Given the success Kansas State is having (again) under Bill Snyder (again), it’s good to spend a little time thinking about how the 73-year old wonder does it. And, unsurprisingly, the reason K-State is winning now is the same reason K-State was winning before: because they play with great effort, great discipline, and they do all of the little things right (they also have some pretty good players, especially their quarterback Collin Klein and linebacker Arthur Brown).
Rightly or wrongly, coaches tend to look at football teams as reflections of their coaches: A hardworking team reflects a hardworking coach; an arrogant team an arrogant coach; a disciplined team a disciplined coach; and, most damning of all, a soft, undisciplined team for a soft, undisciplined coach.
There’s no doubt that Snyder’s teams reflect the man — driven, earnest, and, well, maybe even a little bit fanatical, as Tim Layden’s great piece explained a few years back:
When Snyder was 28, fresh from a year as a graduate assistant to John McKay at USC, he was hired to coach at Indio (Calif.) High, and he tried to have himself hypnotized so that he might compress six hours’ sleep into an hour’s trance. “The hypnotist just told me, ‘That’s not the way it works,’ ” Snyder says.
At Iowa, where Snyder coached under Hayden Fry from 1979 to ’88, his dissection of passing plays would reduce his fellow coaches to snickers. “Bill would’ve described a play for about two minutes, and he wouldn’t even have reached the point where the quarterback releases the ball,” says Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, who was the linebackers coach on that Iowa staff.
Snyder has worn the same style of coaching shoes for two decades. When Nike stopped making the model in the 1980s, he hoarded as many pairs as he could find, and now on the sideline he looks like a character from That ’70s Show.
All coaches script their game days, and most script their practices. Snyder also scripts his staff meetings and insists that his assistants show him scripts for their position meetings. Kansas State players are required to wipe their feet before entering the athletic complex, they’re not allowed to wear earrings, and their facial hair must be neatly trimmed.
If a team meal is not served on time, Snyder marches into the kitchen to speed up the process. He refuses to discuss injuries with the press, and he tightly limits access to his players. The phrase control freak comes to mind, and Snyder doesn’t fight it. “I probably do have that capacity,” he says.
Layden’s piece does a good job capturing the sacrifices men like Snyder make to build football teams, in spite of what goes on around them.
Snyder is at the top of his profession and in the race for a national title. Yet, like any perfectionist, he despises finite goaIs. “If we’re fortunate enough to win a national championship, I don’t believe it would be a culminating experience,” he says. “There’s no finality in any of this for me, other than death.”
Is he happy? “I’m not unhappy,” he says.
We should appreciate that men like Bill Snyder build football teams so well, a magnificent edifice that stands — for some brief period of time — as a monument to order, to discipline, to effort, and, most of all, to the coach. But men like Bill Snyder are not martyrs, either: they are paid handsomely to coach a sport, and any sacrifices they make in terms of family, faith, or otherwise are not for us, but for them. Instead they are like all artists: appreciate the work, and let others who know them better judge the man. All I know is Snyder paints a hell of a picture.