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Sep. 30—Bill Snyder's new book comes out in a month or so, and I'm intrigued. I'm intrigued not just because I'm endlessly fascinated by the man. I'm intrigued because Coach Snyder's second go-round was quite a bit different from the first, and that's what this book is supposed to be about.
The book, written by D. Scott Fritchen along with Coach Snyder, is called "My Football Life, and The Rest of the Story." It's sort of a companion to the book Coach Snyder did with longtime Mercury sports editor Mark Janssen, called, "They Said It Couldn't Be Done."
Everybody knows the gist of the Snyder origin story. He arrives from Iowa City, bumps into friendly people on a frigid day on campus, takes the job against the advice of everybody with half a brain, declares that there's an opportunity for the greatest turnaround in college football, and that that is "not to be taken lightly," to universal doubt, yawns and chortles. Then proceeds to accomplish exactly what he said there was an opportunity to do, by demanding pats of butter rather than tubs. That's only sort of a joke. Obsession over every single detail led on a path from laughingstock in 1988 to powerhouse in 1998.
What gets lost in that telling is the nature of the second act. The typical version is that he came back after Ron Prince created a dumpster fire and Bob Krause inadvertently handed Prince a giant check. Bill's only job was to "calm the waters," and he did so simply by restarting the same engine he had built before. He himself contributed to that narrative by saying he was doing exactly the same things as before.
That might be true in principle, but it is largely not true, in terms of football.
In the first go-round, Coach Snyder had to contend with Nebraska and Colorado as national powers. Nebraska in particular was just bludgeoning everybody in sight, ramming the ball down the field with giant corn-fed linemen. Colorado: Basically the same. The Big 8 was a big running league.
So he had Paul Watson and Chad May sling it all over the yard, five wide receivers, Kevin Lockett making circus catches. May put up 500 yards in the air once. At Lincoln.
That worked, in part, because the rest of the conference just didn't know how to handle it. Eventually, it was that, plus the addition of the running quarterback — basically the re-assertion of the wing-T offense from a century before — that really worked. So you had Michael Bishop and Jonathan Beasley and Ell Roberson, and, man, those were some fun, high-powered offenses.
Everybody — starting with Urban Meyer at Florida, and then filtering everywhere — copied that. Now you see it even in the NFL.
But when he came back, it was not even close to the same dynamic, and that's where the story is much more nuanced than the typical retelling.
By then, you had Mike Leach at Texas Tech throwing it 60 times a game. Oklahoma, with Bob Stoops, went that route, and became the bell cow. The Big 12 became a throwing league.
So Coach Snyder zigged when everyone else zagged. He built a team that used a fullback, and had the quarterback run all the time, and rammed it down your throat, and drained the clock and won games 16-10.
Commentators joked about it as a throwback; they said the offense was old-school like its coach. They chortled about Collin Klein not kissing a girl, and so on. It was a nice narrative.
But it fundamentally missed the point. Coach Snyder's approach was, in fact, one step ahead. It exploited the weaknesses of the league — since those teams didn't use a fullback, they couldn't really practice against a team that used one, so they weren't prepared to face an offense that used one. When the quarterback could run, the offense had an extra blocker.
Fundamentally, this is the same approach that K-State is still using under Chris Klieman. The league is gravitating back to that again; the chess match never really ends.
I don't assume that the book will create some new lightning-bolt understanding of all this, but, over time, I hope it contributes to a better understanding. That second go-round was as impressive as the first, but it was entirely distinct.