As former Kansas State University President Jon Wefald recalls, “In 1988, there were not too many coaches thirsty for this job. Several that we approached showed a monumental indifference.”
By K-State’s count, there were no fewer than 18 off-campus interviews to fill the position as head football coach at Kansas State following the firing of Stan Parrish midway through the 1988 season.
“There were four or five coaches that honestly said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ ” said Wefald. “We were not on anyone’s radar screen.
Keep in mind, we were the worst football program on the face of the earth.”
He added, “We were not in a position to be choosey.”
Finally, the name of Bill Snyder, offensive coordinator at the University of Iowa surfaced with associate AD Jim Epps, and then athletics director Steve Miller, traveling to Iowa City to meet this guru of quarterbacks and offenses.
Today, Wefald said, “He (Snyder) seemed like a credible coach. Plus, I think he liked the vision I had for the university and looked at K-State as a school with great potential with what we had already accomplished with increasing the enrollment and just the overall enthusiasm for the school.”
Wefald offered a five-year contract for $85,000 per year, but Snyder bargained for $90,000, plus a total package of $120,000 for his collection of assistants. Today those numbers are $2.2 million for Snyder and the lowest paid assistant is collecting nearly $200,000.
More than dollars, Wefald remembers Snyder wanting enhanced facilities. Using Wefald’s words, K-State’s practice fields were “pathetic,” the press box was “temporary from the late-1960s,” and the football offices were “embarrassing.”
“We told him we’ll do what we can, and if we couldn’t do it now, we’ll provide an image of what the press box would look like and an image of the indoor facility so we could go out and recruit players,” said Wefald. “We could show what we had done, and present plans for what we were going to do.”
First came a $2 million refurbishing of the Vanier Complex in the early-1990s, a new playing surface in 1991, followed by a $5.5 million press box and a $2.2 million indoor facility in 1993, and a $1 million academic center in 1996.
In the initial stages the department was on such a shoestring budget that Snyder offered to loan money out of his own pocket to get projects started.
“We didn’t accept it,” said Wefald, “but how many coaches would offer to loan an athletic department money?”
Upon the hire of this first-time football coach, Wefald said, “What we were hoping for was to get to three to five wins per year, and every five years win maybe seven games. That, we thought, was realistic. Given our history, we thought our fans would be very happy with that.”
Snyder would soon reward the administration, not to mention the fans who invested in the renovation projects, with victories. There was one in 1989, five in 1990, seven in 1991, five in 1992 and nine in 1993 … with an invitation to the Copper Bowl.
“By 1993 we were thinking, ‘This is for real.’ As the facilities continued to improve, Bill’s magic continued and all of a sudden we were thinking about eight and nine wins every so often, but never were we talking about 11 (wins),” reflected Wefald.
Kansas State won nine times in 1993 and 1994, and then 10 in 1995, followed by nine wins in 1996. After those particular seasons, the ‘Cats went to the Copper, Aloha, Holiday and Cotton Bowls and all of a sudden Snyder was a hot commodity to the outside world.
“Minnesota came after him hard,” said Wefald. “It was a school that he really looked at.” What followed were four straight 11-victory seasons with the Wildcats reaching No. 1 status in the USA Today poll late in the 1998 season when they completed regular season play 11-0.
“UCLA called after the 1999 season, and LSU was calling around that same time,” said Wefald.
“It was a time where we couldn’t equal some of those salaries that were being thrown around, but at least we had to find a way to be competitive. Bill never did give the idea that he was holding us up, but he wanted to be on a level playing field. Plus, he liked it here. He liked what I was doing. We were joined at the hip.”