Bill Snyder is the only football coach I’ve ever known (sans a forgettable three year hiatus for the Ron Prince Love Sweepstakes), and he’s become the image I associate KSU football with more than anything else. So it pains me that we’ve reached this unfortunate point in his long and distinguished career. Just a few short years ago, I’d have deemed you crazy if you’d told me this program would reach a point that I’d internally pine for his retirement. But now with the team sitting 3-4 (following a 9-4 campaign and returning 16 starters, including QB Jesse Ertz), it’s time to take a look at why calling it quits (after the season) is in everyone’s best interest.
This is the most relevant (and delicate) data point. It’s almost unfathomable that a man in his late seventies could fully perform in his occupation while simultaneously receiving treatments for cancer – let alone one who coaches college football for a living. Yet Snyder has done it, seemingly without a hitch following his diagnosis in February. But for how long? He is mortal and at some point you have to wonder if its still worth the grind on a daily basis. To me, he’d be much better off relaxing and enjoying his family rather than enduring the rigors of football until his time eventually runs out.
Bill has never placed a premium on recruiting, however his tactics have been noticeably different (and more removed) in his second tenure. In the program’s heyday, he and his staff were known for relentlessly pursuing players they felt were undervalued and were also well-documented in scouring the JUCO ranks (which were only lightly recruited by big programs back in those days). His overall philosophy was drastically different as well. Rather than stick with a defined system and plug players into it – he would focus on getting the best talent available to KSU and then tailor a scheme to utilize their strengths. Unfortunately, 2.0 has relied more on a strict system predicated on the QB run-game, in which the staff apparently believes even moderately talented players can succeed. There is some degree of truth to this (especially if you can deploy a Heisman-caliber QB), but it’s usually limited to beating non-elite teams. Seriously, since Collin Klein exhausted his eligibility, KSU is 0-17 against opponents who finished the season ranked (0-3 in the two years prior to Klein – they were 3-4 in his tenure). That is an insanely concerning stat, and one that strongly indicates this program has been devoid of talent which in turn gets exposed against good teams. (In a somewhat related vein, his best teams in the late 90’s/early 00’s were known for their “swagger” and willingness to go toe-to-toe with the best teams – but I can’t recall the last time I saw that from a KSU squad. These days, it appears they’re playing not to lose rather than playing to win, and that’s a mentality problem that seems to project from the top.)
Snyder is well-chronicled for never having fired an assistant coach. That’s problematic when a coach simply isn’t doing his job adequately. Case in point: Dana Dimel. The common belief is that Dimel (the co-offensive coordinator) took over playcalling duties starting in 2013 and, ironically enough, some of the most bewilderingly called games have occurred since that season (and even more frequently since the start of 2015). It’s reached the point where it’s costing games, and Bill came as close as he ever will to publicly admonishing an assistant when he commented on the playcalling after a 6 point effort against TCU a couple weeks ago. Yet I’m certain Dimel will continue assembling poor game plans and won’t be reprimanded. That’s unacceptable, and that lack of accountability is detrimental to every level of the team – including the players.
One of the most troubling developments over the past two seasons has been Snyder’s inexplicable public advancement of his son Sean (who has no coaching experience beyond the special teams coordinator for his father) as his successor. He’s gone out of his way to endorse him at every turn, and it’s been heavily rumored that Bill is still coaching for the sole purpose of securing Sean the job. That’s alarming, and there were even further whispers this summer that that designation (which apparently led to Sean being in charge while Bill was sparingly away for treatment) rubbed members of the staff the wrong way and resulted in a certain degree of internal resentment. With the way both sides of the ball have looked completely disconnected at times…that’s certainly a plausible conclusion.
Unwillingness to Modernize
A significant knock on Bill has long been his rigid approach to discipline/detail, in particular his reluctance to add any form of alternate uniform in the name of consistency. It seemed mountains had been moved when he finally consented to a one time alternate helmet for 2016’s Fort Riley Day, but the fan and player reaction was palpable. It may seem frivolous on the surface, but things like this matter to kids these days and for someone who has a reputation for unparalleled attention to minor details – one would think Bill would have been in favor of something like this well before now. He also won’t allow for any flexibility in his conditioning/practice routines, and players have voiced their concerns more frequently than ever. There’s happens to be tangible evidence of this, often exhibited in the bowl games when the team looks like they simply have no legs (because they likely don’t). It’s simple tweaks like these that Bill has refused to make that only further the notion that he’s lost his touch.
The Timing is Favorable (Relatively Speaking)
I touched on the recent recruiting shortcomings above, *however* I do believe there is more talent on this roster (and next season’s – at least on paper) than in a typical year. That could bode well for an incoming coach, who I’m sure would prefer to have something (if not exactly what he desired) rather than a completely bare cupboard, so to speak. More stadium renovations are scheduled and with more money being pumped into the program (on top of a fanbase anxious to have something to get excited about) – now is as conducive a time as any for a transition.
I’m in no way advocating for Bill to be fired. But I do feel it’s a very appropriate moment to discuss the direction this program is headed – both long and short term. Clarity is needed, and soon.