MANHATTAN — Ryan Doerr can’t count the number of times growing up that he saw video of Bill Snyder, looking much younger than he does these days, talking about how the opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football existed at Kansas State.
What the senior punter never anticipated was that he’d partake in a second resurrection.
“I remember I was just a little redshirt freshman,” Doerr said with a smile. “It was just kind of like, ‘Man, we have a chance to be part of something really, really spectacular.’”
Nobody else thought that way a few years ago, when Snyder announced that he was coming out of retirement, just like nobody thought that way when he was first hired in 1989, and vowed that one of the laughingstocks of major college football could become a winner.
The Wildcats were winless the year before he arrived, but that first senior class won five games by their final season, pouring the foundation for the program’s success in the 1990s.
“You could see a shift, or a swing, in how everybody started to see everything,” said Eric Gallon, who played running back for Kansas State from 1989-92. “Everybody started to believe.”
The program hadn’t fallen to such disrepair as he found it when Snyder returned to the sideline a few years ago, but the redshirt freshman year for quarterback Collin Klein and many other seniors still around the program featured just five wins under former coach Ron Prince.
In Snyder’s first season back, the Wildcats won six games. Then seven. Then 10. And they’ve already won 10 this season, with a chance for one more Saturday against No. 23 Texas.
Not the greatest turnaround in college football history, but a pretty good one.
“They were in a position, maybe, to not totally replicate that, but to become maybe the second greatest turnaround,” Snyder said earlier this week.
“One thing that we spoke about as a team throughout summer was continue to strive and be better, raise the bar,” Wildcats linebacker Arthur Brown said. “That’s going to give future K-Staters something to strive for, something to reach for.”
Brooks Barta, who redshirted in 1988 before playing four years for Snyder, becoming an All-Big Eight linebacker, remembers the original transformation. He remembers the way the program was under Stan Parrish, and the tremendous change that took place when Snyder became coach.
“Coach Snyder doesn’t talk a lot about toughness, but you became a mentally, physically and emotionally tougher person as a result of everything you did,” Barta said.
“It’s really kind of hard to imagine him saying it and then actually accomplishing it or achieving it because, at the time, when you’re young, you don’t think about those type of things,” Gallon said. “You don’t think about the long term.
“What he said, and what he did to achieve it,” Gallon added, “is amazing.”
Fast forward about 20 years, and it’s no less amazing.
Snyder has proven at age 73 that the game has not passed him by, and while players have changed, the same blueprint (slightly tweaked) could be used to rebuild the program.
“It wasn’t like Las Vegas growing out of the sand,” Snyder said. “It just happened gradually over a period of time, and I think that’s what’s happened with these guys, and it allows them to understand the value of daily, consistent, gradual, step-by-step improvement.”
Most of the 27 seniors — 22 on the two-man depth chart, including 12 who start — remember the days of mediocrity, and they’re the ones who have prevented any backsliding the past four years.
Guys like Klein, who is likely headed for the Heisman Trophy ceremony next week.