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Published: 9/10/2010

Can K-State's Snyder perform another miracle?

Interesting, surprising scores move over the wire every Saturday during the college football season. Last weekend was no different.

You may have noticed Oregon 72, New Mexico 0. Or, perhaps, you lifted your eyebrows at North Dakota State 6, Kansas 3. But it was another score from the land of wheat and soybeans that caught our attention - Kansas State 31, UCLA 22.

Is Bill Snyder going to do the impossible for a second time? Does he have another Manhattan Miracle in him as a great-grandfather at soon-to-be 71?

Snyder took over what was generally considered the worst program in major college football when he moved to Manhattan, Kan., in November of 1988. Kansas State had won a total of three games the previous four seasons, was in the midst of a 27-game winless streak, and usually fewer than 20,000 fans rattled around its stadium on game days. It is the same school that once agreed to play a league series versus Oklahoma in Norman for five straight years because it could make more money than if it played at home.

Nobody, and we mean nobody, wanted the Kansas State job. It was a coaching graveyard. It was then the only Division I program in the nation with 500 losses. But Snyder, the innovative offensive coordinator who helped Hayden Fry resurrect Iowa's program in the Big Ten, was at least willing to listen. When Bo Schembechler, the Michigan coach, was asked by Kansas State for a reference, he rather profanely suggested the school should hire Snyder "and get him out of this conference."

In the 54 years prior to his arrival, K-State coaches had managed 137 wins. In 17 seasons, Snyder went 136-68-1 and 79-57-1 in conference play. In 1993, the school captured its first bowl victory. In '94, it gained its first Top 10 ranking. KSU was ranked No. 5 or higher the entire '98 season. In 2003, the Wildcats did the unthinkable, beating Oklahoma 35-7 in the Big 12 championship game for its first league title since 1934.

That prompted Barry Switzer, the Sooners' former coach, to say, "Bill Snyder isn't the coach of the year and he isn't the coach of the decade. He's the coach of the century."

The century ended, so to speak, with Snyder's retirement after the 2005 season. Appreciative K-State named its stadium in honor of the Snyder family. Opposing teams whose buses pull on and off I-70, not far from campus, find themselves on Bill Snyder Highway. It was a job well done.

And then it came undone. His successor, Ron Prince, was 16-18 in three years and the seats in Bill Snyder Family Stadium emptied. The Wildcats were again the Mildcats; the school went looking for a new coach and quickly hired an old coach.

Snyder returned a year ago and K-State came within one win of the Big 12 North title. The Wildcats opened this season with the win over UCLA and will likely be 4-0 when Nebraska visits Manhattan on Oct. 7.

Who are college football's best coaches? Sheer numbers say you start with Joe Paterno, another guy who has exceeded retirement age, but who has long had the advantage of the word Penn, not Kansas, coming before the word State.

After that, it's all conjecture. Jim Tressel, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, and Mack Brown would be on most everybody's list. But not including Bill Snyder of the Manhattan Project, Part II, would be a serious oversight.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398.



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