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Miracle Man
November 23, 2008
By Wendell Barnhouse
Big 12 Correspondent

A decade ago, Kansas State came within an overtime loss of playing for college football's national championship.

That's as surreal a sentence as has ever been typed.

In 1998, the first season of the Bowl Championship Series, the Wildcats were ranked No. 1 and only a 36-33 loss to Texas A&M in the Dr Pepper Football Championship game kept Kansas State from playing in the Fiesta Bowl.

That's the same Kansas State that 10 years earlier had ended second consecutive seasons (1987-88) with an 0-21-1 record.

Bill Snyder, the man in charge of that remarkable resurrection deserves special recognition. He has been selected as Kansas State's Big 12 Conference legend and will serve as the group spokesman when the Legends are honored the weekend of the Dr. Pepper Football Championship game.

In 1989, the year Snyder arrived, a Sports Illustrated story tagged Kansas State as "Futility U." At that time, for Kansas State to reach .500 for its all-time record would require a 211-game winning streak. Snyder retired in 2005 with a 136-68-1 record. The previous 14 Kansas State coaches, dating back to 1935, won a total of 137 games.

"What started here in 1989 is one of the most remarkable stories in our history," Wefald said. "This really is a Field of Dreams story. We recruited a staff of people who believed in a dream, and we convinced our alumni to invest in a dream.

"But the pivotal player, of course, was coach Bill Snyder."

Not only was Snyder able to identify players who could be successful playing for Kansas State, he found young assistants who hungered to work long hours. The Kansas State staff included future head coaches Bob and Mark Stoops, Mark Mangino, Jim Leavitt and Dana Dimel.

"I knew all of those guys and I wanted people I was familiar with," Snyder said. "They all had the intrinsic values that made them successful as assistants and helped them become head coaches. They provided a foundation for winning."

Snyder not only built a winning football program where none existed, he saved a school from ruin. When Wefald came on campus, enrollment was falling, the faculty was dispirited, the facilities and fund raising were crumbling.

When he took the job, Snyder made sure that then-athletic director Steve Miller understood about the money that was required to do the football job. But Snyder also knew that money funneled into football would ruffle feathers on the academic side.

Wefald credits Snyder with making sure that academics were stressed. He regularly spoke to the faculty about their importance and impact.

"To have a successful university, everybody has to pull in the right direction," Snyder said. "It was important to me to have our faculty actively involved. I wanted them to support our mission because I wanted our mission to be the same as their mission.

"That's one of things I'm proudest of."

Sheahon Zenger, a former Kansas State player and now the athletic director at Illinois State, recalled how football's success impacted fund raising.

"When I'd go to see donors on the academic side (while a fundraiser for the college of business), we'd spend the first 10 to 20 minutes talking about Kansas State football," Zenger told the Topeka Capital-Journal. "It was the icebreaker, the espirit de corps across the campus."

Here's how Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock described Snyder's accomplishment:

"It wouldn't be hard to craft an argument that Bill Snyder had Bill Walsh's mind, Dick Vermeil's work ethic, Tony Dungy's patience, Bill Belichick's focus and Hugh Hefner's eye for young talent.

"You could reasonably argue that Bill Snyder was the best football coach America ever produced.

"Lifting Kansas State from football's abyss while operating in the Big Eight/Big 12 is the kind of miracle usually reserved for the Bible. ... Snyder took the worst job in college football and created one of the best teams. The team changed. The job never did. You understand the difference?"

It's the difference between legendary and ordinary.

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