MANHATTAN (AP) — Bill Snyder retired six years ago convinced that he was done with coaching college football. He wanted to spend more time with his family, make up for all of his kids' ballgames and ballets that he missed while building Kansas State to unprecedented heights.
The 72-year-old coach came back to the sidelines three years ago rejuvenated. And in that short of time he did the unthinkable: Snyder returned his once-mighty program to the national consciousness.
On Tuesday, he was the runaway pick as the AP's Big 12 coach of the year.
Snyderwas selected on 16 of the 17 ballots turned in by media members who regularly cover the league. Mike Gundy of Oklahoma State, which won the Big 12 championship but was left out of national title game despite just one loss, received the only other vote.
"I am extremely proud of our coaches and the young men in our program for working and preparing each day to get better," Snyder said in a statement to the AP. "The success we have had to this point in the season has been a direct result of that, and I appreciate very much their willingness to work and achieve the goals that we set out each day to accomplish."
Picked to finish eighth in the conference, the No. 11 Wildcats (10-2) instead finished eighth in the BCS. They were bypassed by the Sugar Bowl for two teams with lesser resumes, but will still play No. 7 Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl, one of four matchups between top-10 teams in the BCS standings.
It's the third time that Snyder has been voted Big 12 coach of the year — he also was the AP's national coach of the year in 1998, when the Wildcats were within a double-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the Big 12 title game of playing for the national championship.
That magical season was the culmination of his first rebuilding job, one that virtually nobody thought possible. The worst program in the history of college football had been winless in 27 games, and hadn't won a conference championship in more than five decades. Friends begged the non-descript offensive coordinator from Iowa not to take the job, believing that it was career suicide.
By his fifth season, Snyder had Kansas State winning its first bowl game. Five more years passed and the school rose to the doorstep of the national title. Five more years went by and the Wildcats knocked off then-No. 1 Oklahoma for the Big 12 championship on a cold night at Arrowhead Stadium.
Former Oklahoma coach was so impressed that he labeled Snyder the "Coach of the Century."
"He's incredibly consistent in an inconsistent world," Kansas State athletic director John Currie said. "If you talk to the ones who played for him 10 or 15 or 20 years ago who are sometimes in the locker room, they will tell you he's teaching and coaching exactly the same way he always has."
It wasn't long after that Big 12 triumph that Snyder abruptly retired. He was burned out, he felt badly for neglecting his family all those years, watching game film instead of school plays, catching high school games on Friday nights that involved talented recruits rather than his own children.
He never strayed far from the program, though. It's hard to when the stadium is named in your honor, as is the four-lane highway that runs into town.
So when the program floundered under Snyder's replacement, Ron Prince, the school didn't have to look far for a savior. He still had an office in the Vanier Football Complex.
It took just two years for Snyder to return Kansas State to a bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl last December in New York City. And another 12 months to place the Wildcats among the nation's elite.
"We don't have no five-star recruits, four-star recruits. We don't have no big athletes like other teams have. We just stick together and do our role, and continue to work hard until there's zeroes on the clock," cornerback David Garrett said. "He makes sure he instills all that into us."
Garrett said it best: Perhaps no coach is better at doing more with less than Snyder.
He took a defense that was among the worst in the league and reshaped it into the best. He took a quarterback in Collin Klein who struggles to throw the ball and concocted an option-style offense that allows him to use his feet. He recruited junior college players and the quintessential diamond-in-the-rough and molded them into his vision of what a team should look like.
"If we don't pay attention, he's going to make sure of it, and that happens every day," Garrett said. "Coach Snyder is a hard coach, but at the end of the day, he's a caring coach, too."
Currie, who was hired shortly after Snyder returned to the sideline, marvels at the fact that he never has to worry about the football program. In two decades, the Wildcats have never been embroiled in a major scandal like those enveloping other schools, their graduation rates are among the best in the Big 12, and the number of players who have gone on to the NFL under Snyder is staggering.
"We're fortunate to have his leadership," Currie said, "and I think college football is fortunate to have an example of leadership like Bill Snyder."
Of course, Snyder would blanch at all the plaudits that he's receiving this year.
He's already won the Woody Hayes Award, presented to the coach of the year by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, and he's a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award, which is given out by the Football Writers Association of America to the nation's most deserving coach.
"I'm happy with it, but that's not that important thing. I've been there, done that," Snyder said. "We're talking about a whole bunch of young guys — you hear seniors get up and talk about their experiences, what they've gone through the last three or four years — that's the reward for me."