Manhattan This wasn’t the rebuilding job Bill Snyder inherited the first time he arrived at Kansas State. Not by a long shot. The program back then was on the verge of extinction, its facilities on the level as some high school programs — and its performance on the field not much better.
Instead, Snyder came back from a brief retirement three years ago to “calm the waters.”
There was plenty of angst surrounding the program after the roller-coaster ride of Ron Prince, and Snyder understood that everything he had built the first time around was on the verge of coming undone. But there were pieces that he could work with and a blueprint some 20 years old that he could follow.
Recruit the right players. Build depth. Instill a winning attitude.
After a couple of tedious years, Snyder’s second rebuilding job is ready to pay off. The Wildcats are coming off their first bowl appearance since 2006, return 24 players who started at least one game and will suit up highly touted brothers Arthur and Bryce Brown after they sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules.
“If there was a little disarray there, if I could, I wanted to bring people back into the same kind of environment they’ve become accustomed to,” the 71-year-old Snyder said Friday during the program’s annual media day, recalling his decision to return to the sidelines after three seasons away.
“Maybe we’re beginning to turn the corner a little bit.”
Expectations are certainly high again in Manhattan, just like they were during the 1990s, those heady days when the Wildcats were a fixture in the national polls.
Kansas State opens its season against Eastern Kentucky on Sept. 3 before hosting Kent State two weeks later. That should give the Wildcats ample opportunity to work out any kinks before a visit to Miami on Sept. 24, their final nonconference game and one that could prove critical to any sustained success.
The Wildcats, of course, will play the entire Big 12 gauntlet now that Colorado and Nebraska have left for other conferences. That includes a homecoming game against Oklahoma, one of the overwhelming favorites to win the national championship, and high-profile match-ups against Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
Most of those teams are expected to be ranked when the AP preseason poll is released.
“Knowing Coach Snyder, from the top to the bottom, every position across the board, it’s going to be competitive,” said Collin Klein, who is first in line to start at quarterback. “It’s that way on purpose. Everybody gets an opportunity to make plays. When you get that opportunity, you’d better make the most of it.”
That’s because there’s somebody else waiting in line.
Snyder believes the Wildcats have more depth across the board than each of the past two seasons, even though they are well under the NCAA scholarship limit. He also said several positions are up for grabs early in fall camp, particularly on defense, where Kansas State struggled mightily a year ago.
If competition breeds competition, the Wildcats are on the right track.
“With no depth chart, I think it’s really helping the team a lot,” wide receiver Broderick Smith said. “You have everyone out here working hard, because they’re thinking they have a chance.”
One of the big reasons that Snyder has been able to rapidly rebuild the program is because he’s surrounded by many of the same coaches that helped establish Kansas State so many years ago.
Co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel started off as a graduate assistant at Kansas State in 1987 and ‘88, prior to Snyder’s arrival from Iowa, back when the program was in the midst of a 30-game winless streak.
His co-coordinator, Del Miller, is in his third stint on the Kansas State staff. Defensive ends coach Joe Bob Clements played for Snyder and got his start in coaching during the 1999 season, while Michael Smith followed a similar career trajectory. Defensive line coach Mo Latimore is starting his 28th year in Manhattan.
And on and on it goes, all the way down to graduate assistants Jonathan Beasley and Blake Seiler, both former players who understand the Kansas State culture.
“My first year here was ’94, so as a player there was never a year I didn’t go to a bowl game. But the guys who built the foundation, when they weren’t going to bowl games, they have seen some similarities in the rebuilding,” Clements said. “It feels like we’re progressing maybe a little faster than we did back then.
“I would like to expect that we’d have a better record than we had last season,” he added. “I would like to expect there’s not a game we can’t walk in and win, and I don’t know if we could say that last couple seasons. So in that respect, maybe expectations have increased. We’ve certainly made progress.”