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Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer 24d

Bill Snyder, retired for good from Kansas State, has no plans to slow down

College Football, Kansas State Wildcats

MANHATTAN, Kan. -- He still carries an inch-thick folder to many of the places he goes.

And, yes, Bill Snyder still keeps a tight schedule, although maybe not quite down to the second the way he did as Kansas State's famously meticulous head football coach.

"I thought I would learn something from the first time I retired, but I still have to practice saying no. Consequently, that's how you get a calendar that looks like this," said Snyder, smiling wryly and his eyes gleaming through his familiar thin-rimmed glasses.

Relaxing in a back room at Colbert's Bar & Grill -- restaurant of former PGA golfer Jim Colbert, a longtime friend -- Snyder reaches into his sport coat and pulls out a pocket planner almost completely blotted out in purple ink for much of the months of April and May. Among his assortment of speaking engagements this spring were the Missouri and Nebraska coaches' clinics, and he remains heavily involved in his Kansas Mentors program.

"You still wake up, and your mind goes -- mine does, anyway -- 500 miles a minute, and so much of it revolves around things I've consented to do," Snyder said. "Most of my thoughts are centered on that particular day."

Even without a football team to coach. And this time, for good.

Snyder, 79, sat down with ESPN and talked at length about life after football in his first extensive public comments since the university announced last December that Snyder would retire. (To be clear, golf is not a big part of Snyder's retirement, as he's quick to acknowledge: "I can't play a lick.")

Retired now for a second time, Snyder spent two different head coaching stints and 27 seasons at Kansas State, which transformed from a football wasteland to a football heartland thanks to Snyder's old-school, regimented and disciplined approach. He first rode off into the sunset in 2005 but returned in 2009 at the age of 69 after his successor, Ron Prince, was fired. 

In his second stretch, Snyder returned Kansas State to national relevance with a second Big 12 championship on his watch in 2012 and steered the Wildcats to a No. 1 ranking in the BCS standings that season. But even for Snyder -- only the fourth active coach to be enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame -- it didn't end the way he wanted it to, although he's quick to note that rarely does it end ideally for anybody in his profession.

"I had emotions both ways, whether it was the right time to walk away or to stay on and try to get the program back to where we all wanted it," Snyder said. "I wrestled with it considerably. One day, I'd feel one way. Then the next day, I'd feel another way. It was back and forth. When you get to that point [in age], you question can you do justice to either side of the equation."

Snyder stops short of saying he was told that it was time for him to retire, but he was well aware there was that sentiment within the Kansas State administration and fan base after the Wildcats finished 5-7 a year ago and missed out on a bowl game after eight straight postseason appearances.

"There were certain things I wouldn't share that we had dialogue about," Snyder said. "It's certainly everybody's right to do what they feel is the best thing to do. I can appreciate that. But rarely does it end for any of us [coaches] the way we'd prefer it to."

But it did end that sort of way, and despite it all, Snyder said there's not a more loyal Kansas State supporter on the planet. He still has his suite at the stadium that bears his name (Bill Snyder Family Stadium), plans to attend the home games and will continue to make his home in Manhattan. His family, too, is still so intertwined with the university.

One of the things Snyder wanted to see was his son, Sean, take over for him as head coach. But Snyder insists that his desire to see Sean succeed him was not just because he is his son. Sean, the oldest of Snyder's five children, remains on Kansas State's staff as senior special-teams analyst.

"Sean knows more about the Kansas State football program than anybody on the face of the earth, including me," Snyder said. "I trusted him with so much for a long time. He kind of ran the program." He proved his worth on the football field, too, as national special-teams coach of the year. "It would have been a good thing, but it wasn't to be."

Snyder's life is admittedly a bit different these days in retirement. For one, he's eating healthier (and regularly) again after withering away to 130 pounds last season. Snyder was notorious for eating just one meal a day when he was coaching, and even then, it might consist of a late-night stop at Taco Bell. It got to the point where the K-State nutritionist would deliver protein shakes to Snyder for him to drink in his office.

"There were 2,100 calories in them, collectively, and that was more than I was eating in two days," said Snyder, who's now much more likely to enjoy a chicken salad sandwich on toasted bread than he is a protein shake.

Sean joked: "I've always said that Dad's hobby was football and his life was football, and he wasn't going to do anything to take away from preparing his team, certainly not take time for lunch."

The same goes for battling cancer.

Snyder was diagnosed with throat cancer in December 2016 and elected not to start chemotherapy and radiation treatments until after Kansas State played in the bowl game that season, a 33-28 win over Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl.

He kept his cancer diagnosis private for as long as he could, not wanting it to be a distraction to the team, and set up his treatment schedule so he could drive to the University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City.

"That way, I was able to drive back and didn't miss any work and didn't miss any games," said Snyder, who is now cancer-free. "It was a little harder than I thought. It takes a little while before those treatments catch up with you and knock you around a little bit. I was never in great pain. It just wears you down. But my whole life, what you do wears you down, so it wasn't a lot different."

That strength and resolve comes from his mother, Marionetta, who Snyder says shaped his life more profoundly than anyone else he's come across, including his football mentors. Among them: Hayden Fry and John McKay. She was divorced from Snyder's father when Bill was a young boy and raised him as a single parent living in a tiny second-floor apartment in St. Joseph, Missouri. She died of cancer at 77.

"She worked long, hard hours, 12 hours a day, six days a week [in the retail clothing business] and was a single parent," Snyder said. "I learned so much from her about hard work and discipline and doing things the right way."

Snyder is still wrapping his head around full-blown retirement. He's been wooed more than once to get into politics, but unlike his good friend Tom Osborne, he has no intentions to go down that path. He's never been one to sleep in and isn't going to start now, but he's also not in the office at the crack of dawn every morning and then getting back home well after midnight. In fact, he doesn't even have an office in the football building, similar to the first time he retired. He just felt like it wouldn't be appropriate or fair to new coach Chris Klieman.

"I told Coach Klieman the day he was introduced that I would help him any way I can," said Snyder, who Klieman said left him a note congratulating him following North Dakota State's FCS national championship game win. "Nobody wants somebody who's been there before hanging around. The last thing I want to do is get in [Klieman's] hair, but I can assure you that nobody wants to see K-State do better than me."

And while Snyder has kept his distance from the Wildcats' football complex, his legacy endures: tucking in shirttails (something former player Justin Tuggle said he checked when he returned to campus for a recent visit), not wearing hats or earrings in the complex, leaving cellphones behind before going into meetings.

When Snyder took over Kansas State's moribund program in 1989, the Wildcats were in the midst of a 27-game winless streak and had managed just four winning seasons in the previous 52 years. After winning just one game his first season, Snyder coached nine teams to 10 or more victories, went to 19 bowl games and won two Big 12 championships.

From 1997 to 2000, Kansas State won 44 games, and the Wildcats were a 36-33 double-overtime loss to Texas A&M in the 1998 Big 12 championship game from playing for the national title that season.

Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who worked under Snyder those first seven years at Kansas State (first as defensive backs coach and then as co-defensive coordinator), marveled at Snyder's influence.

"When we went into some of those first team meetings in our first year, you have no idea how bad it was, how pathetic it was, the facilities, the number of scholarship players we had, everything," Stoops said. "I think our first spring, we had four defensive linemen total, and I think two of them were walk-ons. ... Maybe I was young and naive, but it never entered my mind that we weren't going to win.

"In my mind, all I knew for 10 years at Iowa as a player and coach was that confidence in our formula, and most of all, confidence in Coach Snyder. Through Coach's persistence and never succumbing to what the public and whole world wanted to tell us, that you couldn't win here, we never bought into it. He wasn't going to allow that to happen."

In an inconsistent world, Snyder has and always will be the essence of consistency. No detail is too small. He still keeps boxes upon boxes of notes he took from every meeting he had with coaches and players during his nearly three decades as a head coach, and it all ties back to life in general, Snyder's belief that his most important calling was to help develop young men.

"Football is only going to be there for a while. Life is forever," Snyder said. "It was my responsibility to help prepare these young men for life and how to overcome hardship and adversity. 

"Maybe a lot of my players did think I was too rigid or too unyielding, but one of the most rewarding things for me now is when I get a letter from a former player saying, 'Coach, I didn't get it then, but I do now. Thank you.'"

Some of those same letters have also poured in from coaches.

"I wrote him a letter a year or two before he retired and just wanted him to know what he had meant to me and my career," Stoops said. "He took a chance on me as a young coach and showed a lot of confidence in me. That's what propelled my career. I have as fond memories from those seven years at Kansas State, [wife] Carol and I both do, as I do anywhere that I've coached."

A renowned letter writer himself, Snyder has at least graduated to the point where he's now sending text messages on his cellphone, a step Alabama coach Nick Saban has yet to take. 

"Tell him that he's smart and not to give in," Snyder quipped.

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