Bill Snyder owes a debt to his family and Kansas State might pay for it

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Bill Snyder turned the worst program in college football history into a consistent winner. He essentially saved Kansas State University, not the athletic program, the university, from fading into irrelevance. And he did it with an unsurpassed work ethic.

He also more or less ignored his family for two decades, to the benefit of KSU and its fans. He’s spent the past several years trying to make amends for that, and now it appears K-State will finally pay the price for it as well.

A report from college football reporter Brett McMurphy confirmed what many in the Heartland had long suspected: Snyder has been wielding his considerable and well-earned power and influence to ensure his son, Sean, replaces him. That includes nixing an arrangement that could have made former South Florida coach Jim Leavitt the Wildcats’ coach in waiting.

Sean Snyder was an All-American punter for K-State before eventually becoming the Wildcats special teams coordinator. There’s little reason to think he’s not a good assistant and maybe he’ll be a great head coach someday. But a program of Kansas State’s stature should be able to attract a head coach with a better resume, and one that’s worked his way up the ranks.

Snyder has several people in his own coaching tree, Leavitt included, more qualified to be his replacement, whether that’s after this season or in a few years.

But you get the sense that since retiring and un-retiring, Snyder has a slightly different perspective on work and family. Like a lot of men, he’s mellowed with age.

Early on in his time at KSU, Snyder’s other son, Ross, was a pretty solid high school football player; not good enough to play for the Wildcats, but a lower-level prospect. When signing day came Snyder had to be informed by a reporter his son had chosen to play at Butler County Community College.

Snyder was also notoriously hard on assistants, demanding they be in their offices and available day or night, should he feel the need to call a meeting.

No wonder Bob Stoops was able to raid his staff in 1998 with promises the coaches could actually see their wives and kids everyday.

When Snyder retired the first time he found be enjoyed things like watching his grandchildren play t-ball. When K-State wanted to name the stadium after him he insisted it be called Bill Snyder Family Stadium. It didn’t undo the past, but it was a gesture.

It’s easy to understand why Snyder wants to keep the program in the family, especially after the failure of Ron Prince last time he retired. But this is one of the few decisions at Kansas State bigger than the Snyders.

When Bill Snyder first arrived at Kansas State in 1989 the Wildcats had played in one bowl game ever and hadn’t won a game in three seasons. Enrollment was plummeting and the Big 8 was considering kicking K-State out of the conference.

Snyder changed all that.

The situation won’t be as dire when the Big 12 grant of rights expires and conference realignment potentially begins again. But the university faces an uncertain future. It’s not near a major city like Kansas, nor a flagship state school like Oklahoma, nor a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities like Iowa State.

The next football hire is important. Too important to let lingering guilt guide the way.