When Snyder was interviewing for the Kansas State job in 1988, the program resided in abject and seemingly permanent misery. Sports Illustrated called it "Futility U." The program owned a a cumulative record of 299–510 (.370) in 93 years of playing the game. The Wildcats had been to one bowl game and had last won a conference title in 1934. Snyder was considering taking over a program that was winless in its last 27 games.
But instead of focusing on the football program, Snyder wandered the campus and stopped to talk to students and faculty. It was a cold November day, but he was engaged warmly. Folks had time for his questions. To Snyder, that was reason enough to take the job. These people deserved a football program that would make them proud.
"The thing about Kansas State is you won't beat the people," All-Big-12 center B.J. Finney said. "It truly is a family. You can walk up and talk to anybody. [A football game ] is like coming to a big, family holiday dinner."
"Family" isn't a term employed opportunistically by an ambitious coach who is climbing the employment ladder. Kansas State is Snyder's family.
He coached there 17 years and transformed the program into a national power and never considered bolting for a more marquee job. He then retired in 2005. When the program foundered in 2008, he came back because his family needed him, providing reporters with the previously noted quote as his motivation.
Snyder only agreed to have the stadium named after him if they included the word "Family." The statue includes hand impressions of 18 members of Snyder's extended family at its base. On the Wildcats' 2013 poster, linebacker Tre Walker holds up a two-by-four that simply reads "Family." You see those throughout the stadium on game days.
"Family" at Kansas State is a stadium swaying in unison to the "Wabash Cannonball," the school's second but more famous fight song. Family is Joan Friederich working as an administrative assistant in the football office for 42 years. Family is the Kansas State band circulating through Aggieville, the festive restaurant and bar district just off campus, firing up fans on Friday nights. Family is half of the program's season ticket holders commuting from more than 100 miles away for home games.
The family has grown up. Kansas State's athletic facilities are first-rate. "Futility U" is a quaint part of the school's history.
But if you ask any Kansas State football fan what their program is about, the will say two things: Bill Snyder and family.
LOS ANGELES -- The first giveaway that I was in a land far, far away from the SEC -- in Los Angeles, covering USC and UCLA on back-to-back nights -- was that fans from UCLA and Washington sat together in the lobby of a Pasadena hotel on Friday, the night the Bruins were set to host the Huskies, exchanging pleasantries and sipping on green tea.
It was almost as if they were going to the theater together, not to a football game.
Come on, where were the insults and the taunts?
Then I stepped outside and made the rounds in the Old Town district of Pasadena, just a few Brett Hundley passes away from the Rose Bowl, and right around the corner was Thurgood Marshall Street.
No Cade McNown Boulevard or Troy Aikman Thruway?