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While he built it, Bill Snyder might also destroy Kansas State football

NCAA Football: Kansas State at Vanderbilt

When Bill Snyder arrived as the head coach of the Wildcats on November 24th, 1988,  Kansas State had a cumulative record of 299–510 (.370) in 93 years of play, which was easily the most losses of any team in Division I-A at the time. Since then, Snyder has gone on to make Kansas State football nationally recognized, has had his team competing at a championship level, including two Big 12 titles, three Big 12 North division titles, and in his past 21 seasons coaching Kansas State, the team has only missed a bowl game three times. What Bill Snyder has accomplished at K-State may never happen again on the same level. Coaches move around too much, the pressure for immediate success is too high, and loyalty does not exist in the sport.

But as impressive as Snyder has built up Kansas State football, he could just as well destroy it.

A new report from Brett McMurphy said that Kansas State had an agreement with Jim Leavitt to become its head-coach-in-waiting and then head coach in 2018:

Jim Leavitt had a verbal agreement last year to become Kansas State’s head coach-in-waiting and become its current coach in 2018, but KSU coach Bill Snyder nixed it because he wanted his son Sean as his replacement.

Sources said Kansas State’s top officials, including president Richard Myers, and the school’s highest-profile boosters were all on board with Leavitt, then a Colorado assistant, joining KSU’s staff and then replacing the legendary Snyder after the 2017 season. Leavitt and the school had an agreement, guaranteeing Leavitt $3 million if he wasn’t named K-State’s coach by Jan. 1, 2018.

However, last December, Snyder pushed back on Leavitt, a former KSU assistant, being named his replacement because Snyder wanted his son Sean, currently KSU’s associate head coach and special teams coordinator, to replace him, sources said.

If true, and McMurphy is one of the best reporters out there, this is a damn shame.

Snyder has said since 2015 that his son, Sean, runs the K-State football program. Well since then, the Wildcats are 20-16. This season, which had expectations of a potential Big 12 championship, has not gone as planned as Kansas State is fighting for a bowl appearance. Outside of “knowing the Kansas State program”, which honestly, what does that even mean (?), Sean Snyder has zero qualifications for the job. He’s a special teams coordinator, who is Daddy’s boy.

None of this is meant to be a knock on Sean, who I’m sure is a fine individual. But this is about the future of a football program being high jacked by a head coach who now thinks he’s bigger than the program and the university.

I recently read a book that was written by Mark Janssen in 2006 called, “Bill Snyder: They Said it Couldn’t be Done.” It’s essentially a biography on Synder.

In this book, it discusses Bill’s marriage to his first wife Judy, who he divorced in 1979 after 15 years of marriage and three children, including Sean.

Janssen writes on page 30, “The Snyders, Bill 25, Judy 24, would celebrate the birth of their three children – Sean, Shannon and Meredith – during the next 10 years in California. Judy remembers the early years as happy times, filled with side-trips to San Diego and Las Vegas. Was Snyder a good father? “Probably not because I was away from home a lot,” Snyder said.” 

Does this give us a little bit of insight into Snyder’s regrets from earlier in his life? We all have them and many of us spend a large part of our lives trying to remedy them. Is getting Sean the top job in Kansas State a small way for Bill to feel better about mistakes he made as a young father? Is that what drives him so intensely on this topic?

I’m not trying to be over psychological here, but the force with which Snyder appears to be lobbying for his son to get the job seems awfully unusual. Just look down to Norman, Oklahoma. Bob Stoops had his brother Mike on staff, and he knew Lincoln Riley was the future head coach, not his blood relative. Oh, and Mike actually had head coaching experience.

In many way, Snyder has pushed the university into a corner and is twisting its arm to get what he wants. Hell, his name is in the freakin’ stadium. 

But this is a story we have seen far too often in college sports. From Woody Hayes to Bobby Bowden to Joe Paterno (minus all the illegalities), these coaches become personalities that are bigger than the programs themselves. It’s rarely healthy for the future of the program.

Here’s the difference between Ohio State, Florida State, Penn State and Kansas State. K-State football could end up as an average, run-of-the-mill football program if they don’t play their cards right.

The fear is that if Bill gets his way and Sean fails, Kansas State is a far less desirable job. Also, how long would Sean’s leash even be? Would Bill still be working back channels to make sure his son doesn’t get fired? This whole thing is and would become even more of a circus.

Hell, just look down the road to Lawrence for a view at what football purgatory looks like. It was ten years ago the Jayhawks were in an Orange Bowl. Things can turn that quickly.

If things did not work out, then in a best case scenario, Kansas State becomes a decent Power 5 job, but not a highly desirable one. It, once again, becomes a stepping stone job, at best. You know who it would not be a stepping stone job for? Jim Leavitt. He’s 60 years old and Kansas State would be his final stop, with hopefully a high rate of success.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Leavitt would win at an incredibly high level in Manhattan. But he helped build a start-up South Florida football program in 1996 from an FCS football team into a solid FBS team that was capable of winning nine games per season. Last year, he did he a fantastic job as Colorado’s defensive coordinator. He spent six years at Kansas State in the 1990’s under Snyder working his way up to co-defensive coordinator with Bob Stoops.

Oh, and just like Sean, Leavitt “knows the Kansas State football program.”

So if it’s true that Bill Snyder is basically holding his own athletic department hostage, shame on him. He should know better. And Kansas State deserves better.

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