of the greatest coaches and leaders in college football history. His impact on college football is unmatched and legacy is one that will last a lifetime."  

A source close to the situation told CBS Sports to expect a "wide open search" involving a formal list of candidates that could be as large as eight prospects. 

Snyder led Kansas State to two Big 12 championships and 19 bowl games during his tenure, going 215-117-1 overall and 128-89-1 in conference play. The Wildcats went 5-7 (3-6) this season, missing a bowl for the first time since 2009.  

They called it the Miracle in Manhattan. Snyder took what was then the losingest program in America to unprecedented heights. His teams won 215 games, two conference championships, played in 19 bowls and came within an overtime of playing in the first BCS Championship Game 20 years ago.

Two of his players were invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony -- quarterbacks Michael Bishop and Collin Klein. He won with a type of player that became well known in the Big 12 and around the country. Snyder's recruiting classes typically never registered high in recruiting rankings. He took three-stars and turned them into starters. He took junior college transfers and made them pros. In short, Snyder made chicken salad out of chicken bleep.

As recently as 2014, the K-State roster included 58 current or former walk-ons. Miracle? Before 2003, the last K-State conference title was won in 1934.

When Snyder retired the first time following the 2005 season, his hall of fame credentials were already solidified.

But almost immediately, he told those closest to him he had made a mistake. Replacement Ron Prince had modest success in three seasons, but his style rubbed some the wrong way.

When Snyder returned to K-State in 2009, he was given the welcome of a conquering hero. By that time, Texas and Oklahoma were dominating the Big 12.

In terms of coaching, it truly was a miracle. When Snyder took over, the administration was considering moving down to Division I-AA or dropping the program altogether. Players were ashamed to wear their lettermen jackets on campus.

Snyder's first team went 0-11 in 1989, but even then, there was something different. For one, his players lined up right. The famous "Cat Trot" formation -- borrowed from his mentor Hayden Fry at Iowa -- suggested a sense of order and discipline. At the end of halves and games, players grouped in a tight mass and ran off the field together -- military-style.

"Something very, very, very, very good is about to happen," said Steve Miller, the athletic director who hired Snyder. "For those of you who don't believe that, we'll talk to you in two or three or four years, and we'll laugh at you."

Actually, the first winning season under Snyder came in only two years (1991). The first bowl came in 1993. The Wildcats didn't have a losing season again until 2005.

Fifth-year seniors on that 1989 team were on their fourth head coach. Between former coach Stan Parrish and Snyder, the Wildcats went winless in 30 consecutive games before beating North Texas in Snyder's first season.

There's a lot of irony there. Fry coached the Mean Green for six years. Current North Texas coach Seth Littrell is considered a top candidate to replace Snyder. He would have a lot to live up to.

At the time of his hiring, Snyder was a little-known Iowa offensive coordinator. The circumstances surrounding that hiring have become urban legend.

One story has it that Snyder's resume caught the eye of former K-State administrator Jim Epps, who was sifting through a stack of media guides. Another is that Snyder began work in the Vanier football complex before it was complete -- he was said to literally be at his desk with only three walls surrounding him while work was being completed on the building.

Snyder's eating habits sounded unbelievable but were actually true. The workaholic coach ate once a day, usually around midnight when the day's work was being completed.

Told several times by medical professionals that he needed to feed himself, Snyder brushed it off with a wave of his hand. There was work to be done.

If the world didn't know about Snyder in 1998, it certainly did after that year's Big 12 Championship Game. Kansas State blew a 12-point lead with nine minutes to go and lost to Texas A&M in overtime.

In the postgame, Snyder compared the empty feeling to the deaths of his mother and grandfather and the paralysis of his daughter, Meredith, in an automobile accident.

"I'm almost embarrassed to say it," Snyder said following the game, "but I had the same kind of feelings."

Adding insult to the loss, the 11-1 Wildcats were relegated to the Alamo Bowl, shut out of a major bowl because they were … K-State.

"I've always said I wouldn't identify which was the best of the teams that we've had," Snyder told ESPN. "But if push came to shove, it probably has to be that team."

The man was -- and is -- incredibly driven. Assistants complained of ungodly hours. One former player told CBS Sports that three-hour, 20-minute practices were routine.

But the head of the operation set an incredible example. A couple of years ago, Snyder was diagnosed with throat cancer. He seldom -- if ever -- missed a day in the office.

In fact, it was known that Snyder and his wife Sharon would drive two hours to Kansas City on days he had treatment only for Snyder to be back in his office later in the day.

Part of the Snyder legend was built on secrecy and mystery. Soon after taking the job, Snyder closed practice and shut out any prying eyes with a canvas surrounding the practice field. Injury information was minimal.

"Those practices are for football," senior linebacker Jeff Lowe said of those early days. "You don't have to worry about students coming by. I remember one time my redshirt freshman year some students came in and sat a cooler down and lawn chairs, propped their feet up and were drinking beer. Most of us wanted to  jump the fence and get after them. Now they won't be able to do that."

Snyder said he took the closed practice idea from Iowa legend Forest Evashevski.

"[Opponents] used to have guys hiding in the trees," Snyder said. "They'd send a manager over to chase them away."

Over the years, Snyder's coaching tree grew deep roots. Bob Stoops, brother Mike Stoops, Jim Leavitt and Bret Bielema all left Kansas State and eventually became head coaches.

In 2015, Snyder was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. At the time, he was one of only four coaches who had been active during their induction. The gala reception in New York that year drew some of the most powerful and well-known figures in college football, including former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne.

The two coaches battled doggedly in Snyder's early years. The Wildcats just couldn't get past the powerful Cornhuskers, who had won 28 in a row in the series. That was until a snowy 1998 night in Manhattan, Kansas, when K-State beat Nebraska, 40-30.

If it wasn't known by then, a statement was made. The Wildcats had arrived.

Snyder fell short of his last miracle. Stuck at 3-6 in November, K-State made a gallant run at bowl eligibility winning two in a row before taking a 17-point second-half lead at Iowa State. The Cyclones rallied, sending Snyder off the same way he debuted 30 years earlier -- with a loss.

In the end, the program suffered. Dozens of players transferred after last season. There was the prospect of many more this year. A couple of seasons ago, the unheard of occurred. Defensive back Corey Sutton blasted Snyder on Twitter for blocking the player in his attempt to transfer.

At the time, Snyder was blocking Sutton from transferring to 35 schools. Taylor eventually stepped in, allowing Sutton to transfer to his school of choice.

"Send [Snyder] out with honor and grace, a ceremony to honor his accomplishments and achievements. Do not take away his accomplishments," former player Gabe Crews said. "He has a statue outside. His name is on the stadium. His name is on a highway."

His legend will never be forgotten.

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