Snyder choreographed remarkable turnaround

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- On a gray, windswept day in the Little Apple, Bill Snyder exited the coaching stage for a final time.

But not before getting carried off like a hero.

The director of the "Miracle of Manhattan" made his final performance a memorable one as Kansas State erased a 14-point second-half deficit and posted a 36-28 win over Missouri.

Following the win, Snyder was greeted on the field by his family. He hugged and kissed his wife Sharon before walking up the hill to the locker room as Wildcat fans showered him with thunderous applause.

"I'm pleased about the win, but I'm not sure it's even in the top 10," Snyder said afterward. "When I left the field, for my family to be there was so special."

In true rock-star fashion, Snyder reappeared for an encore and addressed the crowd from a riser set up near the 10-yard line. Also on the platform was Snyder's wife, children and grandchildren. As K-State President Dr. Jon Wefald introduced Snyder, the coach blew kisses to the crowd.

"When we hired Bill Snyder in 1989, we were hoping to win four or five games a year, and every once in a while finish 7-4," Wefald told the crowd. "But Bill Snyder has always had the will and the determination to commit to excellence.

"We will never forget going to 11 bowl games in a row. We will never forget four Big 12 North championships. And we will certainly never forget that 35-7 win over the University of Oklahoma [in the 2003 Big 12 championship game]."

After a long standing ovation, Snyder addressed the crowd for four minutes.

"We've got to keep meeting like this. I like this," Snyder said. "This has been the hardest week, almost, of my life. This was a very hard decision to make and I'd like to think I made it for the right reasons. But as I look out here today, I realize how really difficult this is going to be.

"They're going to name this stadium the Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and I hope you understand that you are my family as well. In the future, every time you're here, you've come to your stadium. I love all of my family dearly and I love you because you are my family. Thank you so much."

When he was finished, Snyder turned to Wefald and said, "I think that's it, isn't it?"

But before Snyder could step down and make his way back to the K-State locker room, senior offensive tackle Jeromey Clary intercepted him and said, "Coach, you're not walking off this field."

With that, Clary and sophomore wide receiver Jordy Nelson carried Snyder off the Wagner Field turf and into K-State lore.

"It was special," Clary said about providing the escort. "I'll definitely remember that for the rest of my life. He told me to let him down, but I said there's no way I'm letting you down. I went through your program for four years and I'm carrying your ass to the top of the hill.

"He's a legend and he deserves to be carried off that field."

And with his goodbye from the sideline after 17 seasons at K-State, it officially closed the door on the single greatest turnaround job in college football.

What Hayden Fry did at Iowa was truly impressive. And Barry Alvarez deserves mention for the way he woke up a dormant Wisconsin program.

But what Snyder accomplished on the plains of eastern Kansas was nothing short of unbelievable. And because of what wasn't here when Snyder arrived on Nov. 30, 1988, it really should be considered a building job.

From somewhere underneath the ground.

Snyder replaced Stan Parrish, who compiled a three-year record of 2-30-1, including a pair of winless seasons on his way out the door.

In what many described as the most difficult job in the nation in the late '80s, the 66-year-old Snyder leaves K-State with a career record of 136-68-1. That win total more than triples the man in second place on the school's all-time victories list -- Mike Ahearn, who won 39 games.

In his 17 years, Snyder had 11 winning seasons, 11 bowl appearances and six bowl victories. The 14 previous K-State coaches -- over a 54-year span -- managed only five winning seasons, one bowl appearance and zero bowl wins.

From a national perspective, the Wildcats finished in the top 20 in 11 of the last 14 seasons, including a six-year stretch where they ended the season in the top 10.

In 1998, K-State was ranked No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll for four weeks in late November but missed out on a chance to play for the national title when it lost in double overtime to Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game.

Snyder's achievements here are the equivalent of the Clippers challenging for NBA supremacy, or the Cubs playing in the World Series.

A sign draped over the front railing of the upper deck on the east side (which was built because of the success Snyder created here), summed up the feelings of Wildcat Nation: "Thank you Coach Snyder for the time of our life!"

Before the game a video tribute to Snyder was played on the north end zone JumboTron. It was followed by a recorded message from the coach himself. He thanked the fans for their support during his tenure in this football outpost, and the 46,039 purple-clad fans in attendance stood in silence and listened intently to their leader.

At halftime, the festivities continued as taped messages from former players and assistants were played. Despite the overcast skies and threat of snow flurries, it was a raucous atmosphere.

If there was any disappointment to Snyder's send-off, it was the 3,961 empty seats in the stadium that now bears his name.

"I want to congratulate coach Bill Snyder," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He is what is right about college football. We are better off in college football because of his career. He has great character and is a first-class man. We'll miss him."

Snyder, who was emotional at times when he addressed the fans and media, looked tired after a long five days since first announcing his retirement plans.

"I'm spent," he said. "It's been a far different week than I had anticipated. It's been a hard week and a very emotional time. I probably have experienced every emotion that an individual can experience.

"If there was any good coaching going on today, it wasn't by me. I was just there.

"But I'm really proud of the impact that this program has had on K-Staters everywhere, on the community of Manhattan and on Kansas State as a university."

Snyder said his immediate plans include spending most of Sunday with his family. Past that, he plans to remain in Manhattan and will serve as a special assistant to athletic director Tim Weiser and retain an office within the athletic department.

Now that the final curtain has closed on the Snyder coaching era following back-to-back losing seasons, Weiser will now officially begin the search for a successor.

Some of the popular names flying around the rumor mill include a couple of former Snyder assistants in Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables and South Florida coach Jim Leavitt; and TCU coach Gary Patterson, who played and coached for the Wildcats.

No matter who takes over, there will never be another Bill Snyder.

The question is whether the next coach can continue what Snyder started while the newly minted legend continues to watch over the program he built.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.