How College Football's Most Underrated Coach Keeps Kansas State Relevant

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterJuly 24, 2014

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Before diving into another one of his signature long-winded answers, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder delivered a knockout opening line during Big 12 media days.    

"My degree of optimism is negotiated daily." 

That little gem came when Snyder was asked about his feelings heading into the 2014 season. Media days tend to encourage fluff and promising predictions, but Snyder is a master of downplaying just how good his teams can be. 

That, over time, probably lends a hand to K-State's nearly constant undervaluing. The Wildcats were picked sixth in both last year's preseason media poll and in 2012. In '11, K-State was projected to finish eighth

Snyder's record during those years: 29-10, including back-to-back seasons with double-digit wins and one Big 12 title (2012). 

Doubt Snyder at your own risk. The Wildcats have been anything but irrelevant. 

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  wide receiver Tyler Lockett #16 and offensive linesman BJ Finney #66 of the Kansas State Wildcats celebrates with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl trophy after defeating the Michigan Wolverines at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 201
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The preseason polls are starting to get the picture. K-State, which won six of its last seven games, is projected to finish third by media in this year's Big 12's standings, behind Oklahoma and Baylor. That's the highest K-State has been picked since the Big 12 went to 10 teams in 2011. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports and Matt Brown of Sports on Earth agree that the Wildcats are the Big 12 sleeper.

The team returns a veteran offensive line featuring center B.J. Finney, quarterback Jake Waters, receiver Tyler Lockett, defensive end Ryan Mueller and linebacker Jonathan Truman. As Kellis Robinett of the The Wichita Eagle writes, all were either former walk-ons or unheralded recruits: 

Receiver Tyler Lockett was overlooked by the two biggest football programs in his home state, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Quarterback Jake Waters didn’t receive his first Division I scholarship offer until he was a sophomore in junior college. Jonathan Truman and B.J. Finney — like Mueller — both joined the Wildcats as walk-ons. Little was expected out of them as they exited high school. Now, all five of them are receiving national attention.

It's familiar territory. The narrative (for better or worse) about the Wildcats is that they are rarely the most talented team on the field. Snyder is unofficially nicknamed "The Wizard" because he finds overlooked players before getting every last drop of potential out of them. Since Snyder's return in 2009, the Cats have finished at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in recruiting, according to 247Sports rankings. 

No lie, Google "How does Bill Snyder..." and the search engine auto-populates "do it?" Even the Internet is curious. 

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 28:  Wide receiver Tyler Lockett #16 of the Kansas State Wildcats runs with the football after a reception against the Michigan Wolverines during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium on December 28, 2013 in Tempe, Arizona.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

So, how does Snyder do it? 

"His attention to details in our personal lives and on the field is amazing," says center B.J. Finney, a former walk-on and first-team All-Big 12 selection by the Associated Press in 2013 and 2012. "He cares so much about his players."

At 74 years old, Snyder hasn't lost his football acumen, and he certainly hasn't lost his ability to connect with his players. He coaches them up, and along the way, draws comparisons between football and life. For many, that's coming sooner rather than later. 

"He prepares us to be ready to hang up the pads," Finney said, "because it's going to happen to all of us one day.

"He told our team one time, 'maybe 10 of you will go to the pros.'" 

It's easy to see why his players want to make every practice, weightlifting session, game and snap count. The program has a system, and it works for them. 

It doesn't always go smoothly. Snyder said repeatedly that his '13 team took things for granted dating all the way back to spring practice. When K-State was upset by North Dakota State 24-21 in Week 1, Snyder delivered the always-embarrassing "I told you so" postgame speech. 

K-State lost three more games in five weeks before turning things around. But then the turnaround started. By December, the Wildcats were having what Snyder said was the best bowl preparation he could remember. 

"What I learn is about other people," Snyder said. "The significant thing is not that I understand something, it's that our young people do. You can't do something two days in a row—practice hard, go to class—and expect to play lights out on Saturdays. You have to do it over a long period of time."

The lessons are as important, if not more so, than the wins. As long as he's healthy, as long as he's affecting his players positively, Snyder wants to keep coaching.

His laid-back style isn't for everyone. One anonymous Big 12 player told Fox Sports Southwest that Snyder would be the coach he'd least like to play for. 

"I'm a high-energy guy," the player said. "I've never met the guy and he doesn't look like he's too high-energy."

Question Snyder's energy levels if you must, few teams were rolling like K-State by the end of last season. If this team keeps that momentum going, perhaps Snyder's degree of optimism will finally change. 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.  


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