Manhattan — The numbers read, “25:00” when I hit the stop button on my recording device. Of course they did. Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder told event organizers he would speak for 25 minutes, so he spoke for 25 minutes. Not 24 minutes and 59 seconds. Not 25 minutes and one second. Precisely 25 minutes.
In giving the keynote address Wednesday at the 20th Annual Sunflower Chapter of the National Football Foundation’s Scholar-Athlete Banquet, Snyder revealed a glimpse into what has enabled him to execute two amazing resurrections of a football team, the first in the 20th century. He’s in the midst of the second one.
Snyder spoke of the days when he had just finished 1-10 in 1989, his first season as Kansas State head football coach. That made K-State 4-50-1 in the past five seasons.
“I had phone calls from the very few friends that I had and every one of them said you had better get out of there as quickly as you can or you will be selling insurance in a year’s period of time,” Snyder said. “Now there’s nothing wrong with selling insurance, but I didn’t know anything about that either.”
The lone victory, 20-17 against North Texas in the fourth game of the season, ended a 30-game victory drought for the school.
“At the time (his friends told him to bolt) I said I’ve never been more convinced in my life that this program has a chance to have a certain degree of success,” Snyder said. “And the reason was because the young people in that program, those 47 young people all committed themselves to trying to get better.”
Snyder led them to that commitment the same way then as he does now, by holding up a mirror to each player, making him define his priorities and then in uncompromising fashion holding each player accountable to the goals they set for themselves.
“We talk to young people in our program about having them invest in that simple concept of trying to become just a little bit better each and every day in those things that are priorities in your life,” Snyder said.
When Snyder took over at Kansas State, the NCAA had just reduced the football scholarship limit from 105 to 95. Kansas State had 47 players on scholarship, making the Wildcats “the lowest scholarship program in college football.”
Every day, Snyder said, he would speak to every individual on the team in the locker room, having the exits manned so nobody could escape his simple questions.
“They thought, ‘Who is this guy and when can we get rid of him?’ We would talk every single day about priorities,” Snyder said. “I would go around the room today and ask, ‘What are your priorities? What’s important to you in life?’ And I wouldn’t stop. I would go back the next day and the next day and I would always ask, ‘What can you do to make yourself just a little bit better in whatever priority you just allowed me to understand?’ Eventually, over a period of time, they thought, ‘Well, we might as well try it because he’s not going to give up.’”
Snyder is quietly relentless that way. He just doesn’t stop. He never lets up on his assistant coaches and his players. His relentless way brings out the best in those who work for him because they want to be ready with an answer to avoid feeling uncomfortable in his presence.
“They began to venture forth with thoughts about what was important to them and what they might do on that given day to get better,” Snyder said of his first players.
The coach told of how his assistants would head to their meetings with players every day armed with an agenda that included defining “goals for that particular day.” And when Snyder went around the locker room, he would ask the same question every day: “What did you today to get better and how did you get better? How did it happen, and if it didn’t, why not and how can we change that?”
Every day. No exceptions.
“It’s so simple,” Snyder said. “For me, for you, for anyone in this room. Define what’s important in our lives and it’s easy to determine how we can become just a little bit better at it today. And those little bit betters add up. Today, tomorrow, a little bit. And if we have the persistence, over a period of time that becomes very substantial.”
The last 11 Kansas State football coaches not named Bill Snyder have combined for a 135-393-11 record, a .261 winning percentage. In his two assignments, Snyder has gone 170-85-1, a .666 winning percentage. And he makes it sound so simple and it is. Simply brilliant.