By Grant Guggisberg '10
Editor's note: This story ran in the fall 2016 issue of K-Stater magazine. K-State Alumni Association members have exclusive access to this and many other K-Stater stories about Coach Snyder. If you enjoyed this read, become a member to get the quarterly K-Stater magazine and read more K-State history, alumni updates, campus news and more.
For most people, checking the mail each day is an uneventful routine. A trip out to
the mailbox often garners only a few bills to pay or perhaps a magazine to flip through.
More often than not, the process is quick and monotonous.
Bill Snyder's daily run-in with the U.S. Postal Service is a little more involved.
Some might consider it old-fashioned, but the 76-year-old College Football Hall of
Fame coach at Kansas State University is becoming more and more well-known for his
correspondence via personalized, handwritten notes.
His style — left-handed cursive script written diagonally with a purple felt-tip pen — is unique and unwavering, much like his coaching methods.
In recent years, social media has helped publicize Snyder's penchant for note writing, but the act itself has been going on for decades. Snyder estimated he's been scribbling down his well-meaning thoughts since he began his coaching career among the high school ranks in the 1960s. It's not uncommon for the coach to send opposing players a congratulatory note following a game against his Wildcats, regardless of whether K-State was on the winning or losing end. Those notes often end up posted on social media.
"I appreciate other players and how well they perform against us or in other situations," Snyder said. "I certainly want them to know they're recognized outside of their own environment."
But it's not just football players who get Snyder's attention.
The longtime coach makes an effort to respond to every note or letter he receives, whether it's through the mail or by electronic means. While the workload has increased over the years as his notes gain fame, he remains committed to replying as often as he can.
"When people send you compliments, the important thing is to respond to them, which I try to do," he said. "I don't have somebody that does it for me because I take it personally. It truly is personal."
Snyder, known for his dedication and inclination to work long hours along with his assistant coaches, writes his notes at home using his precious few hours of spare time to engage with K-Staters across the country.
"I do all of that at night for the most part, after I've finished here at the office," he said. "I lay them out and get through as many as I can in the evening."
Snyder, known for his fierce attention to detail on the football field, also pays attention off the gridiron. K-State jazz professor Wayne Goins can attest to that.
Years ago, when Snyder first heard Goins playing jazz guitar at a Manhattan, Kansas, restaurant, he was impressed. Snyder introduced himself before leaving, and it wasn't long after that Goins received his first note.
After years of friendship, Snyder sent Goins his latest note, congratulating the director of jazz studies on being named a University Distinguished Professor.
"That personal touch of going out of his way to write these letters is something he's done consistently over the years, and I treasure that," Goins said. "That's why you see it on my wall. I really treasure it because this man means it. He's not just filling in the blanks.
"It gives me great pleasure to know that my music makes him happy, and he says it all the time. It's really wonderful."
'Little Moments to look forward to'
Snyder's genuine regard for the plight of others, which often shines through in his
letters, also comes through in many of his players.
This rings true in the case of former All-Big 12 defensive end Ryan Mueller '14, Leawood, Kansas.
Mueller was the initial point of contact between the K-State football program and 11-year old Kaiden Schroeder, McPherson, Kansas.
Schroeder, a lifelong Wildcat football fan, was diagnosed with leukemia in May 2009. In 2014, he got the opportunity of a lifetime in the annual Purple and White Spring Game, receiving his own locker, name plate, uniform and a sideline pass to the game. He also got the chance to play in the game, scoring a 30-yard touchdown on what has since been dubbed "Kaiden's Play."
Mueller said Snyder was supportive of his relationship with the Schroeder family and did everything he could to help, including sending Kaiden letters.
"Coach Snyder has always provided Kaiden with little moments to look forward to, whether it's tickets to a game or coming to a practice," Mueller said. "When you're a little kid and you're 10 years old and you've been battling cancer your whole life, having those moments can make those rough days not seem so rough. That's all we wanted to do."
While Snyder often goes out of his way to reach out to people, many of his letters are in response to kindness shown to him.
Jennifer Henry Sturges '74, '77, Salina, Kansas, began writing notes to Snyder in 2014 to show her appreciation of his efforts or to congratulate him on victories. Snyder wrote the now-retired school teacher back and has continued to do so.
"I always love getting a note from him," she said. "I know he is really busy, so I know it takes time for him to do it. My biggest surprise was when he sent me a big poster signed by the whole team for me to put in my classroom."
George McCandless, Wichita, Kansas, got his first correspondence from Snyder in the form of a thank you note in 1989 after sending the then-first-year head coach a birthday card.
McCandless, a retired executive at Boeing Co. turned amateur photographer, began dabbling in sports photography in the early 1990s. He snapped a photo of Snyder's son, All-America punter Sean Snyder '94, Manhattan, and had it printed as a gift to Snyder, which led to a longstanding friendship.
"I wasn't good. I was just lucky," McCandless said of the photo.
McCandless, whose pictures were a fixture at Catbacker and K-State Alumni Club auctions before he hung up his camera in 2013, said he can't believe how personable Snyder has been to him over the years.
"It's amazing to me that he takes the time," McCandless said. "I don't know if he has time, but he makes a special effort to do it. That's just the kind of guy he is. He's one of a kind."
'Respect ... appreciation ... love'
Frank Tracz, director of bands at K-State, agrees with McCandless' assessment.
Tracz came to Manhattan in 1993 and has been along for the ride for most of what many call the "greatest turnaround in college football history."
Tracz and the K-State Marching Band, which in 2014 received the Sudler Trophy, given biennially to the nation's top marching band, don't go unnoticed by Snyder. He often sends notes to Tracz and his student leaders within the band, thanking them for their role in the gameday experience at K-State.
"There's a respect and an appreciation and love there that's unique," Tracz said. "I went to Ohio State and Wisconsin. They'll tell you they have a great relationship, but they don't. Not like this. It's amazing."
Tracz said whenever the band goes above and beyond the call of duty, such as greeting
the team at the Vanier Football Family Complex in the middle of the night following
a road win, Snyder notices.
A note typically arrives by Monday morning.
"It's the truth times a million with this guy," Tracz said. "He cares about the students, he cares about the school, and it's not just money for him. It never was and never will be."
While anyone, let alone high-profile college coaches, might view responding to letters from fans as a burden, Snyder doesn't see it that way.
"People send notes — good or bad — whatever the case might be," he said. "I've been blessed and fortunate to always get good notes."