A reporter mentioned to Bill Snyder this week that he looked well, a simple compliment but another reference nonetheless to the coach’s fight with throat cancer since its discovery last December.
“Would you tell my wife that?” Snyder said before quickly turning the conversation back to talk of replacing a sidelined center, depth at running back and the options at backup QB ahead of the Wildcats’ opener Saturday against Central Arkansas.
Snyder, 77, is set to enter his 26th year at Kansas State. His accomplishments are well documented.
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby describes Snyder’s work in Manhattan, Kansas, as the greatest construction job in college football history. Others have said the same. In 1988, Bowlsby interviewed for the job of athletic director at K-State. It went instead to Steve Miller, who hired Snyder one year later.
“I don’t know if I’d have had the brains to hire Bill Snyder,” Bowlsby said, “but I’d hope that maybe I would have.”
At Big 12 and national gatherings of coaches, Snyder doesn’t speak on every issue.
“But when he does speak, every coach listens,” Bowlsby said. “He’s held in high esteem and revered by his colleagues. Not only is he a treasure to Kansas State, but he’s a treasure to the league.”
Snyder despises this kind of talk. Because it now sounds like the start of a goodbye.
As much as any coach has earned the right to receive a farewell tour, Snyder is the least likely to allow it. When he first retired after the 2005 season, Snyder told almost no one before the public announcement.
So this month, in the wake of his cancer battle -- Snyder finished treatment in March but was slowed by the effects into the summer -- questions persist about his longevity on the sideline.
It’s more reasonable than ever to expect Snyder could retire at the end of 2017, a reality with or without the health scare of last winter and spring.
Since he was 14 or 15 years old, Snyder has felt a calling to coach.
“I just knew that’s what I was supposed to do,” he said recently. “Nothing altered that path, and nothing has made me look back. I have no regrets about coaching.”
He no longer thinks in such absolute terms, an admission for a coach as singularly focused and driven as Snyder.
“Should I continue to coach until I drop over? The answer is no.”
That’s about as close as Snyder gets to revealing his hand. In game mode this week, he offered little insight into his mindset.
“I don’t think I feel any different than I ever have,” he said. “I try to approach things exactly the same as I have before. From an emotional standpoint, I don’t think it’s any different than it ever has been. At least that’s my perception of myself. Somebody else may see it differently. I think I’m pretty much the same.”
Despite Snyder’s general unwillingness to offer some appreciation for his own circumstances, his colleagues and players aren’t waiting for a big announcement to savor the moments that remain with Snyder in coaching.
“We really have no idea when Coach Snyder is going to hang it up,” All-Big 12 right tackle Dalton Risner said. “But we know it’s going to be in the near future. We need to soak it in and try to learn as much as we can before he’s done.
“Take it to heart because he’s not going to be coaching forever.”
Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said he gains more respect for Snyder each year -- this year especially.
“He didn’t even blink,” Kingsbury said of the cancer scare. “He’s a machine. Everybody just said, ‘Oh, he’s going to retire.’ He just kept going and said, ‘I’ll be ready for [practice].’ That just shows his mentality and the type of drive he has.”
K-State quarterback Jesse Ertz said he actually heard more speculation last year than in recent months about the timing of Snyder’s eventual retirement.
“I don’t see any signs of him stopping,” Ertz said. “I don’t notice any difference in his schedule and routine.”
If Snyder had not informed the Wildcats of his cancer diagnosis, Ertz said he might not have known of a problem. Still, he knows the time is growing near.
“It’s a hard deal,” the senior QB said, “because you do recognize it, but he clearly doesn’t want the attention.”
Want it or not, Snyder figures to receive more acclaim, more recognition and respect this year because of the battle he has waged over the past nine months. On the eve of his return to the field, others in the Big 12 might want to be careful for what they wish, though, as Snyder directs a team that looks like his best since K-State shared the league title and won 11 games in 2012.
“If we get too much into asking, ‘Is it going to be this year? Is it going to be next year?,'" Risner said, “I’ll tell you what, he’s a stubborn old man, and he might coach for five or 10 more years."