MANHATTAN — A change in the direction of Kansas State football is up to the coach who is not subject to changing.
Bill Snyder would not go as far as to divulge his intentions whether to return next season when he met with reporters Wednesday, a day before the Wildcats travel to Phoenix to prepare for their game Tuesday against UCLA in the Cactus Bowl.
Of course, how many people does Snyder include in his personal decisions? The circle is so tight it might at times be restricted to Snyder’s own mirror.
“As a good friend of mine told me, (Snyder) could be a great poker player and win a lot of money, because he does not give you a sense of what he’s thinking,’’ K-State athletic director Gene Taylor said. “I go back and forth, I honestly do, but I could not give you a sense of what he’s thinking.’’
Remember, K-State still actively is involved in a season of football, a sport Snyder has coached his entire adult life, with the exception of three years he toyed with retirement.
“I need to have more dialogue with my family,’’ he said. “I’ve had some dialogue with our administration and I need a little bit more dialogue with them. … It’s just about being more thorough with it. For me, it’s a big decision.’’
The last coach to post a winning record at Kansas State was the only other coach to guide the Wildcats to a conference title. That was in 1934, in the Big Six, under Pappy Waldorf, a Hall of Fame inductee who left after one season.
Snyder, a Hall of Fame inductee, has stayed for 26 seasons, spread over two stints, and stands 209-110-1.
So when Snyder decides to retire … again … for good …
“No matter whether it’s this year, or whenever it happens,’’ said Taylor, “it’s going to be monumental.’’
With a bowl opponent to break down, a game plan to orchestrate and the availability of high school recruits (home visits by Snyder seemed to increase) as part of an early signing period, the coach has been busy.
So much so he was, gasp, tardy to Wednesday’s news conference.
But then, he prefers to be occupied. Beyond normal hours. As much at the age of 78 as he did almost 30 years ago when he accepted the K-State coaching position.
Honestly, I am not sure Snyder would know what to do with himself if he retired.
It seemed to be that way the first time. He invested in a mentoring program he got involved in alongside his former Nebraska counterpart, Tom Osborne, but after three years of watching the football program he built begin to fray, Snyder longed to “calm the waters’’ and coach again.
After nine additional years on the job, the need for Snyder to deliberate about his future and provide an answer soon after the bowl game is an indication he wants to evaluate both his desire and his effectiveness.
“As far as the people in our program — players, etc. — I have to assess, which I haven’t done, just the impact positively or negatively that I’ve had with them,’’ Snyder said.
Different measurements will be used in that appraisal. The collective response from the Wildcats in association with the 16 goals Snyder established, and his ability to impart those values, will be something he attempts to determine.
Staffing will be something to address too after longtime offensive coordinator Dana Dimel accepted the head coaching job at UTEP. Other potential changes among assistants were not something Snyder said he was “aware of anyway, but there’s always a surprise in the closet.’’
The ability to hire a 10th assistant next season was where Snyder came the closest to confirming he would return.
“I’m still putting some thought into where we want that position to be, whether we want it on the offensive side or defensive side,” he said. “I haven’t come to 100 percent closure on it. I have a lot of people in mind, but haven’t made a decision yet.”
Something bothersome to those who support Kansas State is the level to which the Cats played in 2017. Picked to finish third in the Big 12, they were never in contention. The offense mostly struggled, and two quarterbacks were injured attempting an inordinate number of keepers. Four wins in the last five games contributed to the 7-5 record K-State takes into its bowl matchup with UCLA (6-6).
Also, there’s the issue of Snyder’s health. He overcame throat cancer, which he began receiving treatments for after the Cats’ win in the Texas Bowl a year ago. The recovery process left Snyder looking weak, though he forged on and, though slimmer, gained strength.
“I’ve been very impressed. I really have,’’ Taylor said. “When I first met him in May, he just didn’t look very healthy. Yet he hasn’t missed a practice.
“His car is there when I get here in the morning, and it is here when I leave at night. I’ve been really impressed and he seems sharp, as sharp as I’ve seen him in terms of conversations and stuff.’’
A list of potential coaching candidates exists for K-State’s first-year AD.
“They’re not written down,’’ he joked, “because you guys ask for open records.’’
Some potential replacements, Taylor said, probably would be available in spite of the later date Kansas State would have to make a change if Snyder opted to step down.
“I don’t really think in that detail,’’ Taylor said. “I think in my mind the processes and how he would go about it. If he were to say, ‘Gene, I’m going to retire,’ I would have to react to that. He says he’s not, I don’t react to it.
“I’ve had all the scenarios run through my mind and talked to the staff about the what-ifs. But right now, until he walks in and tells me what he’s thinking, I’m planning on him being here next year.’’
For years, that plan has been viable.
Snyder, however, is not getting any younger. No one is. His performance, and that of his staff, requires a thorough evaluation both from himself and the K-State administration as to whether the waters truly are calm.