Mountaineers Don’t Know How 78-Year-Old K-State Coach Does It
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Kansas State coach Bill Snyder turned 78 last month. He’s the oldest head coach in Division I college football, and the margin is not even close. Other than 72-year-old Frank Solich at Ohio University, there’s not another FBS coach within a decade of Snyder, who was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on Oct. 7, 1939.
He graduated from tiny William Jewell College in 1962, and began his coaching career the next fall at Gallatin (Mo.) High School. Like most coaches, he bounced around for the next 17 years before landing at Iowa in 1979 where he spent the next 10 years as the Hawkeyes’ quarterback coach and offensive coordinator. That success at Iowa led to a head coach opportunity at Kansas State in 1989 at the tender age of 49 and other than three years he spent in brief retirement (2006-08), he’s been leading the Wildcats every since.
How old is Bill Snyder? Only two current Mountaineer assistant coaches, 59-year-old Joe Wickline and 57-year-old Bruce Tall, were even alive when Snyder began his coaching career. WVU’s youngest assistant, 29-year-old Tyron Carrier, was two when Snyder became the head coach at K-State.
Though he’s old enough to be the great grandfather for most his players, Snyder still is relevant as a coach in the modern age.
“I don’t know he does it, I don’t,” WVU’s 46-year-old head coach Dana Holgorsen pondered, shaking his head. “I don’t have any idea how he does it. It’s hard enough for me, and I know all these other young guys, like Lincoln (Riley), Kliff (Kingsbury) and all those guys, (David) Beaty, and a lot of other young guys in this league. It’s hard enough for them because it’s different. How these kids are raised, and how they learn, how they communicate, it’s different. It’s different for me and them, let alone Coach Snyder. I think probably at the end of the day, he just gets up and puts his head down. He knows football and he just goes in. He knows how to attack the opponent, and he gets that message across to his players. He gets them ready to play, and they go out and they play their tail off. It looks to me like they’re having fun doing it. It’s unbelievable.”
There’s no doubt that college coaching is typically a young man’s game. Now in his seventh season at West Virginia, Holgorsen is already the fifth oldest of the 10 Big 12 coaches, trailing only Snyder, 57-year-old TCU head coach Gary Patterson, 50-year-old Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy and 47-year-old Kansas head coach David Beaty. Tom Herman (42) of Texas, Matt Rhule (42) of Baylor, Kliff Kingsbury (38) of Texas Tech, Matt Campbell (37) of Iowa State and Lincoln Riley (34) of Oklahoma are league’s younger generation.
“He’s making this old guy proud,” said Wickline of Snyder, having coached against K-State since 1997 in his stops at Baylor (1997-98), Oklahoma State (2005-13), Texas (2014-15) and West Virginia (2016-present). “He’s a legend. I’ve coached throughout the Big 12. He always gets the most out of his guys, both on the field and off. He taps them for every drop they’ve got.”
After bouncing around the high school and small college coaching ranks through much of the ‘60s and mid-‘70s, Snyder got his first big break in 1976 when he was hired by Hayden Fry, who at that time was the head coach at North Texas. A few years later Fry was hired as the head coach at Iowa, taking Snyder with him and appointing him to serve as the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator. It was at that point Snyder came into the consciousness of a young, aspiring football coach growing up down the road in Davenport, Iowa – Dana Holgorsen.
“Do you guys remember that stand-up tight end? That was crazy,” WVU’s head coach chuckled, thinking back to Iowa’s signature formation during the Fry/Snyder years. “I still don’t understand that, honestly. I know I’ve asked him before, and it’s so you can see things and make calls, but that’s a tough get-off stance from there. But I’ve recognized it forever. Their (defensive coordinator) is the same way, Tom Hayes, he’s been around for a long time and has been doing the same stuff.
“I used to grow up going to those games, and (Snyder and Hayes) just happened to be on that staff with Hayden Fry and all those guys. That was a great tree; Bob Stoops, Mike Stoops were playing then. When I was going to games in high school, Bob Stoops was playing, and now he’s retired, and Coach Snyder is still going. It’s pretty crazy. Barry Alvarez was on that staff, Jay Norvell, Chuck Long. It’s a pretty good tree.”
A few months after George H.W. Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1989, Snyder moved to Manhattan, Kansas. In his 26 seasons at the KSU helm, Snyder has guided the previously hapless Wildcats to a 207-109-1 record. Along the way, he’s been named conference coach of the year seven times and national coach of the year three times. K-State has been to 18 bowl games in the Snyder era, after having attended just one in its history prior to his arrival. And the ‘Cats had just two winning records and hadn’t enjoyed more than six wins in the 55 seasons prior to Snyder saving the program.
They thinkso much of what he’s done in Manhattan that his name is now on the football complex – the Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
“I think Coach Snyder has won about 85 percent of his games at home,” said Holgorsen, giving Snyder only a little too much credit, but not much, as he is 133-35-1 (.798) all time in Manhattan. “Kansas State has a great stadium and have great fans and they’re well-coached, and it makes it harder at home, certainly, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t going to do our absolute best and expect to go win because we do.
“You can go back and look at the notes from the last six years, I’ve been extremely complimentary of Bill Snyder,” added Holgorsen, as he prepares for Saturday’s matchup with the 5-4 Wildcats in Manhattan. “I grew up watching him when he was at Iowa. A back when I was at Texas Tech in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, whatever, and I coached against him. He’s a Hall of Fame football coach. It’s an honor coaching against him.
“I haven’t even really heard, ‘It’s over’ talk like I have in the past because I think everybody just understands he’s going to go forever,” said Holgorsen of any possible Snyder re-retirement. “He’s like that quarterback in New England (Tom Brady), right? He just keeps going on and on and on and on. I don’t know how he does it; I’m not doing it.”