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Long road to success

Snyder was far from K-State's first choice when hired

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Posted: Friday December 25, 1998 05:32 PM

  Surpassing expectations: When Bill Snyder was hired, the K-State administration was only "dreaming of a halfway decent football team" AP

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- In life and football, it's funny how things work out.

Bill Snyder, The Associated Press national coach of the year and architect of what many are calling the greatest turnaround in the history of college football, was not Kansas State's first choice.

He wasn't even No. 5 or 6. Unbroken decades of unending futility had turned the place into such a coaching graveyard, president Jon Wefald and his staff could hardly get an established head coach to return their calls, let alone accept their challenge when they went looking for a new man in 1989.

"The conventional wisdom was that the football program was so bad, it was, in historical terms, irreversible," Wefald said.

What Kansas State and Wefald finally got -- nothing less than a miracle cure which has taken the Wildcats to six straight postseason games, including Tuesday's date with Purdue in the Alamo Bowl -- is really not what he had in mind.

"We were dreaming of a halfway decent football team, a competitive team that might go to a bowl every few years," he said.

In reality, however, he knew a lot more was at stake than an improved won-loss record. Nothing less than Kansas State's status as a major-college program was at stake. The losingest program in major college history, the only program with 500 losses, Kansas State never contributed any bowl or television money and would not be tolerated much longer in the Big Eight.

"We offered the job to about five or six head coaches," said Wefald. "Their attitude could be summed like this, 'Gimme a call in five or six years. You've got to be kidding.'

"And they said it with a smirk on their face. There wasn't anybody who thought we could have a 5-6 team, let alone an 11-1 team ranked No. 4 in the country that could go to the Alamo Bowl."

Although no established head coach was willing to risk his future on long-woeful Kansas State, that's the position Wefald was in after making a make-or-break career gamble of his own.

Since giving up his position as chancellor of the state university system in Minnesota in 1986 to take the helm at Kansas State, Wefald had decided to commit precious millions of dollars in scarce development funds to turning around the football program.

If he spent all this money on upgrading the program and had nothing to show for it, he would soon be the ex-president of Kansas State. And the Wildcats, more than likely, would drop out of major college football competition.

But first they had to find a head coach.

Jim Epps, the Wildcats' senior associate athletic director, suggested they take a look at the offensive coordinator at Iowa.

"Jim Epps is the one who spotted Bill Snyder. He got him to come here and interview," Wefald said.

In Snyder's first season in 1989, the Wildcats snapped a 29-game winless streak and closed out the decade in a 1-36-1 morass.

Now, recognized around the nation as one of college football's showcase programs, they'll take a '90s record of 76-28-1 mark into their game Tuesday night against the Boilermakers.

"I would say if there's an example in the last 20 years of the good Lord guiding a university in getting a football coach," Wefald said, "it would be Jon Wefald and [athletic director] Steve Miller being fortunate enough to attract Bill."

 
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