Bill and his first wife, Judy, were married in 1964, while Bill was coaching at Indio High. They had three children: Sean and daughters Shannon and Meredith. Bill took the family with him to Austin College in Sherman, Texas, in 1974 and to North Texas State in 1976. By the time Bill arrived at Iowa in the winter of '79, he was divorced. "I was simply a bad husband, that's all," he says. "I was a faithful husband, but a bad one. You could certainly say that football was a part of it."
He worked as hard then as he does now. "We never saw him," says Sean. In the summers following the divorce, the children would visit their dad in Iowa City and often run loose in the football complex while their father worked.
As long as there is a team to coach, Bill will never throttle back his office hours. Yet he feels he is trying to be a better father and husband. He recruited Sean to Iowa and encouraged his transfer to Kansas State, where he became an All-America punter and now works as the Wildcats' assistant athletic director for football operations. "It's been wonderful just to get to see him every day," says Bill. In 1984 Bill married Sharon Payne, whose 21-year-old son, Ross Snyder, is a reserve running back for Kansas State. Bill and Sharon have a 12-year-old daughter, Whitney, whom Bill calls on those nights when he knows he will be returning home after she is asleep. He calls Shannon and Meredith every day and recently bought 42 acres of Texas land to be divided among his first three children. "He seems a lot more relaxed than he was 10 years ago," says Shannon. "Now I can go visit him and get him to go out to dinner."
The most arresting moment in Bill's life as a father occurred on Feb. 14, 1992, when Meredith, then a senior in high school, was critically injured in a one-car accident near Judy's house in Greenville, Texas. Riding in the front seat between classmates, Meredith was thrown from the car, which flipped over seven times. When, after a seven-hour drive, Bill arrived at the Dallas hospital where Meredith had been taken, she was paralyzed from the neck down and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
Bill jumped into her life as never before, seeking out the best hospitals and rehabilitation centers, consoling Meredith when she needed it, pushing her like a football coach when she needed that. Within 2½ months she was breathing on her own, and within six months she was walking with the aid of crutches or a cane. Meredith, now 24 and a junior at Texas A&M-Commerce, can drive a car without special instruments. She will be married in May. "Bill has really come through for Meredith," says Judy. "It's made up for all those years he wasn't there."
"I can't tell you how much his encouragement has meant to me," says Meredith. "He has so much discipline, and he's instilled some of that in me."
Bill sat in his office during a recent food-less lunch hour. There is a framed picture of Meredith on the corner of his desk, taken during a ski trip at Big Bear (Calif.), almost two years after her accident. "She made 12 runs that day and didn't fall once," he says. His eyes water as he looks long at the photo and says, "She's such a strong-willed girl."
There is another frame, on a facing wall. In it is an animation eel of a scene from Pinocchio. It's Snyder's favorite movie. He has bought dozens of copies of the videotape and sent them to his children and to friends and acquaintances who have kids. Geppetto, Pinocchio's creator in the film, captured Snyder's heart. "This guy had a tremendous passion for children," says Snyder. "Then he goes through disappointment, yet he has the compassion to stay with it." It is surely how Snyder sees himself, in life and in football. As Geppetto, the builder with a soul.
He's home now. The suit jacket is laid neatly across the cooking island in the kitchen of his house in an upscale development three minutes from the stadium. In six hours he will be back in the office, chasing perfection again. Snyder is at the top of his profession and in the race for a national title. Yet, like any perfectionist, he despises finite goals. "If we're fortunate enough to win a national championship, I don't believe it would be a culminating experience," he says. "There's no finality in any of this for me, other than death."
Is he happy? "I'm not unhappy," he says.